Why Does a Laptop Need Its Own Bin at Airport Security?


Taking your laptop out of your bag is the second most annoying thing travelers have to do at airport security (number one, of course, is being forced to remove your shoes and put your bare feet on the undoubtedly filthy floor). Some electronic gadgets, like e-readers and tablets, can go through the scanner with your bag. Why does your laptop have to go through in its very own bin?

Your laptop, along with other large electronics like gaming systems and DVD players, are complicated machines. According to Bob Burns on the TSA blog, “Larger laptops and game consoles appear more dense and need to be removed in order for the X-ray operator to get a good look at [what’s in] your bag.” (Generally, e-readers and tablets can stay in your bag, unless they’re keeping the agents from seeing what else is in your carry-on.)

Is That a Sword in Your Cane?

Putting your laptop or gaming system in its own bin also allows TSA agents to get an unobstructed view of the machine—the better to examine it more closely (and quickly—they take about 3 seconds to check each bin). “The larger the laptop, the more stuff you can hide in it,” Burns says on the blog. “Items have been found concealed in laptops in the past, so we have to be able to get a good look at them.” And not just laptops: TSA agents have caught passengers concealing gun magazines in DVD players, inert grenades, guns in hollowed out books, stun guns disguised as smartphones, sword canes, and marijuana hidden in jars of peanut butter (which, presumably, was to be a snack).