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Originally published Sunday, July 6, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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New bags could make removing laptops at airport security a thing of the past

TSA comes up with a new plan for "checkpoint-friendly" bags for laptops passengers want to take through airport security checkpoints.

Seattle Times travel writer; Seattle Times travel writer

Life could get easier for the quarter of all air travelers who now carry laptops through security screening if government officials approve new "checkpoint-friendly" bags later this year.

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is testing prototype bags at airports in Ontario, Calif.; Austin, Texas; and Chantilly, Va., that would mean some passengers would no longer have to remove laptops from their carry-on bags at security checkpoints.

TSA asked luggage makers to come up with prototype designs that will make it easier to view a laptop in the X-ray machines, basically by building in a place to store the laptop in a back or front compartment where there are no straps, pockets, zippers etc. Cables and chargers would have to be stored in side pouches.

"We're looking to see what works in terms of fewer obstructions in the bag itself that often mask what's really in it," said Dwayne Baird, a TSA spokesman in Seattle. "One of the biggest things we hear is people saying, 'We're tired of pulling out our laptops.' "

TSA says not having to remove laptops would speed up security lines and reduce the number of claims it gets for computers damaged during screening.

Several manufacturers say they hope to have bags ready by this fall that will meet TSA's specifications. Pathfinder Luggage, based in Tustin, Calif., will begin producing a rolling-style briefcase (14 x 8 x 17 inches) with wheels and separate zippered compartments that would retail for around $150-$200, and a briefcase version for $100-$150. Other companies are working on less expensive bags including a backpack case.

The laptop changes would follow on the TSA's new "Black Diamond" program that calls for passengers to segregate themselves into color-coded security lines based on their traveling expertise.

In place at one security checkpoint at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport, it calls for travelers to voluntarily go to different lanes — black for "experts," meaning frequent fliers who pack light, know the security drill and won't hold up the line; blue for "casual travelers" who fly just a few times a year and may not be familiar with all the new rules; and green for families with children or others needing special help.

Carol Pucci: 206-464-3701 or cpucci@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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