Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Tech Column: Bag Envy, Part II, Airplane Bags

by Bill Adler

Somebody's playing a cosmic joke on me. There can't be any other explanation. Just as I settled into my new, great iPad messenger bag, which I wrote about in last week's tech column, along comes the maker of my favorite iPad case debuting its own iPad bag.

My Cumpler Skivvy, http://bit.ly/JARDSz, the world's best tablet computer messenger bag, may be displaced by the ZooGue Case Genius iPad Padded Zipper Travel Bag, http://bit.ly/JzDWHl. The ZooGue Travel Bag isn't a messenger bag, but it's the kind of bag that makes me want to go out just to use it.

But as great as these bags are, when I fly I prefer to take along a backpack rather than a messenger bag. A backpack holds more than a messenger bag, so I can fly with ample snacks and drinks to get me from here to there without my empty stomach crying out out for help. The longer the flight, the more stuff I need to bring -- especially an emergency book or two, should my iPad's battery run dry. (A strange but true fact of modern tech life: a paperback book has become the backup for e-reading devices.)

I used to fly with a basic backpack, but it had one large, unpadded compartment that didn't provide any tender cushioning for my iPad. Fortunately, I found a backpack that does everything I want and more -- and it's the "more" part that's the problem. This backpack, the SwissGear Computer Backpack, http://amzn.to/JlGSmz, has a padded comparment for a tablet computer or a laptop, many pockets, many more pockets, exterior water bottle pockets (essential!), an easy to access interior, an inner zipped compartment so that my keys don't go on an adventure if I turn the backpack upside down, and
comfortably padded shoulder straps.

But it has two other features, one of which is weird, the other a problem. The weird: It has an audio compartment, a place to put your phone or MP3 player with a little opening to snake the cord through. That way you can keep your device in your backpack while listening to music. But every time you remove your backpack and forget that the headphones are connected to it, the headphones get yanked right out of your ears.

The second problem with my SwissGear backpack is that it's the perfect size, except for when I inevitably get assigned the seat on the airplane that has the movie controller underneath the seat in front. You know -- that box that occupies half of your foot area and controls the entire movie and music array for the whole row. That box that lets you watch the one movie you decided you were not going to see last year because the reviews were so awful. That box. That's the seat I usually get and the seat that's incompatible with the large SwissGear backpack.

While I was searching for a smaller travel backpack to replace my SwissGear, I thought I'd add add another criterion: I decided to get a backpack that was airport security-friendly. These are backpacks which open so that your laptop or tablet computer is lying flat with nothing on top of it, meaning that you don't
have to remove your laptop before putting it through the airport x-ray machine.
I like that: It not only speeds up the security screening process, but not having my iPad riding solo through the x-ray machine makes it less likely to be stolen.

I picked the Targus Checkpoint-Friendly Air Traveler Backpack, http://amzn.to/rPUQPu. It's smaller than the SwissGear, but not so small that I have to leave behind candy corn or other snacks when I fly. It even squashes into the under-seat space that's half occupied by the plane's entertainment controller. It opens up in clever and quick way so that I don't need to remove my iPad when I go through security.
Which brings me to this final part of my bag quest story. The first time I flew with my Targus backpack, I was so excited because I knew that I could just unzip the middle, open the bag up, lay it flat on the conveyer belt to the x-ray machine, and by the time I had my shoes on again, my backpack would have passed
through successfully, iPad still inside. But. (Sigh, -- there's always a "but" when it comes to flying these days.) After my airport security-friendly bag was x-rayed I was reprimanded by the screener for not taking my iPad out of my backpack. Back went both the bag and the iPad through the x-ray machine, each
riding now in separate, plastic bins.

Actually, you actually don't have to remove your iPad or other similiar sized tablet from any bag or backpack before it goes through the x-ray machine at the airport, according to TSA itself: http://blog.tsa.gov/2010/04/traveling-with-e-readers-netbooks-and.html. However, security is, well, unpredictable. At least with the Targus backpack, it's easy to remove a tablet computer, should security screening take an unexpected turn again next time.


Bill Adler is the co-publisher of the Cleveland Park Listserv, www.cleveland-park.com. He is the author of "Boys and Their Toys: Understanding Men by Understanding Their Relationship with Gadgets," http://amzn.to/rspOft . He tweets at @billadler.

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