Everything You Need to Know About Traveling with Laptops

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Lithium batteries can cause problems on airplanes. Sometimes, they can spontaneously explode and cause a fire. Because laptops contain lithium batteries, they’re classified as “dangerous goods”, and there are many additional rules for bringing laptops on planes.

In this article, we’ll talk about how many laptops you can bring, which ones are banned, where you should pack them, can you use laptops during the flight, and all the other necessary precautions you should do before arriving at the airport.

Are Laptops Allowed on Airplanes?

a laptop and other electronics with a laptop backpack laid out on a wooden background in flat lay

In a few words, yes, they are, with a few exceptions. You can pack most laptops in your hand luggage without any worries. That is unless you’re an owner of an Apple Macbook.

Apple recently recalled its 15-inch Macbook laptops made between 2015 and 2017 because the lithium batteries could overheat and catch fire. Following the announcement, many airlines started banning recalled models from airplanes. Soon after, the FAA (Federal Aviation Administration) banned recalled models on all airlines operating within the U.S.

Although most airlines only banned the recalled model, Virgin Australia banned all Macbook models, regardless of the issue date and type. The current situation is as follows: You can take most laptops on planes, except for the recalled Macbook, which has been banned by most airlines. You also have to be extra careful about packing other banned Macbook models when flying with Virgin Australia.

One thing to remember though is that you aren’t allowed to bring spare batteries over 100 watt-hours without airline approval. Most modern laptops don’t come with spare batteries though, so it isn’t something you should likely worry about.

Best travel laptop (based on our research): Macbook Air 13-Inch

You should also check out: Airplane headphone tips

How Many Laptops Can You Take On Planes On Domestic Flights?

TSA (Transport Security Administration) doesn’t limit the number of laptops you can bring on a plane. So on domestic flights, you can have two, three, or even more laptops, and no one will bat an eye. One might think that they’d limit the number of laptops that can be brought on the plane because they contain lithium batteries. However, the TSA and FAA only limit additional spare batteries and power banks. If the lithium batteries are integrated within the electronic device, they’re usually allowed.

We found countless debates on various online forums, but nobody seems to be sure about how many laptops are allowed. Here’s the only instance where we found the TSA mentioning something about multiple laptops. On Twitter, they said that several laptops can be carried onboard but they have to be put in separate bins before the screening.

TSA twitter response for multiple laptops on planes

On the official TSA’s website, they haven’t mentioned anything about bringing several laptops, so it’s safe to assume that multiple laptops are allowed.

Read Next: How Did You Get TSA PreCheck Without Applying?

How Many Laptops Can You Take Onboard For International Flights?

On international flights, laptops are allowed in carry-on bags with no quantity limitations. However, there’s still one thing you should keep in mind. Bringing one or two laptops for personal use is completely fine and you won’t have to pay anything. But when you start bringing more than two laptops to other countries, you might run into issues with customs at the airport.

The customs duty tax differs between countries, and you’ll be required to pay 10-40% import duty when arriving with multiple laptops unintended for personal use. The customs officers might ask you to provide proof of purchase so they can see that you haven’t purchased the laptops abroad. For instance, people like to buy electronics in the U.S. because they’re cheaper than in Europe. Depending on which European country you’ll be landing in, you’ll have to pay 15-30% customs duty if you’re bringing more than one laptop.

Read Next: Top 12 Best 17-Inch Laptop Backpacks in 2022

Can You Pack Laptops in Checked Luggage?

Although some sources say that laptops are banned from checked luggage, that information is wrong for the most part. FAA states that laptops with removable and non-removable batteries can be packed inside checked luggage. They’re classified under “personal electronic devices containing batteries.

The FAA advises packing personal electronic devices with lithium batteries inside hand luggage but doesn’t have restrictions on packing them inside checked bags. Any spare batteries inside checked luggage aren’t allowed. Your laptop has to be turned off, protected from activation, and protected from accidental damage when packed in checked luggage.

That said, the FAA and TSA only control flights within the USA. Other countries have different regulations, and some of them have banned laptops from checked baggage. So make sure to re-confirm with the specific country or airline when flying internationally.

Read Next: Is It Safe to Put a Laptop in Checked Luggage?

What Are the Rules for Bringing Laptops on Planes from Other Airline Regulators?

For now, we’ve talked only about fights within the USA, which are governed by FAA and TSA. But there are many other airline regulators worldwide, which can enforce different rules for laptops on planes. These are applicable only for international flights outside the USA.

IATA (International Air Transport Association)

IATA is the largest regulator, covering 290 airlines in 120 countries, and it’s responsible for 82% of all flights, including all of Europe. They state that laptops are allowed in checked luggage and hand luggage, however, it’s advised to pack them inside hand luggage. When packed in checked luggage, they have to be completely turned off, not hybernated, or put in sleep mode.

TCCA (Transport Canada Civil Aviation)

Transport Canada, which covers flights in Canada allows laptops in hand luggage and checked luggage.

CAAC (Civil Aviation Administration of China)

On flights that fly through China, laptops with over 160 watt-hour batteries aren’t allowed. If the laptop has a 100-160 watt-hour battery, you will need permission from the airline, and with a battery below 100-watt hours, you won’t need any permissions. Laptops can be put in hand and checked luggage and spare batteries below 160 watt-hours are allowed only in hand luggage. Each passenger is allowed to bring up to 15 laptops and 20 spare batteries.

CASA (Civil Aviation Safety Authority)

CASA governs flights within Australia. Laptops with batteries below 160 watt-hours are allowed in hand and checked luggage, but batteries over 100 watt-hours require airline approval. Batteries over 160 watt-hours are banned. Spare batteries below 160 watt-hours are allowed only in hand luggage.

Read Next: Can You Bring External Monitors on Planes?

Going Through Airport Security With Laptops

a man in a suit walking to the airport security

There are a few things you should know before going through the customs with a laptop. First, when you’re going through security, your laptop should be removed from the bag and placed inside a separate bin to go through the x-ray machine. If you’re bringing multiple laptops, they should be placed in separate bins.

However, if you have a TSA-approved bag with a laptop pocket, you shouldn’t have to remove the laptop from your bag. That’s because these dedicated laptop sleeves don’t have any pockets and zippers to obstruct the x-ray image. A member of our staff uses the Matein 17-inch TSA-Compliant Laptop Backpack as his personal item. He’s never been told to remove the laptop from the backpack when going through security because the laptop sleeve can be unzipped in a way that doesn’t obstruct the scanner images.

If you’ve packed multiple laptops inside your bag and you’re pre-checked, you shouldn’t have to remove them from your backpack and put them inside separate bins. Though, sometimes, they’ll ask you to do that anyway. It depends heavily on the TSA agent that you get at security. What you shouldn’t do is remove the laptops from your bag without asking first. If you try to remove any electronic devices from your bag without the TSA officer’s approval first, you could get in trouble because security is always on the lookout for bomb threats.

Another important thing is that you should always charge your laptop before going through security. That reason is that the TSA agents might ask you to turn on your laptop in case they choose to do an additional inspection. If you can’t turn it on, or if you can’t even answer simple questions about your laptop, they’re allowed to confiscate it. This rule applies to ALL electronics, so make sure always to bring them fully charged.

Read next: Do They Check Hard Drives at Airports?

Should You Pack Laptops inside a Carry-On, Personal Item, or Checked Luggage?

Although you can pack laptops inside checked luggage, we advise against doing that. It’s common knowledge that valuables can be stolen from checked bags, or your items can get damaged, and sometimes your checked bags can get lost. Since laptops aren’t cheap, a smarter choice would be to pack them inside hand luggage.

We recommend packing your laptop inside a personal item, such as the Matein 15.6-inch laptop backpack. If you work during flights, you will store your laptop under the front seat instead of in the overhead compartment. It can be incredibly annoying when someone sitting next to you passes by and starts digging through their suitcase in the upper compartment. We always recommend packing your necessities inside your personal item instead of your carry-on.

Here’s another strong argument for storing your laptop inside your personal item. When the flights are overbooked, some passengers are asked to check-in their carry-ons, free of charge. If you’re one of those passengers, you won’t have to re-pack your whole bag at the gate.

Tip: In another article, we’ve shared 80 essential packing tips. If you need some packing advice, you should check them out!

Can You Bring a Personal Computer (Desktop) on a Plane?

Desktops or PCs (Personal Computers) are allowed both in checked luggage and carry-ons. That’s because they don’t have any batteries, so they’re essentially just electronic components that aren’t very regulated on airplanes. If you can, you should try to bring your PC as a carry-on. That’s because valuables get stolen from checked luggage, and often things might get damaged.

We’d suggest wrapping the personal computer in bubble wrap, and possibly taking out the hard disk drive, because it’s usually the most valuable and fragile part of a PC. Monitors usually aren’t very expensive, and the expensive ones are too large to be used as carry-ons. So the best course of action would probably be to transport one inside your checked luggage to make sure it’s protected from damages.

Can You Use Laptops on Planes?

On most flights, you’ll be able to use laptops during the flight. However, they’ll have to be stowed away during take-off and landing because, in case of turbulence or emergency, they could become dangerous flying projectiles.

During all flights, laptops have to be switched to airplane mode. That said, you’ll still be able to use Bluetooth and Wi-Fi in Airplane mode to connect to your Bluetooth headphones and use the airline Wi-Fi if it’s offered as a service. Some airlines also offer charging outlets nowadays, so you might be able to charge your laptop during the flight.

How to Prepare Laptops for Flights

Most people don’t do anything to their laptops before taking them on flights but you should do a few things as precautions. First of all, the laptop needs to be charged and you should be able to turn it on. The security agents are allowed to ask you to turn it on to show that it’s working and it isn’t modified. If you won’t be able to turn it on, they could deny you access to the flight or confiscate your laptop.

Another important thing to watch out for is protecting your data. The security agents are allowed to check everything on your computer. So make sure that it doesn’t contain any illegal torrented movies, illegal software, or any other sensitive data. You could also hide everything in a password-protected folder, so nobody else would be able to see the contents.

And lastly, if you don’t already have one, set a password for your laptop. Luggage gets stolen or simply forgotten all the time due to all the stresses of traveling. And in case it does, nobody will be able to access your data if your laptop is password protected.

Final Thoughts

Traveling with laptops and personal computers can be stressful. If you follow the general guidelines, you should be able to fly worry-free. Make sure that you always pack your laptop inside your hand luggage, keep the battery in, have it fully charged, and be prepared to remove it while you’re moving through security. Multiple laptops for personal use are allowed, but you shouldn’t bring dozens of laptops. Otherwise, they won’t be classified as personal use, and you’ll have to pay the customs duty.

You might also be interested in: Can you take a pet on a plane?

Other Frequently Asked Questions

We get questions about bringing items on planes all the time. So, we’ve written other guides where we answer the most commonly asked questions.

You can check them out over here:

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