Tom Bihn's Checkpoint Flyer - Airport Friendly Laptop Bag

I was excited to be invited to present at DEMOFall 2009 for a new product we launched (EthicsEd).   My old laptop bag was on its last legs so I started looking around for a new bag.  The bag had to carry the laptop, brochures, materials for my speech and some camera equipment.   

I hate being delayed at security lines at the airport.   To prep for them, I make sure that I've packed everything I can into the carryon bag--the watch gets put on the strap, cell phone in the pocket, even the belt gets put away until I'm through security.  It made sense for me to look for a checkpoint friendly bag.  The Checkpoint Flyer from Tom Bihn Bags was my first choice.  

Checkpoint Friendly Laptop Bag

Tom Bihn's Checkpoint Flyer bag was designed, as its name suggests, to be a checkpoint friendly bag--in other words to allow you to get through TSA security checkpoints without removing the laptop from the bag.  

TSA worked with bag manufacturers to develop "checkpoint friendly" bag standards starting in August of 2008.  The new standards allow passengers to leave laptops in their "checkpoint friendly" cases and helps streamline the security process and better protect laptops.  

For a bag to be considered checkpoint friendly it should meet the following standards:

  • Tom Bihn Checkpoint FlyerA designated laptop-only section
  • The laptop-only section completely unfolds to lie flat on the X-ray belt
  • No metal snaps, zippers or buckles inside, underneath or on top of the laptop-only section
  • No pockets on the inside or outside of the laptop-only section
  • Nothing packed in the laptop-only section other than the computer itself.

Checkpoint friendly bags can follow a number of designs.   Tom Bihn's Checkpoint Flyer is a variation of the Trifold Design.  The Checkpoint Flyer briefcase comes with a laptop case that you can attach to the bag This laptop case is a small, foam-lined case that contains only the laptop, as per TSA requirements. All the rest of your gear goes in the main bag. When it's time to send the bag through x-ray, you simply release the front plastic latches on the bag, flop the laptop case out flat, and send it through. The laptop compartment and the front flap fold out.  An advantage of this design is that the front flap offers additional protection for the laptop.   Also, if you want to just carry the laptop the laptop case detaches--of course if you've packed according to TSA guidelines the case will not contain the power supply and the cables you need so you will have to do some repacking.  Tom Bihn has made a short video clip on their site outlining the steps for opening the bag.   

The Trifold Style does make it a bit of a chore to pull out the laptop--unfold the front flap, open the zipper on the laptop compartment then dig out the power supply and cables from another compartment.   Not bad for a travel bag but not my favorite for an in town laptop bag.

Laptop Bag Capacity and Organization

Don't you hate digging around in your bag to find a pen, your glasses, or business cards?   The Checkpoint Flyer has ten organizational pockets to keep everything in place and insure that your laptop can clearly seen by security.  

  • Two contoured front pockets that zip shut on the front flap.  Larger pocket can fit a paperback book for in-flight reading, the smaller pocket can fit a cell phone.
  • Two additional horizontal pockets are located under the front flap and behind the laptop compartment.  These pockets are perfect for cables and cords, a travel mouse, etc.
  • The main compartment opens and shuts with a hefty waterproof zipper.   The main compartment is great for folders, clothes for an overnight trip, computer peripherals--I used it for sales folders and a compact camera.
  • Inside the main compartment are two mesh pockets for pens, batteries, etc.
  • There are two additional pockets in the back for magazine/papers and your boarding pass and passport--very cool for keeping both handy  Please note that these pockets do not have a zipper or velcro closure.  
  • There is a zip open slot that allows you to slip your Checkpoint Flyer over the handle of your rolling luggage.
  • There are a multitude of of rings in each of the pockets that you can use for securing keys, packing cubes, etc.  Makes it easy to find car keys at the end of a long trip.    

YKK Waterproof ZipperCheckpoint Flyer Build Quality

Tom has used tough fabrics in the design of this bag.  The exterior is made of U.S. 500 denier Cordura® and 1050 denier Ballistic nylon that easily resists abrasions.  The interior is made from Dyneema ripstop fabric.   YKK Uretech® splash-proof zippers on main compartment (#10) and exterior pockets (#8).  The splash proof zippers are a bit more difficult to use--you cannot close them with as easily as zippers without the attached nylon layer.  

Checkpoint Flyer Available Colors

 The primary color of the Checkpoint Flyer is black, but buyers can choose among black, gray, or red material for the front pouch. The interior of the main compartment features a gray fabric with a white grid, which makes it easier to locate items inside the bag. 

Laptop Compartment that meets TSA Requirements

In order to meet the TSA requirements, the laptop compartment is just the size of your laptop, no bigger.   Because of TSA rules it is best to get a laptop compartment that fits your laptop.     The laptop compartment is made from 1050 denier and also has splash proof zippers

Checkpoint Flyer Price and Accessories

 The Checkpoint Flyer costs $230.   You do get a choice of one laptop compartment.   If you buy a new laptop, you can buy another laptop compartment for $70 (yes I realize that's the cost of a lot of laptop bags).   

Tom Bihn Freudian SlipUnlike most bags the Checkpoint Flyer does not come with a shoulder strap.   The Absolute Shoulder Strap should be included but it costs an additional $30.  Tom's argument is that we all have shoulder straps laying around--he does have a point--I ended up using an old shoulder strap.  However, it's not as nice and detracts from the bag.

One of the interesting accessories is the Horizontal Freudian Slip (cute name) for $40.  This insert basically allows you to organize your files (with 2 file slots), cords and pens (with 2 zippered pockets), business cards, pens and your laptop power supply.   There's a loop on the Freudian Slip that you can use to hang it from a door knob or a chair for easy access.  It's truly a useful accessory--get it out of the bag and start working.   Just as importantly it keeps all your pens, papers, etc. organized in a hotel room.   Think of it as a toiletry kit for office supplies.

GadgetGuys Conclusion

The Checkpoint Flyer is a premium product at a premium price.  It has thoughtful design, high quality materials put together with high craftsmanship.   Keep in mind that this is a travel bag, not just a laptop bag.   As much as I love the bag, in town I use a much simpler and smaller laptop bag that allows me to quickly pull my laptop out.   

Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer Specifications:

  • Meets TSA guidelines for "checkpoint friendly" bags
  • Dimensions: 18.5" x 13" x 6" (overall dimensions, empty bag)
  • Laptop compartment: 13" size; 14" x 10" x 1.8" (15" and 17" sizes also available)
  • Exterior made of U.S. 500 denier Cordura® and 1050 denier Ballistic nylon
  • YKK Uretech® splash-proof zippers on main compartment (#10) and exterior pockets (#8)
  • Total volume: 950 / 15.5 liters
  • Weight: 2.6 lbs / 1.19kg
  • Made in USA
  • Limited lifetime warranty
  • MSRP: $220 + $30 Absolute Shoulder Strap (only available from the Tom Bihn store in Seattle, WA or a

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