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Road Tested: Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer laptop bag

After I traveled to Africa in February with a Tom Bihn Western Flyer bag loaded with geek gear, I wrote a post talking about how I packed that bag for the trip. It was the perfect bag on that vacation, as it allowed me to pack all of my gear into various little nooks and crannies, and it converted to a backpack for easy lugging through airports. However, it wasn't the best bag for my many business trips in the USA.

Happy with the products that Tom Bihn makes, I decided to get their Checkpoint Flyer briefcase for my business travel. What makes this bag so special is that it is specially designed to take advantage of Transportation Security Administration (TSA) rules that allow you to keep a laptop inside a case as it's going through the x-ray machine, provided that case contains nothing else. That, of course, can be a huge problem if you're carrying backup drives, cables, backup cell phones, an Amazon Kindle 2, and other digital effluvia.

So how do they do it? The Checkpoint Flyer briefcase comes with an attached Checkpoint Flyer laptop case. This latter is a small, foam-lined case that contains only the laptop, as per TSA requirements. All the rest of your assorted gear goes in the main bag. When it's time to send the bag through x-ray, you simply release the front latches on the bag, flop the laptop case out flat, and send it through. There's no need to unzip the bag, pull out the laptop, drop it in a bin with your stinky shoes, and then reverse the process on the other side of the x-ray machine.

Does the TSA-approved design save time? You bet your boarding pass it does! Between my use of the Clear registered traveler program and the Checkpoint Flyer, it doesn't take me more than three minutes to go through security at Denver International Airport or any other airport that has a Clear lane. Programs like Clear aren't for occasional travelers, but if you fly even a couple of times a month, it's definitely worth the cost.

Like most of the Tom Bihn bags, the Checkpoint Flyer is very well built. The company uses a mix of durable Cordura® and ballistic nylon materials for the exterior fabrics, and as a result the bag stands up to abrasion and abuse very well. Closures on the outside of the bag are YKK Uretech® splash-proof zippers. They're not completely waterproof, but if you're standing on a street corner and get splashed by a car, it's pretty well guaranteed that whatever is inside the bag is going to stay dry.

The standard Checkpoint Flyer bag has 10 built-in pockets for your stuff. Of course, you can purchase more zipper bags and other accessories for organizing cables, gadgets, and even clothing in the bag. I don't put clothing into my Checkpoint Flyer as I'm usually doing four-day trips, but this would be perfect for an overnight trip -- clothing and technology together. The bag has a total capacity of 950 cubic inches (15.5 liters), which is a surprisingly large amount considering that it doesn't seem to be a huge, unwieldy piece of luggage.

One of the accessories that I like in my bag is the Horizontal Freudian Slip, which can best be described as a very thin file cabinet. When I go on my business trips, I have a pile of paperwork that needs to go with me. I use some standard 8-1/2" x 11" file folders to organize the paperwork, which I then slide into the large pockets on the Freudian Slip. On the other side are a business card pocket, pen pockets, a cell phone pocket, and another pocket for things like power supplies. 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.

On the back side of the Checkpoint Flyer are two pockets that serve important purposes. The first is the size of a boarding pass, and works well for keeping the pass at your fingertips as you're boarding an airplane. The second is large enough for putting a magazine into, should you decide to read instead of work on the flight. If you have a larger carry-on roller bag with a handle, you can unzip the bottom of the magazine pocket, which turns the pocket into a sleeve that firmly attaches the Checkpoint Flyer to your roller bag.

The Checkpoint Flyer laptop case that comes as part of the full Checkpoint Flyer briefcase is a work of art in itself. In order to meet the TSA requirements, it is just the size of your laptop, no bigger. Tom Bihn makes the laptop cases in sizes that are specifically designed for all members of the MacBook line, from the MacBook Air to the 17" MacBook Pro. To keep your MacBook safe from bumps and drops, the laptop cases are made from 8 mm thick closed-cell foam and covered with ballistic nylon. On the inside, there's a brushed tricot liner that coddles your laptop.

I admit to being a Tom Bihn fanboy. These bags are extremely well made and will last for years. The thought and care put into both the design and construction of the Checkpoint Flyer make the $220 price tag (includes the laptop case) very worthwhile. The bags are only available from one source, and that is the company's website. For pictures and descriptions of the bag, be sure to check out the gallery located below.



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Accessories Road Tested

After I traveled to Africa in February with a Tom Bihn Western Flyer bag loaded with geek gear, I wrote a post talking about how I packed...