How to protect your laptop in cargo when you fly

In this guide, learn about current regulations and how to deal with theft, insurance problems, and hardware damage.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

Flying is not as simple as it used to be.

The threat of terrorism in the West and further afield has made security in many aspects of life more difficult to ensure.

The 9/11 attacks on the US World Trade centers in 2001 -- in which four planes were hijacked by members of al-Qaeda -- prompted tighter controls at airports and restrictions on carry-on luggage, and since then, bombings, suicides, and violent attacks against the public have carried on.

At the time of writing, Islamic terrorist organization ISIS has claimed responsibility for the latest attack conducted in the name of the group, in which at least 22 people -- including children -- were killed at a concert in Manchester, UK.

As part of President Trump's election campaign, he promised to keep Americans safe by introducing immigration controls.

While the so-called "Muslim ban" caused chaos for the public and technology vendors alike, whose staff had trouble traveling to and fro, as it barred citizens from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the US for 90 days -- leading to US judges issuing injunctions against the order and protests en masse -- Trump also introduced changes for flights into the country due to fears that terrorists would smuggle explosives or bombs onto flights within electronics.

The US now bans certain electronic devices, depending on size, from being taken on specific flights as cabin luggage. The UK was quick to follow suit.

Current rules and regulations

What is banned?

US: Electronic devices which are larger than your average smartphone, including laptops, tablets, e-readers, cameras, travel printers/scanners, and game consoles.

UK: The UK has banned laptops, tablets and other electronic devices larger than 16cm x 9.3cm x 1.5cm. (However, as many smartphones these days fall into these measurements, they will still be allowed on board.)

Which flights are affected?

US: If you are booking a flight to and from the US via Egypt, Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Qatar, Morocco, Jordan, or Saudi Arabia, you will be required to stow your electronic devices in cargo.

Specifically, any flights leaving from the Queen Alia International Airport (AMM), Cairo International Airport (CAI), Ataturk International Airport (IST), King Abdul-Aziz International Airport (JED), King Khalid International Airport (RUH), Kuwait International Airport (KWI), Mohammed V Airport (CMN), Hamad International Airport (DOH), Dubai International Airport (DXB), and Abu Dhabi International Airport (AUH) are required to submit to the new security measures.

UK: In the UK, flights from Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia are affected in the same manner.

If you are catching a connecting flight, check with your carrier ahead of time as you are likely to be made to place your items in cargo.

Read also: Laptops and tablets banned? Here's how to stay productive in flight

President Trump is reportedly considering extending this ban to flights from Europe, and should this be the case, it is likely the UK -- and potentially other countries -- will follow suit.

Business and first-class passegers can loan a laptop from Qatar Airways, but if you are forced to put your tablet or laptop into cargo, there are things to consider.

The consequences

Being separated from your devices comes with the risk of theft, tampering, and physical damage. It is worth contacting your insurer to see if they will make an exception for flights, as in general, most will not traditionally cover any damage caused by bumps, scrapes, or theft if you are separate from your device for a period of time.

In addition, many airlines, such as American Airlines and United will not accept liability for damaged computers in cargo.

Here are some tips, best practices, and a gadget or two which can help keep your devices as safe as possible on your next flight.

Not much time? View in pictures below:

How to protect your laptop in cargo when you fly (in pictures)

1. Before you leave, backup your information: The general rule of thumb used to be: Anything you want to see again, don't put in cargo. Now that there is sometimes no choice, apply this rule instead to your data. Use an external hard drive or a cloud service to create a copy of your information before you go.

2. Consider the content on your device: Data can be cloned, and checked baggage can be stolen. Before you leave home, have a think about what information is stored on your smartphone or laptop, and despite the annoyance which may accompany such a move, you may want to consider removing all but the bare bones from your device. If you don't want anyone else to see it, either leave it at home as a copy or wipe it.

3. An external storage solution: There is currently nothing in the rules to say that an external hard drive, flash drives, or memory cards that are smaller than your average smartphone cannot be taken with you in the cabin. The prospect of losing critical information from your laptop or tablet, or irreplaceable photos from your camera can be heartbreaking, so keep these storage devices on your person. If you have any room to spare in your cabin luggage, a protective sleeve or case to keep your storage devices safe is recommended.

4. Fully encrypt and password-protect your laptop: At the least, you should make sure your laptop or tablet is password-protected. To enhance your personal security further, fully encrypting your device can make it far more difficult for spying eyes to access your property, as well as view or clone your information.

Encryption guides: Privacy 101: How to encrypt your iPhone in one minute | How to encrypt your Android smartphone or tablet | How to encrypt your Apple Mac | How to encrypt Microsoft Windows machines

Read also: Must-have mobile apps to encrypt your texts and calls

5. Have a spare? With checks at the border on the rise, reports of customs in both the US and UK demanding passwords and account information, I am probably not the only one that takes a spare smartphone and laptop away. Rather than having anything to hide, I personally resent the intrusion into my privacy, and so I would only -- grudgingly -- give the bare minimum when asked at these crossings. If you have the budget, taking travel-only "burner" smartphone and laptop without any valuable or sensitive information, account links and data could be a way not only to keep your privacy intact but also to salve the heartache should your devices end up stolen or damaged in transit.

6. Sealed, tamper-proof packaging: It is not always evident if someone has been snooping in your things, so consider using sealed and tamper-resistant packaging will at least warn you in the event your bag has been searched without your knowledge.

7. Packing properly is key: Cargo bags are thrown about, stacked on top of each other, and the pressure of luggage piled up can create the perfect environment to destroy valuable, delicate electronics. UrbanArmor offers rugged casing for everything from Samsung smartphones to Apple Mac laptops, Ottorbox has fashionable and slightly cheaper alternatives, but for a sturdy, foam-filled laptop case you can trim to your own specifications, head over to Maplin.

8. LoJack: One of several tracking services on offer, LoJack is a subscription-based service that uses hard-wipe resistant software embedded in your device's firmware to act as a location tracker and alert system if your laptop is tampered with.

Read also: You're right. That 'electronic Muslim ban' makes no sense

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