Few tasks in life approach the horror that is modern commercial air travel. Arguably the most dreaded aspect of which is the infamous security checkpoint, where one's person and belongings are poured over, with a curiously particular attention paid to shoes, liquids, and naturally, laptops. There are two certainties to life on the checkpoint line: a TSA employee will repeatedly implore people on the line to remove their laptops for a solo trip down the X-ray machine conveyor belt; and that you'll inevitably get stuck behind some guy who forgot to take his laptop out, thereby holding up the entire grim procession as he fumbles with his bag.
Frequent travelers cheered when, several months ago, the TSA announced a series of guidelines for building a checkpoint-friendly laptop bag, one which could zip through the X-ray machine with a laptop inside. The sticking point, apparently, was that people always had a lot of junk sitting in the same pocket as their laptops, and the screeners needed an especially clear view.
The first two TSA-approved bags we've looked at are the Targus Zip-Thru and the CODi Phantom CT3. TSA-approved is a bit of an overstatement--the bags follow publicly available TSA guidelines, which call for either a single-item sleeve case, a butterfly-style bag, or a tri-fold bag--all of which must provide for a distinct laptop compartment, with no additional pockets, and no room for anything other than your laptop. The TSA itself does not certify or otherwise approve the final products.
Both the Targus and CODi bags are butterfly-style, with a laptop-only half and a second compartment for your AC adapter, keys, iPods, papers, etc. The Targus bag splits in two with a zipper, while the CODI has two plastic clips and a patch of Velcro.
Both were reasonably functional, corporate-style laptop bags--not for the fashion-conscious, to be sure. But at $255, the CODi bag was more than twice as expensive as the essentially similar Targus model. And therein lies the basic problem: no matter how closely a bag maker follows the published guidelines, the agents at the security checkpoint are under no obligation to let your laptop pass through in even one of these bags. In fact, we suspect many TSA employees aren't aware of the new bag designs (remember the problems they had earlier this year with the SSD hard drive in the MacBook Air), and are just as likely as not to make you remove your laptop anyway, defeating the purpose of having a special laptop bag in the first place.