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Laptop Bags: Industry Process and Guidelines

Tuesday, July 29, 2008
TSA Press Office
(571) 227-2829

On March 3, 2008, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) posted a Request for Information (RFI) on Federal Business Opportunities calling for information on innovative laptop bag designs that would present a clear image equal to or better than the image of the laptop in the bin when X-rayed. The RFI asked that offerors submit information and design concepts of their bags within 30 days and prototypes within 90 days.

The overall operational objective of the RFI was to determine the potential for making the screening process for laptops more efficient for both passengers and Transportation Security Officers (TSOs). By allowing passengers to keep their laptops in their laptop bags, TSA can improve the overall passenger security experience, while reducing passenger stress and anxiety at the checkpoint.

As a result of the RFI, TSA received an overwhelming response, with more than 40 interested bag manufacturers submitting prototypes. TSA reviewed the laptop bag prototypes internally and conducted a rigorous lab assessment of the prototypes at the Transportation Security Laboratory in Atlantic City, N.J., in order to provide industry with a list (below) of "what not to do" with their designs (e.g. no metal snaps, zippers, pockets, etc.). TSA did not use the prototypes to provide feedback to manufacturers on their individual designs.

In addition to providing manufacturers with a "what not to do" list, TSA established three pilot sites, Austin, Texas (AUS), Washington Dulles area (IAD) and Ontario, Calif. (ONT), where bag manufacturers could make appointments to test their bags and receive direct feedback from TSOs. The "what not to do" list together with testing at the pilot sites has enabled industry to further refine their bag designs.

Although TSA is no longer accepting white papers or bag prototypes, interested bag manufacturers are encouraged to develop bags that meet the criteria below and participate in testing by setting up an appointment at one of the three test sites. This will enable manufacturers to develop bag designs that present a clear and unobstructed X-ray image of the laptop when screened.

TSA will implement a policy change across all airports in Fall 2008, allowing laptops to remain in "checkpoint friendly" bags. This change has not yet taken effect. We will update this Web site as we move towards that date.

TSA does not approve, endorse, or otherwise promote any private or commercial laptop bag design or laptop bag manufacturer. TSA will allow laptops to remain in any bag through security screening provided the bag allows for a clear and unobstructed X-ray image of the laptop, when used properly; TSA will conduct additional screening on any bag that fails to provide such an image.

TSA does not approve, endorse, recognize or otherwise promote any private or commercial brand, logo, seal, or other identifying mark associated with the checkpoint friendly bag initiative. Nor has TSA entered into any relationship with any private or commercial entity to establish or recognize such an identifying mark.

Any representations made by a laptop bag manufacturer or promoter concerning a product, brand, logo, seal, or other identifying mark is solely at the manufacturer's or promoter's risk. TSA's security responsibilities are in no way limited by any such representations.

Laptop Bag Requirements

PART 1: Collective Feedback "what not to do"

As specified in the RFI, there should be no straps, pockets, zippers, handles, or closures that interfere with the image of the laptop. To reiterate (given these elements were seen in prototypes):

  • No metal snaps, zippers underneath or on top of where the laptop would be X-rayed;
  • Plastic elements work much better than anything metal; and
  • No pockets either underneath or on top of where the laptop would be X-rayed.

Thick dividers in bags do not work to produce a clear image. TSA is interested in the quality of the X-ray image. If the bag presents a clear image, TSOs will allow the laptop to remain in the bag and secondary screening will not be necessary UNLESS another portion of the bag has alarmed.

Emblems or seals that are thick and placed on top of where the X-ray image would be taken do not allow for a clear image.

PART 2: Overarching Guidance

Passenger Behavior: A bag that is produced by the manufacturer and presents a clear image during testing does not automatically mean that the same bag, when used by a passenger, will not alarm. Why? If there is room in the laptop compartment to store other items, such as a power cord, a passenger may choose to do so. Designs must guide passenger behavior or passengers must be notified by the manufacturer on how to use the bag in the way it was intended.

Durability: A bin protects a laptop from other articles bumping up against it at both the front and back ends of the X-ray. Since the bags will go directly on the conveyor belt and not in a bin, the bag design should provide an equal level of protection if customers' laptops are to remain unharmed during screening.

Accessibility: If the bag alarms, the TSO should be able to have easy access to the laptop computer for secondary screening. If bags are designed in such a way that it takes a TSO a long time to figure out how to remove the laptop, the passenger wait time has just increased significantly, thus defeating the purpose of the bag completely.

Recognizability: TSOs currently instruct passengers to remove all laptops from bags. This will continue except in instances where passengers have a bag that is designed to allow for a clear X-ray image. Designs should be distinguishable from other standard laptop cases.

Pilot Locations

The Transportation Security Administration is allowing laptop bag manufacturers to test their checkpoint friendly bag prototypes at the following three airports effective Wednesday, June 25, 2008. Appointments must be made via e-mail with the following points of contact:

Ontario International Airport (ONT) - Ontario, Calif.
Please contact: Daniel Schreck
  (909) 472-0105
Type of X-ray used: Single View TRX X-ray
Austin/Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) - Austin, Texas
Please contact: Alex Herrera
  (512) 386-2005
Type of X-ray used: Single View TRX X-ray
Dulles International Airport (IAD) – Chantilly, VA.
Please contact: David Graham
  (703) 662-2259
Type of X-ray used: Dual View AT X-ray

Appointments will be roughly one hour in length, allowing each manufacturer ample time to test multiple prototypes if needed. Additional time may be scheduled upon special request. Appointments will be scheduled during periods when the airport checkpoint experiences low or no passenger volume. These times will be determined by the local TSA point of contact. Please understand that passenger security operations take precedence over testing activities, including during scheduled appointments if necessary.

An appointment will be for up to an hour with at least one TSO trained in TSA protocols for X-ray screening, the use of TSA X-ray equipment** for testing of laptop bag prototypes, as well as informal feedback from the TSO(s) on bag performance. Any information about a bag's performance that a TSA employee exchanges during testing does not represent an official TSA or DHS certification, approval, or any other form of official support. Manufacturers will make the determination that a specific bag is checkpoint friendly, based on their independent assessment of its performance during testing, but this designation will not be conferred by TSA.

Both TSA and the bag manufacturers participating in this testing process agree to be liable for their own negligent or wrongful acts or omissions, subject to the overriding limitations of the Federal Tort Claims Act.

All photography, video recording, tape recording, audio recording, digital recording, etc. is prohibited at the security checkpoint during appointments.

** The Transportation Security Administration uses single view TRX as well as dual view AT X-rays at the security checkpoint. There are currently more TRX single view X-rays in the field than dual view AT X-rays and therefore it is recommended that bags be tested on both.

TSA will not be providing any laptops or any other materials that industry may want to see inside their bags while in the X-ray machine. Manufactures must provide their own laptop and it is recommended that manufacturers test more than one style of laptop inside their bags during their appointments.

Marketing Restrictions

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) does not give preferential treatment to any private company, or endorse any particular manufacturer's products.

Laptop bag manufacturers may not indicate in any of their marketing, packaging, warranties, or related activities that TSA certifies, recognizes, approves, endorses, guarantees, sanctions, or in any other manner favors a particular bag or design. Manufacturers may indicate that a specific bag is "checkpoint friendly," based on their independent assessment of its characteristics, but must not state, imply or suggest that this designation has been conferred by TSA.

Bag manufacturers may not refer to their products as "TSA Bags" or any variation thereof. Similarly, the term "TSA" may not be used in connection with a company's call center, coupon codes, or other business activities. Such references imply that the manufacturer, or its product, has a special relationship with TSA, which would constitute a misrepresentation of the facts.

Use of the TSA logo or Department of Homeland Security (DHS) seal by any bag manufacturer is specifically prohibited. Use of the TSA logo or DHS seal may constitute a criminal violation under 18 U.S.C. § 506.

Bag manufacturers may not state or imply that TSA employees will never need to remove a laptop computer from a particular bag to properly screen it.

Bag manufacturers must ensure that all third party retailers selling its products are aware of and comply with the restrictions above.