ATLANTA — Laptop bags that may not require removal of your computer. Luggage concierge services that enable you to check your bags before you arrive at the airport. PDAs to display your mobile boarding pass.
These gadgets and services can help speed Americans through security, and they will not hit your wallet very hard.
Here are some tips to guide you through deciding whether the extra costs are worth it.
Consider bringing your laptop in a sleeve
Skooba Design sells a laptop sleeve for $19.95 that can be carried on your own with a removable shoulder strap and can unfold to lie flat on the airport X-ray machine belt.
The U.S. Transportation Security Administration will allow you to keep your laptop in such bags during the screening process if security can capture a clear and unobstructed image of the laptop.
Skooba's Netbook Neo-Sleeve is billed as a formfitting, stretchy and cushy case that protects the laptop without adding bulk. It has a front pocket for a power adapter, though you will want to keep the computer alone in the sleeve during screening. A range of so-called "checkpoint friendly" laptop bags can be found on eBags.com.
TSA does not approve specific bags or offer guarantees that the traveler will not have to remove the computer, but it has encouraged manufacturers to design bags that will allow screeners to obtain clear images and give travelers the best shot at being able to keep computers in their bags.
Bottom line: The price is right, so it is worth the cost if you regularly carry a laptop.
Consider checking your bags at your hotel
For instance, Disney offers a free luggage concierge service at some of its Walt Disney World resort hotels in Orlando, Fla. If you are traveling from one U.S. location to another on a designated airline, you can get your boarding pass and check your luggage at the hotel, bypassing airport check-in.
Disney says guests have to visit the hotel airline check-in desk up to three hours before their flight. Delta, United and AirTran are among the participating airlines.
Also some parking lots near major airports, including the Atlanta airport, allow checking bags for free. Only certain airlines participate, but it can free the traveler from carrying bags to the terminal.
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Consider not printing your boarding pass at all
Travelers with Web-enabled mobile devices like a BlackBerry or iPhone can download their boarding passes, then hand over the devices for scanning by federal security screeners and airline gate agents. The service is not yet widely available, but it is expanding. Continental offers the mobile boarding pass option at more than two dozen airports.
A smartphone can cost $199 or more, but hey, you also get to call your friends, check your Facebook page and text your arrival time to the person picking you up. Some airlines even offer, for a fee, the ability to surf the Web with the devices in-flight.
If you have to print out your boarding pass at the airport, save time by doing it at a self-service kiosk.
Bottom line: Don't buy a smartphone just to speed through security, but it is a nice device for a frequent flyer to have.
Consider buying a carryon liquid gels kit
Eagle Creek sells a kit for $15 that comes with a clear plastic zip top bag and four travel-sized squeeze bottles. The bottles hold up to 3 ounces of liquid. You would carry the kit separate from your other belongings.
That will save you the time and hassle of having to open your suitcase or purse and having to remove liquids after they are spotted by a screener.
You're allowed to carry through security up to 3.4 ounces of liquid in a container in a 1-quart clear plastic zip-top bag.
If you want to bring a larger bottle of water, juice or soda on your flight, buy it after you get through security.
Bottom line: The kits are cheap, but only worth it if you carry a lot of liquids. Otherwise, stick with the Ziploc bag.
Oh, and one final tip. Make sure to have your boarding pass and identification at the ready. Not having to fumble around will save you a few minutes.
If all that doesn't get you to your commercial flight on time, those travelers with plenty of disposable income might want to consider a piece of advice from Robert Mann, an airline industry consultant in Port Washington, New York: "A private jet."
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