Rules for Laptops on Planes

Airlines have strict rules about the use of laptops onboard.
Airlines have strict rules about the use of laptops onboard. (Image: plane parking image by Mat Hayward from

Laptops are common just about everywhere you look. As the technology continues to become more portable, the likelihood that you’ll want to bring your laptop along on a plane trip increases. People commonly keep their work, social lives and entertainment on laptops and they tend to take them wherever they go. But taking a laptop onto an airplane involves some rules set forth by the FAA and TSA. Following these rules is important to your own safety as well as that of our fellow passengers.

Separate Screening

Security screenings at airports since 2001 has been hard to keep up with at times. What was acceptable to bring along on one trip was suddenly banned on another. After years of tweaking the system, the rules on laptops at security screenings appear to be here to stay.

You must remove your laptop from your carry-on luggage or from its case when you approach the security checkpoint, according to the TSA website. Your laptop must be screened separately and put through the X-ray machine. You may be asked to turn it on as well. This rule applies to laptops, but not phone-sized devices. It also pertains to video cameras that use cassettes.

Takeoff and Landing

Airlines typically require passengers to turn off their electronics prior to takeoff and leave them off until the plane reaches its cruising altitude. The captain or crew will notify the passengers when it is acceptable to turn the devices back on. This rule includes laptop computers.

The same shutdown is required of passengers when the plane begins its descent to its destination. The laptop should remain off until the plane has landed. The reason for this shutdown is the possibility of interference from the device for the plane’s systems.

According to the Travel Assist website, newer wireless devices like laptops may operate at or near the same frequency as the airplane’s avionics. Older devices may have gaps in electromagnetic shielding that could cause dangerous interference.


Wireless Internet and cellular Internet technology are common with laptops. The signal from Wi-Fi hotspots or cellular signals used for phones can be used by laptops to connect to the Internet from just about anywhere, including a plane. However, airline rules prohibit the use of Wi-Fi or cellular devices onboard to prevent interference with flight systems.

Most laptops and cell phones have an “airplane mode,” or an easy way to shut down this type of capability so that the device can be used in flight safely.

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