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What Makes iPads Safer Than Laptops at Airport Security?

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Airport security: shoes off, jackets off, no liquids over 100 milliliters, no weapons (duh), no metal belt buckles, be ready to prove that’s actually a metal screw in your knee, watch out for your body piercings, and, perhaps most importantly, laptops should be removed from bags and placed in separate bins. iPads (AAPL) are fine, though.

That, anyways, was the discovery made by New York Times reporter Matt Richtel on a recent trip.

On his way through security, Richtel asked a TSA agent if they would like him to remove his iPad from his bag. Their answer led him on an extensive quest to figure out what, for security purposes, constitutes a laptop.

Initially, the TSA was unwilling to share why laptops went through security when iPads -- or indeed iPhones, Androids (GOOG), and other smartphones, all of which feature sophisticated technology -- don’t. A number of theories quickly came and went, as most of the potentially dangerous features of laptops also exist in smartphones and tablets.

The TSA’s blogger team eventually stepped in and explained that laptops should be removed because of their size, and to allow security staff a better view of both them and bags. Later on, it added that screen size was the determining factor, exempting smaller MacBook Airs. One expert posited that the difference was volume, but quickly pointed out that some laptops are smaller than tablets.

Ultimately, it looks like there isn’t much of a difference between tablets and laptops, other than the fact that one is removed from a bag while the other is not. An anonymous expert quoted in the article refers to the distinction as “security theater.”

Of course, theater or not, travelers still have to go through security. Here’s a list of the TSA’s complete guidelines.

Meanwhile, for travelers with smartphones, the Hipmunk app, a competitor of Orbitz (OWW) and Kayak, recently hit one million downloads and has added a calendar features. Anything to make travel a little bit easier.
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