Review – Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer

I’ve got a thing for notebook bags and over the years I have collected quite a few. This was, however, my first experience with a Tom Bihn bag and boy am I impressed.

This is among the first of the new, TSA (Transportation Safety Administration) approved notebook bags that do not require removal of the device while winding your way through  the security checkpoint gauntlet.

The new TSA rules allow a notebook to remain in its case as long as there is an unobstructed view for the x-ray machine. That means there can be nothing blocking the notebook and that includes pockets, zippers or anything you may have packed next to the notebook. Numerous notebook manufacturers have been designing and releasing these TSA bags and each is taking their own unique approach to it. The Checkpoint Flyer was the first TSA approved case to be released and it is impressive.

Available in three color combinations (Black/Crimson, Black/Steel, Black/Black), the Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer comes in three sizes that are designed to fit the 13, 15 and 17 inch Apple Macbook varieties.

Leaving aside the “TSA-ishness” of the bag for a bit, it quickly becomes clear that this is a great all around case if you want to carry a fair bit of stuff with you while also keeping your precious notebook well protected.

The best way to understand this case is to image a tri-fold wallet.

The center 1/3 of the “Wallet” is the main case. It consists of a large main compartment with two large, internal open storage pockets. Two zippered pockets on the front are great for small accessories. Two open pockets on the back are perfect for storing a few small things that might require quick access. The bottom of the large, rear pocket can be zipped open and the handle of a rolling suitcase can be passed through it. This is a great feature for anyone who has ever watched in horror as a notebook bag balanced on a suitcase toppled over!

The outer 1/3 of the “wallet” is a permanently attached pouch that flips over the front of the case and faces forward. It contains two more zippered pockets that are a great size for a power adapter, and numerous cables.

The final 1/3 is the TSA-approved wonder. This is a form-fitting, fully-zippering notebook sleeve/case. It offers nice padding, a sturdy padded handle and is fit perfectly so that, once inside, the notebook will not shift a bit.

The bottom of the sleeve/case is held securely to the main case by two sturdy clips.

The three “parts” fit together perfectly. The handle of the sleeve/case slips through an opening between the other 2/3s of the “wallet” and serves as a second handle to the case as a whole. Finally, the outer 1/3 of the “wallet” flips over the sleeve/case and clips to the main compartment with two large plastic clips (thereby making a “notebook sandwich”).

Once the outer 1/3 is over the notebook and clipped to the main compartment the entire case feels as if it were one solid piece.

If all this sounds a bit convoluted never fear- once you actually handle the bag it isn’t. Better yet, if you take a look at this short video it will all make sense.

To make the bag TSA-friendly you simply unclip two large clips on the bottom, and lay the entire case out flat. (Imagine laying a tri-fold wallet flat on the table and you have a pretty good idea of how it all works together.) A little complicated, yes, but it works perfectly. Within seconds you can go from briefcase to “flattened billfold” and back to briefcase.

Add to that the fact that the manufacturing quality on this case is superb and you not only get a well-thought-out case but you get a well-thought-out case that is tough as nails and will endure years of use and abuse.

What amazes me most is not the originality of thought that went into designing this bag (although a tremendous amount of originality of thought went into designing this bag!!) but the attention to detail on every aspect of this case. The zippers are splash proof. The material is tough as nails. The seams are all double stitched. And every single piece of the bag fits together perfectly — which is saying a lot when you consider how complicated the bag actually is. It’s now clear to me why Tom Bihn has earned the reputation they have.

There are two other aspects of the bag that are worth mentioning.

First, my bag shipped with what Tom Bihn refers to as their “Horizontal Freudian Slip”.

This is effectively an insert that goes into the main compartment of the bag and provides 11 additional pockets.  It works with a number of the company’s bags and allows you to organize what you need and either remove it for use or transfer it quickly to another bag without a bit of hassle. It can fit up to half an inch of files, holds numerous pens and pencils and other assorted goodies. In all, it’s a good way to get that extra bit of organization, as well as quick access to those things you might need immediately.

The second thing about the bag that’s worth mentioning is that this sleeve/case comes fit specifically to a 13 inch, a 15 inch, or 17 inch Macbook.  (It will, of course, work with other notebooks.) Part of the beauty of this case is that the three sizes of sleeve/cases are interchangeable. You could, for instance, have a sleeve/case for a 17 inch Macbook Pro and one for a 13 inch Macbook and use the same bag at different times with each. That’s particularly important with a product such as this that will last a long time — possibly much longer than the notebook you’re initially intending to protect.  If you go from a 17 inch to a 15 inch notebook you simply buy a different sleeve/case and continue to use the rest of the bag as originally purchased.

In fact, between arranging to get the review unit and actually receiving it I sold my 15 inch Macbook Pro and purchased one of the new 13 inch Macbooks. As a result, the sleeve/case fits my wife’s 15 inch Macbook perfectly but is too large for my notebook. Fortunately, you can purchase additional sleeve/cases when the need arises. (I will be ordering mine soon.)

All this quality does come at a price. The Tom Bihn Checkpoint Flyer costs $220.  And that is simply the cost of the bag itself.

You’ll want to order a shoulder strap with it since it doesn’t ship with one. That will cost an additional $20-$30. The bag I’ve been reviewing as one of their “Absolute Shoulder Strap”  which provides some stretchy material in the shoulder pad that can help reduce the load and wear and tear on your shoulder. (In light of the fact that it’s likely you’ll be carrying a fair amount in a bag this large and sturdy the more expensive shoulder strap is highly advisable.)

The Freudian Slip is an additional $35. Having used an insert such as this with other cases I find that the opportunity to pull out those things I need most with ease, rather than rummaging through my entire bag looking for what I want, is worth the cost.

Finally, the company also offers packing cubes at the cost of $18 each or $30 for a pair.

In other words, a fully equipped bag can get rather pricey rather quickly. Then again, how much is it worth to protect your valuable notebook and to gain a little bit of convenience in a world in which travel is increasingly inconvenient?

While I’m not sure this is the bag I would recommend to someone who doesn’t do a fair bit of traveling, I can’t deny the fact that it looks great, works great, and is close to perfect if you want to protect your notebook and get through security a bit quicker. I’ll be traveling later this month and will be bringing my new Macbook with me. There’s no question that it’s going to be inside this case during the trip. I guess that says it all.

What I like:

Incredibly well built
Good looking
Great for staying organized while traveling
Built to the TSA specifications necessary to get through security faster
Allows you to change the size of the notebook compartment if necessary

What I don’t:
On the pricey side
Initially looks a little bit complicated to use (it’s not)

The Checkpoint Flyer is available directly from Tom Bihn HERE at a starting retail price of $220.

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  1. Gear Diary Review: The Checkpoint Flyer - TOM BIHN Blog: We make travel bags in Seattle, Washington