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The Skooba Checkthrough is one of a new batch of products designed to meet TSA guidelines for bags that let you zip through airport security without removing your laptop. For the most part, we like it: it's roomy, contains plenty of organizer pockets, and features a well-though-out butterfly design that gets you through airport security quickly without having to worry about leaving anything behind. In fact, the only real downside to the bag stems from its roominess; the bag itself is a little bulky, and when fully loaded it can be painful to carry it on one shoulder for long. (There is a handy strap to secure the bag to the handle of your rolling luggage, which offers some relief.) Nevertheless, we think the Skooba Checkthrough is a good pick for frequent travelers who carry lots of accessories (or even a change of clothes) with their laptops.
Though primarily designed to hold 15.4-inch laptops, the $139 Skooba Checkthrough can accommodate most 16-inch and even some slim 17-inch systems, such as the MacBook Pro. Measuring 17 inches wide, 13 inches tall, and 7.5 inches deep, the Checkthrough is slightly roomier than the Targus Zip-Through laptop bag. Like the Targus, the Skooba Checkthrough features two distinct halves: the back half is for your laptop (and nothing else), while the front half is for everything else you carry. Between the two halves sits a double zipper, which, when unzipped, splits the bag open butterfly style so it can lay flat on the X-ray machine's conveyor belt.
A double zipper on the front half of the bag opens wide to reveal a large compartment for files and cables. A thin panel in the middle divides the section in two parts and includes two mesh pockets for storing drives, cables, or other accessories. Two additional zippered mesh pockets and four fabric pockets line the inside front of the compartment, while two accordion-fold fabric flaps on the sides ensure that no small items fall out of the bag.
On the front panel there's an additional curved zipper that opens onto a small compartment to keep travel necessities within close reach. A shallow pocket near the top is perfectly sized for a boarding pass or paper tickets; a similar pocket next to it is the size of a passport. There's also a clip attached to the interior of this compartment, which helps you keep track of your keys. On the very front of the bag are two zippered cargo pouches with additional organizer pockets inside; in one of the cargo pouches Skooba includes a clear quart-size plastic bag that can be used to carry your travel liquids. On the side of the bag sits an ID holder that's attached to the bag via a retractable strap. About the only thing missing is a convenient pocket for the water bottle you doubtlessly purchase after clearing the security checkpoint.
The amount of space in this bag is remarkable. We recently traveled with a 15.4-inch laptop in the Checkthrough's laptop compartment, plus a 13-inch ultraportable and a 9-inch Netbook stashed in the front half of the bag. Though of course we had to remove the two laptops from the front of the bag, we did not have to remove the 15.4-inch system, which went through the X-ray machine without a hitch. (Our security screener even commented that it was the first TSA-approved bag he'd seen.) We appreciate that the Checkthrough's hinge is at the top of the bag, so you can carry it even with the central zipper open. We were able to sling the bag over our shoulder and clear the screening area without pausing to zip up the bag until we'd reached the gate.
The Checkthrough's heavily padded shoulder strap and briefcase handle are very comfortable, but a fully loaded bag can be a lot of weight to carry on one shoulder or in one hand. Some relief can be found via a strap on the back, which lets users secure the bag onto the handle of a rolling suitcase. But given the size of the Checkthrough, compulsive over-packers (and editors who travel with multiple laptops) might want to look for a bag that has wheels of its own.