The Portable Office: Travel Terrors
As we were putting together our Portable Office series , we asked readers to tell us about some of the worst things that have befallen them when they’ve hit the road with their Macs. Here are some of the worst of the worst.
Have you experienced worse? Tell us all about in the comments below.
Terror at 30,000 Feet
I was on a red-eye flight to the East Coast when nature called. I shut down my laptop and placed it in the seat pocket. On returning to my seat, I discovered it was missing. Surveying the surrounding area, I found a pre-teen boy nearby using my laptop. When I confronted the kid, his parent said the boy was bored and that I should share my computer with him. I refused and rang for the flight attendant, only to find out that she was the one who’d given the kid my laptop. They finally relented and I retrieved my laptop.
Lesson learned: Password-protect your laptop so strangers can’t use it, even if they do get their hands on it.
I was flying Virgin America, with my MacBook Pro plugged into one their plentiful on-board power ports. I was happily computing away until midflight, when my laptop suddenly conked out. On investigation, I discovered that my power adapter had actually melted. I think it was a defective power adapter; some of the early MagSafes reportedly had heating problems. Virgin still offered to replace mine and gave me a free round-trip flight.
Lesson learned: When using your laptop on a plane, check the MagSafe cord every so often to make sure it’s OK.
A couple of years ago I was flying to Athens. I was enjoying the flight, getting some work done on my MacBook Pro, when an older woman (who had obviously availed herself of the in-flight beverage service) nearby became fascinated by my laptop. She tried to sit down beside me to get a closer look. A member of the crew shooed her away, but she kept coming back to ask about my “shiny silver computer.” The flight attendant promised her whatever she wanted from the drinks trolley if she’d go back to her seat. Surprisingly, the woman asked for sparkling water—but demanded it in a glass bottle. The flight attendant went off in search of it. Meanwhile, the woman was actually trying to grab my computer, saying, “It’s so nice, I want one too.” Finally the flight attendant returned with the glass bottle of water. The woman lunged for it, staggered into the flight attendant, and swayed back and forth. The bottle shot out of her hand and crashed on to my poor MacBook Pro, creating a sizeable dent in the keyboard and surrounding frame. The laptop still worked fine; I used it for the four weeks of my trip without any problems. When I got home, I had it fixed and it was good as new.
Lesson learned: If you use aesthetically appealing notebooks in public, be prepared for unwanted interruptions.
I frequently travel cross-country on Amtrak. On my last trip, I fell asleep with my MacBook on the pull-down table, the lid open so I could listen to my music. I awoke to find the guy in the forward seat had reclined his seat and squashed my MacBook, completely bending it out of shape. For months after that, my Mac suffered from frequent crashes and overheating. After one Apple technician told me the problem was not covered by warranty, another replaced a part and told me to keep an eye on the heat using a temperature monitoring utility. Although my Mac still won’t close quite straight, it has not crashed in many moons.
Lesson learned: If you might fall asleep on a train or plane, don’t leave your MacBook open on the tray table.
Tales of the TSA
Going through airport security on a recent business trip, I put my laptop bag in the plastic bin, removed my MacBook from it, and placed the laptop on top of the bag. But before I could place the bin on the conveyor belt, I watched in horror as my MacBook slipped off the nylon bag, right over the lip of the bin, and fell with a crash to the floor. (TSA folks told me people drop laptops during security checks at least once a week.)
Lesson learned Put your laptop under your laptop bag in the TSA bin, not on top.
In 2002, I traveled from Toronto to San Diego. When I went through security, they wanted me to turn on my PowerBook to make sure it was legit. One problem: The battery was dead, and the power cord was in my checked baggage. The security supervisor insisted that, if I could not turn on my computer, I would have to check it as baggage. I went back to the ticket counter and checked my carry-on bag. Fortunately, I removed my cell phone, PDA, and a few other items first. Because when I got to San Diego, my Mac was no longer in my carry-on bag; thieves had even found my suitcase where I had the power cords and took those, too.
Lesson learned: I always pack my computer and the power cord in the same bag and never let my laptop out of my sight when I’m traveling.
Accidents Will Happen
The scene: A brand new 12-inch PowerBook and a latte without a lid sitting together on a coffee shop table. The table had three legs instead of the usual four, and there was a 10-month old Schnoodle puppy tied to one of those legs. You know where this is going: The Schnoodle saw something in the distance and lunged for it. In the split second before I could hit the power button, the latte spilled all over the PowerBook, frying the LCD, voltage inverter and motherboard.
Lesson learned: I now maintain a beverage-free zone of at least 12 inches around my Mac.
I normally carry my MacBook inside my school bag wherever I go. But one day, I put my school bag on the passenger seat of my car, then set my MacBook on top of it. About a mile down the road, I came around a corner to see another car coming at me in my lane of the road. I quickly swerved and wound up going down into a sandy ditch, flipping my car over twice. After I crawled out and regained my senses, I found my MacBook had been thrown through the window a good distance away. It was dirty, scratched up, but when I opened the lid and turned it on, it still worked perfectly. In fact, my fiancee is still using that MacBook, while I have a nice new MacBook Pro.
Lesson learned: When I’m driving with my Mac, I secure it safely, inside its bag, before I go anywhere.
I once dropped my MacBook Pro—nestled in a padded laptop bag—onto a concrete floor while trying to unlock a door. The display backlight was destroyed, and it didn’t make economic sense to replace it, so I had to buy a new computer.
Lesson learned: I now carry my MacBook Pro in a well-padded wheeled bag; I can’t drop it because it’s already on the ground. The bag cost $210, but that’s a bargain compared to the cost of a new Mac.
I’ve lost three iPods. I left one on a bus between terminals at a Philadelphia airport. Another I left in the seatback pocket of a US Airways plane. The third I left plugged into a wall outlet at a Boston airport gate. It was a 5:00 a.m. flight, and I was simply too tired to remember it when the boarding announcement jolted me up.
Lesson learned: I no longer buy Apple mobile devices. Go with run of the mill stuff instead.
The Portable Office: Travel Terrors