Last Updated on March 10, 2021
So you want to bring your desktop on an airplane?
Flying with a desktop computer isn’t all that hard, you can literally throw it in a suitcase and off you go.
But getting it to your destination still functional might take a little more planning. Especially if you are intending to bring a monitor too!
This post covers the rules about flying with computers and it’s got some advice on packaging to prevent damage so you’ll still be able to boot up after you land.
TSA Desktop Computer Rules
The Transportation Security Administration is the agency that operates the airport security checkpoint.
I checked what they had to say about taking desktop computers on planes.
The TSA doesn’t have a problem with your PC. So in terms of security screening, there is nothing to stop you from packing a desktop computer case in either carry-on baggage or checked baggage.
The only stipulation is that if you fly with your computer in a carry-on bag you must remove it from your luggage and place it in a separate bin from x-ray screening. The same procedure that you’d do with a laptop or a tablet.
Don’t worry about the x-ray machine damaging your hard drive. Laptops go through the screening process all the time so there is no risk to your data.
Can You Take Computer Parts On A Plane?
Another relevant entry on the TSA website is about bring computer parts when you travel.
Some passengers traveling with PC’s disassemble them to help with packing.
The TSA doesn’t have any restrictions on computer parts in either checked bags or hand luggage.
Can You Bring A Monitor On A Plane?
There is no mention of computer monitors on the TSA website so I checked on Twitter to see if they had answered this question there.
The TSA confirmed that you can pack a computer monitor in checked luggage but they don’t recommend that you do it.
I agree. Packing a monitor in a checked bag would always be a last resort. I’d probably prefer to take my chances shipping a PC rather than letting the baggage handlers throw it around.
David asked the TSA about bringing a computer monitor in his carry-on baggage and they confirmed that monitors are allowed in carry-on bags.
So there are no security concerns about desktop computers in either checked baggage or cabin luggage.
But there’s a catch…
Your PC needs to be able to fit in your suitcase.
The airlines regulate the type, size and weight for carry-on luggage and checked bags.
If you are thinking of flying with your desktop computer you’ll need to know the size and weight regulations for your airline and any applicable fees.
Flying with a desktop is all about balancing the airline restrictions with the fact that your equipment is valuable and fragile.
Packing A Desktop Computer In Your Carry On
The best way to travel with a desktop PC is by packing it in your carry-on bag if possible.
You are in charge of your carry-on. You can be trusted not to throw it around or store it somewhere unsafe.
The most common size of suitcase that can be brought as a carry-on is 22 x 14 x 9 inches and weight limits are uncommon for hand luggage in the United States.
That means that some towers are going to fit and some won’t. You need to get the measuring tape out.
Super towers and full size towers are going to be too large to be taken in carry-on luggage.
If your desktop PC is a mid tower then there is a chance it might be able to qualify as cabin luggage.
You might want to check out Southwest for flights since they have a larger carry-on size limit of 24 x 16 x 10 inches. Also the low-cost airlines Spirit and Frontier have larger carry-on size limits but you need to pay a fee to bring a carry-on.
The Frontier size limit is the same as Southwest. The largest carry-on size is actually with Spirit airlines when you pay the fee they’ll let you bring a 24 x 18 x 10 inches bag. So Spirit might be your best bet for flying with a mid tower in hand luggage.
And consider Delta too. If the three dimensions of your tower add up to less than 45 inches you might be able to bring it as a carry-on on a Delta flight.
Mini towers and other small form factors should fit in most carry-on bags and this is the best place to pack them so you can keep an eye on them.
Remember you don’t need to use a suitcase you can a desktop computer bag. The only important thing is that your bag must be under the size limits of the airline you are flying with.
If you’ve filled your carry-on on suitcase with a tower then you’ll need somewhere else to pack your clothes.
A lot of people don’t realize that the personal item allowance is often quite large.
Check the size limit of your personal item for the airline you are flying with. You can use this extra packing space and might be able to avoid paying for a checked bag just for your clothes.
Packing A Desktop PC In Checked Luggage
Most larger desktop computers will need to be packed in checked luggage.
Checked luggage limits are usually given in linear inches. The most common size limit is 62 linear inches.
This means that the length, width, and depth much sum to less than 62. The case with the most capacity won’t actually be a suitcase shape but in fact a square cube with 20.66 inch sides. You could pack your pc and monitor in a box rather than a suitcase.
However, you are much more likely to hit the weight limit than the size limit. Most airlines only allow checked bags to weigh 50 lbs. A full tower gaming PC can often exceed the 50 lbs weight limit. Spirit and Allegiant have a 40 lb weight limit for checked bags.
This is one of the reasons why you might want to disassemble your computer. If you can remove parts from your build you can pack components in your hand luggage thereby reducing the weight of your checked suitcase.
The fees for overweight checked bags can be substantial so make sure you weigh your suitcase before attempting to fly.
Rather than stuffing your case full of clothes to provide padding packing peanuts will be a lighter option.
Make sure you label your suitcase as fragile and consider damage insurance for your computer.
These fliers packed their desktop in suitcases for travel and you can see how tight a fit it is.
It really comes down to the size of your tower. You might also need to disassemble the monitor stand to pack it more efficiently.
The Bottom Line
Transporting a desktop computer on a plane isn’t a problem from a TSA rules perspective.
The difficulty lies when you have a large build. These systems can only fit in checked luggage and you are then at the mercy of the baggage handlers.
There is a real risk to damage of your PC if you check it. You can remove some of the more fragile components and pack them in your hand luggage.
That also might help mitigate the risk of theft. Things go missing from checked bags all the time. I’d leave a note for any would be thief to let them know that components have been removed from the PC and that it won’t boot up.
You also need to be very careful about the 50 lb weight limit. Go put your tower on the bathroom scales and see what it weighs!
If you are moving permanently one option could be to remove components and pack them carefully in hand luggage. Then buy a new PC case and rebuild your rig at your new home.
Alternatively, you might be better to ship your PC rather than bringing it on a plane with you.
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