Travelling By Plane with the Smart Alec


I took to the air the other day, with a crowd of strangers. I flew west.

This was my first air travel experience using the Smart Alec. I was keen to find out whether it lived up to my hefty expectations. If you’d like to read about my expectations, go and read my five thousand word review of the Smart Alec. Seriously, that’s how long it is. In depth. No, you have a problem.

I’m a giant fan of people reviewing gear that they’ve actually used for a decent amount of time, and then re-reviewing it a while later to say how it’s doing. Reviews without any experience might as well be extended PR pitches, usually. So consider this my Smart Alec check-in. I’m mostly interested in how well it did as a bag for a short business trip by plane. But before that I might as well fill you in on how it’s been doing in day-to-day use.

Every-day Carry

In brief: I’ve used the Smart Alec daily since my previous review, and everything positive I’ve said about it still stands.

Here are a couple of observations:

  • I’m not sure if I’ve been taking extra good care of it, or if it’s just built that way, but it looks about as good as the day I bought it. It hasn’t even succumbed to the regular backpack slump.
  • With a bag like the Smart Alec, it’s easy to overload it. I started out carrying around probably 30lb of stuff I “might need”. Eventually, I realized it never saw the light of day, so now I carry much less. The tightening capability of the Smart Alec means that it’s still a nice compact shape on my back.
  • I’ve never encountered a situation yet where the bag didn’t handle what was asked of it (in terms of what I put in it, it isn’t making me coffee, or anything) and I think this is largely due to the flexibility of the big main compartment and expandable pockets.

Flying

So it does great as a day-to-day bag. But how does it do when flying? I was interested to know, especially because one of the add-ons I use with the bag is the Cache with Rails, which I talk about here. The Cache with Rails is specifically designed to be TSA checkpoint-friendly — you can pull it out of the bag, it’s still attached but it satisfies the requirements that you remove all laptops from bags before they go through the X-Ray machine.

Well, that’s all well and good, but in the security line I was in, everyone was putting everything in the trays. Are you supposed to drape the whole contraption across two trays? Go trayless and trust that nothing gets caught? It just stressed me out, so I removed the Cache completely, unclipping it, rendering the Rails useless.

In all honesty I can’t say the Cache is the best laptop case I’ve ever used. It’s still incredibly hard to get my MacBook out from it — a combination of a really snug fit and the smoothness of brushed aluminum in your hands means that it don’t come out easy.

Putting that aside, the Smart Alec is the best bag I’ve ever taken on a plane trip. That’s saying something, because I’ve taken a lot of different bags on planes, from plastic bags to industrial canvas laundry bags. Anything that improves the humiliating, dreary experience that flying has become is well worth it.

The way the top opening is configured is perfect. A great feature of the bag is it’ll stand up by itself (when packed) and you can open the top and access whatever is inside. Once you’re in the plane, you can put it under the seat in front and still have access to everything in the main compartment.

I easily managed to fit everything I needed for my trip inside, in a couple of packing cubes. The Smart Alec has this weird Tardis-like quality where you never quite fill it, no matter how much you put in there. I’d happily take it on a much longer trip.

The Smart Alec has proved itself for air travel. I’d still heartily recommend it to anyone.

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