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How To Fly With a Gaming PC (the Ultimate Guide)

Flying on can already be a pain without the added hassle of worrying about your luggage. However, if you have to take something as expensive and fragile as a gaming PC on a flight, chances are its safety is the first thing on your mind. The process is more complicated than you might think, at least if you want to keep your computer safe, that is..

Here’s how to fly with a gaming PC:

  1. Create a backup of your PC’s data.
  2. Remove detachable parts from your PC.
  3. Pack everything safely and securely.
  4. Keep fragile parts with you.

Gaming PCs are expensive, so it’s understandable to be concerned about taking yours on a flight. Fortunately, you can remove any risk to your machine almost entirely with a few precautions, and this article will walk you through the process in detail.

1. Create a Backup of Your PC’s Data

The first and most important step to properly flying with a PC actually has nothing to do with the flight. Instead, before leaving the house or even unplugging your computer, the first thing you should do is back up your data.

It’s essential to back up your data in case anything happens to it during the flight. For example, should an important part like the hard drive get lost or damaged, all your data will go with it. 

It could be mishandled by a baggage checker, get hit with some static in the wrong way, or end up misplaced during the flight and vanish.

With this in mind, it’s best to air on the side of caution and make sure you have a backup of anything important.

When it comes to backing up your data, you have two main options, and I’ll go over some vital information about both.

Make a Physical Backup

A physical backup is done using an external memory device that’s plugged or inserted into the computer, such as a USB or disk drive. If you’ve never done this before, I recommend a USB drive because they’re cheap, easy to use, and even easier to transport. 

For example, the SanDisk Cruzer Glide Flash Drive on Amazon.com has good storage space for its price, but if you don’t have a lot of important data to save, any USB drive should do.

To use a USB drive: 

  • Plug it into a USB port on your computer.
  • Locate and start copying files. 
  • You may get a notification that your computer has detected new hardware, and that’s perfectly normal. 
  • If you want to use a disk drive instead, you just have to insert it into your computer’s disk tray like you would a game or DVD.

From this point onward, the process is the same for both storage devices. 

  • Navigate to any important files using the file explorer and copy them by right-clicking. 
  • If you want to copy in bulk, left-click and drag over all desired files to highlight them, which will let you copy them all at once.

You’ll see the external storage device listed as one of your computer’s drives under “This PC.” All you have to do is paste any copied files into the external drive. 

Prioritize backing up essential and hard to replace files unless you want to back up everything. In that case, you just need to make sure you’re using a drive with enough space to accommodate you.

Suppose you aren’t very good at navigating your computer or don’t want to dedicate the time to do this step manually. In that case, you can also search for a built-in backup feature that will detect the storage device and handle the whole process for you.

Here’s how:

  • Type “backup” into your computer’s search bar and click on backup settings. 
  • You should see something that says “Back up using file history” with an option to add a drive under it. 
  • Select the external drive, at which point your computer should automatically back up your personal files.

Simply retrieve the storage device and put it somewhere safe when you’re done. You probably won’t need the backup, but if you do, it’s as simple as plugging your storage device back in later.

Cloud Backup

This might sound like the more complicated option, but cloud backups are actually pretty simple. In fact, there’s a good chance your computer has already done this for you.

OneDrive and iCloud

If you’re using a Windows computer, it likely came with OneDrive already installed. If you’re using a Mac, it might have iCloud.

Chances are it’s been running since you got your PC and has already saved all of your personal files. Otherwise, the program should start doing its job automatically after downloading and activating. From here, you don’t have to do anything but wait for your files to finish uploading.

When saved, they go to the “cloud,” which basically means an online storage service. Since it’s online and not on your computer, nothing that happens to your device can ever damage anything saved there.

Check out this video to see how to upload your files to OneDrive:

Google Drive

Another great option is to use Google Drive, which allows for cloud storage up a certain amount for free. Then they have payment options should you need more storage. 

Watch the following video to see how you can use Google Drive for cloud storage:

If you don’t have access to a cloud account at all, don’t worry because they’re free to download online.

Then, should anything happen to the data on your device, all you have to do is redownload the cloud service and log into your corresponding Microsoft, Apple, or Google account. It will probably detect the account associated with your computer and do this without any input necessary.

If you run into any problems retrieving your data, you can also log in manually to the service website. Then, the cloud service of choice will automatically detect you and start downloading your files. This will work even if you’re on a different computer.

2. Remove Detachable Parts From Your PC

Once you’ve ensured your sensitive data is safe, it’s time to prepare the physical parts of your computer. Don’t worry; this isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

The bulk of the computer will likely be fine, but you should unplug and remove anything you can. 

This process will be very different depending on whether you’re using a desktop or laptop, but both are simple.

Removing Parts From a Laptop

If you’ve got a laptop, there aren’t a lot of pieces that can be readily removed, but we’ll go over what you can do.

  1. Start by unplugging the charger then removing the battery. There are a few reasons to take the battery out, but the biggest is that the FAA has special guidelines for some laptop batteries and might want you to remove it anyway. Taking the battery out and keeping it with you also minimizes the risk of it being lost, stolen, or damaged.
  2. Unplug all USB attachments and anything else that can be safely removed from your laptop. This might include a mini USB for a Bluetooth mouse.
  3. Don’t try to remove any internal components other than the battery unless you really know what you’re doing. Laptops aren’t made to be taken apart like that, and you shouldn’t need to go this far to begin with.

Whether you keep these parts with you or store them in the baggage hold, it’s best to remove any small protruding pieces. This prevents them from breaking if your PC gets shaken around or dropped.

Removing Parts From a Desktop

The process is a bit different if you have a desktop computer, mainly because the internal pieces are all removable without much hassle.

  1. Unplug the computer and remove any external attachments. For example, headphones, mouse, keyboard; if it can be unplugged and removed, do so.
  2. Open your computer’s case up so you can get to the internal components. You might need a screwdriver for this, but it shouldn’t be too complicated.
  3. Unplug all components from each other and unscrew them from the walls of the case. This won’t hurt anything, and putting it all back together is as easy as taking it apart, so don’t worry.

Check out the following video to see how to properly take apart a gaming PC. Skip to 2:04 to see the break-down and suggestions on how to store everything safely:

If you want, you can store all the removed pieces inside of the computer case, but first, you need to make sure they’re protected.

3. Pack Everything Safely and Securely

Packing is perhaps the most critical part of the process. If your computer gets knocked around by turbulence or a careless baggage handler, small pieces can quickly end up damaged.

Use Anti-Static Packing Products

Don’t use packing peanuts or anything else that can generate static electricity when packing your computer, as it can potentially damage some parts. 

In fact, you should use anti-static packaging to protect some of the more sensitive components, like these HRX Package Anti-Static Bags on Amazon.

Once you’ve secured everything in anti-static packaging, all you need to do is store the pieces. 

Store Everything In Your Carry-On Bag

The airline will probably let you keep all of the pieces in your carry-on baggage if you want to, and this is what I would recommend.

If you want to store your computer pieces in a box, be sure to add cushioning. If you don’t have anything to keep them in, you can use your empty PC case as a storage container! 

Fill all the empty space with packing material to protect your delicate pieces. If the case isn’t too big, they might let you keep the whole thing with you.

4. Keep Fragile Parts With You

Regardless of how you want the bulk of your computer to be transported, you should keep anything fragile with you. 

Check in advance if the airline will allow you to keep it as carry-on baggage. If they say yes, I would suggest doing so. If they allow you to keep the whole computer with you, then just do that.

Take extra care with your external attachments, and do not leave them plugged into the computer. If the device is moved in the wrong way during travel, it could easily break both the attachment and the plugged port.

Also, be mindful of any components that could be vulnerable to electricity. For example, some internal parts like the hard drive are susceptible to damage from static, which is why it’s a good idea to remove these pieces and pack them in anti-static bags if possible.

If you have a laptop, the internal components are probably fine, but try to be careful where you store it anyways.

While some of these things may seem overly precautious, it’s better to be safe than sorry. You might think it’s unlikely that anything will happen to your computer, but according to the US Department of Transportation’s January airline travel report, there’s an average of three reports of mishandled baggage per 1,000 checked bags.

Three reports in every 1,000 bags might not sound too bad, but it goes to show that things can happen. All it takes is a bit of bad luck for something to happen to your luggage when you aren’t looking, and an expensive computer is one thing you probably don’t want to take that risk with.

Key Takeaways

There should be minimal risk to your gaming PC during a flight when properly handled. However, if you don’t trust your expensive device in the hands of strangers, there are many things you can do to protect your computer and give yourself some peace of mind.

By removing as many pieces as you can and keeping them on your person, you can prevent any mishandling incidents. Also, proper packing will further minimize any risk of accidental damages during the flight, and anti-static precautions can protect some of the more delicate parts from being damaged by the environment.

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