Why You Should Never Pack Unused Film in Your Suitcase

It’s a lesson I almost found out the hard way. Yes, the rule is posted in bold letters on the security placards to the right of the airline’s check-in desks, but I don’t typically travel with film (you might not either if you shoot with a digital camera). However, during my most recent trip home to Hawaii I brought along my favorite camera and had a few spare rolls of film packed in my suitcase.

That’s a major no-no, according to the TSA agent who was in the process of lifting my checked bag onto the x-ray machine when she asked if I had any unused rolls of film in my suitcase. It took me a minute before I realized that I did in fact pack my last two unexposed rolls of film in my checked bag. She was kind enough to let me fish them out before sending my bag on its way, but had she not been so astute the airport’s sophisticated, high intensity x-ray machine for checked luggage (NOT carry-ons) would have no doubt destroyed my film.

The TSA agent explained that the x-ray machines used to scan checked luggage are far more powerful than the ones used to screen carry-on bags. One trip through a machine used to x-ray checked items, permanently destroys unused film. Exposed film or film that has been completed and rewound are spared damage from these types of machines so it is safe to put your used canisters of film in your suitcase.

If your unused film does go through the heavy duty x-ray machine and you didn’t realize it at the time you will likely see the effects when you use the damaged roll. Most people report that their pictures come back hazy or foggy and the colors are completely washed out.

If the TSA agent at the Hilo airport wouldn’t have asked about my film I would have certianly loaded the damamged film into my camera when I got home and my Easter pictures would have been ruined for sure.

I was very lucky.

Has this ever happened to you?

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Michele Cheplic

About Michele Cheplic

Michele Cheplic was born and raised in Hilo, Hawaii, but now lives in Wisconsin. Michele graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison with a degree in Journalism. She spent the next ten years as a television anchor and reporter at various stations throughout the country (from the CBS affiliate in Honolulu to the NBC affiliate in Green Bay). She has won numerous honors including an Emmy Award and multiple Edward R. Murrow awards honoring outstanding achievements in broadcast journalism. In addition, she has received awards from the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association for her reports on air travel and the Wisconsin Education Association Council for her stories on education. Michele has since left television to concentrate on being a mom and freelance writer.