Why You Shouldn’t Have Your Film Go Through Airport X-Ray Machines

In my previous blog I reminded you of the TSA’s rule, which prohibits travelers from packing unused rolls of film in checked luggage. The airport’s sophisticated, high intensity x-ray machines used to screen checked bags have been proven to destroy unused rolls of film. However, the TSA maintains film (both used and unused) can safely be screened in x-ray machines used for carry-on bags.

But camera experts disagree. They recommend travelers have all their film hand inspected by airport security personnel.

TSA agents are schooled to inform passengers that the x-rays used to screen carry-on bags will not damage or destroy film unless it is a very high light sensitive film like ISO 800 or ISO 1600. But photo experts say this is not true. According to experts, x-rays have a cumulative effect on film. If you are making only one connection on your trip your film might not be sustain damage. However, if you flying internationally and are subjecting your bags (and film) to multiple x-rays the chance of ruining your film increases.

The TSA is required to hand-inspect your film upon request. So if you have any reservations about putting your film through the carry-on x-ray machine you have the option of removing your film and having it inspected separately. If you decide to go this route make sure you are properly prepared.

For example, you can help speed up the process (and avoid nasty looks from the passengers standing behind you in line) by removing your rolls of film from their canisters and placing them in a clear Ziploc bag. Another tip: Make sure you take the plastic bag out of your carry-on prior to getting to the security checkpoint area so you don’t waste time digging around looking for it.

Once the TSA agent has your film he or she will pass a specially treated cloth over each roll of film and in and around the film canisters to detect any explosive chemicals. This is why I remove all of my film from their canisters prior to handing my plastic bag to security personnel—-it helps cut down on the inspection time. Also, the more rolls of film you need hand-inspected the longer you will spend in the security screening area.

You don’t have to have your film hand-inspected. However, if you are traveling with high light sensitive film then hand inspections are recommended.

Do you get your film hand-inspeacted at airports?

Related Articles:

Rules to Remember Before Taking Your Camera on an Airplane

Why You Should Never Pack Unused Film in Your Suitcase

Photo Challenges

Protecting Your Camera from the Elements

Should I Delete This Picture?

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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.