View Full Version : Airport security and film
I searched this site for info on this topic but didn't find anything recent (meaning not since 2002) so I thought I'd reopen the subject for discussion.
Has anyone had recent experience with transporting film through airport security in the US and internationally? Any damage to report from the xray machines that scan carry-on baggage? I know film should never be put in checked suitcases; my question is specific to xray machines. Those walk-through portals and wands are magnetometers and shouldn't affect film.
I checked the TSA web site on this. It does indicate that large format film is considered one of the "specialty films" that should not go through the xray machines, but set aside for hand inspection. In addition, ANY film, no matter the ASA, that goes through screening more than five times should be hand inspected, since the effects are cumulative.
Well, what this tells me is that basically you should request hand inspection of any film, since yes, the xrays do have a minor effect (otherwise why would the TSA admit that you shouldn't scan it more than five times?).
That issue aside, I'm wondering how the airport screeners perform a hand inspection when they can't open packaging or film holders to see what's inside. When I've asked for hand inspection of 35mm film, screeners usually yell at me and berate me for what they say is an unnecessary request, then give in and look at each roll of film. It's almost imposssible to get a hand inspection outside the US, where that right is not guaranteed. (Though given the attitude of screeners here, one might surmise that hand inspection isn't a right here, either.) When I went through once with medium format film, the screener had no idea what it was.
I know some airports have that swab test, where they wipe containers and check for explosives residue. Not all airports have that technology though.
I asked the TSA how to request a hand inspection on large format film aand motion picture film nd they wouldn't answer me. They said they don't discuss security measures like that in detail. I understand the need for security but the unanswered question leaves me frustrated.
Do you have any recent experiences to report?
My experience is that this varies widely depending on the airport. I frequently have great difficulty getting had inspections at DIA (Denver) but have had succes at other airports.
Generally speaking the x-ray used for carry on will not affect film greatly as long as it's slow speed film, though I have had ISO 400 Polaroid film fogged at DIA. If you have to have your film x-ray'd, I suggest you send it through by itself, without any other items.
If you just need to transport 4x5 film, I suggest wearing baggy clothes and stuffing the boxes in your pockets and walking through, just remove the foil packs from Fuji E6 emulsion as that will trigger the magnetic detectors - at least it did for me. I've successfully walked through with 200 sheets of B&W and Color film. Good luck!
I find that the whole thing is so unpredictable and so inconsistent that I NEVER bring film with me anymore, either unused or exposed, on the way there or coming back. I ship to hotels or friends or pre-arrranged drops beforehand, arrange to buy where I am going, have vendors ship to me where I'll be, or otherwise get stock dropped somewhere somehow. It's too important to me to allow it to be ruined by x-ray and there are no guarantees. Film itself can set off metal detectors or the wands and then you might have to do some explaining and opening of boxes. I missed one flight because a security guard insisted that all boxes would be opened before I proceded, so I got out of line, went to FedEx, shipped it home, and got the next flight out.
Linda, there is no real answer... It really is in the hands of whoever does the screening. At LAX i have had the luck of going through a security guard who had been in the repro business and when i showed him my 4 x 5 and 8 x 10 boxes of film he did the inspection with the "wand " for explosives, which doesn't damage light sensitive material . If the film is sealed enphatize it to the guard . Show them that the box has never been opened . Even hand inspection , taken literally worries me a lot , that means they would have to open the boxes, and i don't think you want that . In Heathrow(london ) , my film has gone through a weak x-ray machine that has left the film unaffected, but in Italy i have preferred the same film shipped to my house in the US by DHL because of the vague answers received by the screeners .( i had the luck of having my brother waiting for the film at the boarding gate , just in case ) . What i can tell you is this : yes , slow speed film will handle one passage in a weak x-ray machine . If it can be an option process the film in the place where you expose it .
I had an amusing thought...I could bring a film changing bag in my carry on. That way if they insist on opening boxes, I could hand them some cotton gloves, pop the changing bag, and let them at it.
Before 9/11/01 the rule was to keep your unexposed and exposed film in your checked luggge. After 9/11/01 you are supposed to carry them on. I have travelled by air ten times since that day and always kept my film in the carry-on baggage and there was never any fogging. I have travelled to destinations both in the US and Europe. In the begining I took along 800 ASA color film that I kept unexposed except to the X-ray machines for carry-ons. Then I had this film processed first. But never any fogging. If I was going further south to Africa or South-America or to the far east I would be more aware but then again accidents happen and you might be run over next time you put your Linhof on a tripod outside.
Yoour amusing thought is amusing but no tsomething I think you should try. messing with the TSA personnel could cause you significant delays or even get you removed from the flight (not likely but could happen).
I travel once or twice a month, usually with a lot of film and LF gear and have had only one small problem in all the flights I have made since 911. That one time, which was two months ago, I just politely asked for the supervisor and explained their own regs to them and they agreed to hand inspect my film with the cxaveat that I might have to wait a bit ... noproblem there as I expect that with 3 boxes of Quickloads, thre boxes of 8x10 and some 100 rolls of 120.
Hand inspection is always with the explosive detecting wand and they ARE available at all US airports that I have been through and that includes some very small one gate airports. My experiences are, I believe, better than average though.
Final thought, 1) when you remember and have the time send the film ahead via UPS or FedEx or DHL/Airborne and 2)if you are going to carry large quantities of film thne give yourself the extra time to let security deal with it.
I repair medical x-ray equip and have had my film run through the carry-on check points many times with no noticable effect. It takes a large amt of x-ray photons at a relatively high energy level(Kev) to produce an effect which is why the medical industry developed double emulsion film and intenesifying screens, whitout these we'd still be exposing people for MINUTES! not fractions of seconds. Anything 400asa or lower should be plenty safe. If you really want to avoid any exposure use one of the lead lined film bags, this will insure hand inspection and usually when the inspectors see that it is a film bag they don't even bother opening it, especially if its with you camera. If they open it I usually have it pre-loaded in film holders which they leave alone. Have a good trip
I just returned from Ireland with approximately 100 sheets of Velvia. On the trip over (through Seattle and Boston), I had no problem in Seattle, but in Boston, they would not even consider a hand inspection. I even showed them the TSA printout for large format film. I ended up allowing it to be run through so that I could catch the flight. In Europe, don't even bother requesting a hand check because no airport in Europe will do that. On the return trip, my film was x-rayed in Shannon. In Boston, they did not want to do a hand check. I refused to allow another x-ray and took out the changing bag and told them that they could open the film inside the bag. They argued for a time but finally relented and just swabbed the film with the explosive swab. When it checked out, they didn't even bother with opening the boxes. My impression is that Logan Airport is still sensitive due to the 9/11 problems with them being the origin of 2 of the flights.
From my experience, so long as the film boxes have not been opened and still have the factory seals, I have never had a problem getting a hand check that consists of only the explosive swab. The problem comes when the boxes have been opened. Now, I always take a changing bag in my carry-on. In addition, I take a blank or already developed sheet of film outside the box because most of the TSA people have never heard of sheet film and I can then show them what I am talking about. An already-developed chrome works wonders for this.
If you have to resort to using the changing bag (I have only had to do that twice, because if they see that you will allow the boxes to be opened in the bag, they usually don't bother and just use the swab), you should put one arm in and allow them to put one arm in. You then open the boxes and let them feel inside and then close the boxes before they pull their arm out. I didn't think of that my first time and, after opening the box, the screener left the box open and pulled both arms out and told me that I could close the box. Of course, many of the sheets had partial fog from the light coming in from the arm holes. Good Luck.
I have read the TSA publication you have referenced, but it is complete bullshit and is utterly meaningless.
When I read that publication, I was amazed that such an accommodation would be made, so I wrote to the TSA to ask the same question you ask. I received back a form letter response. I wrote again, entreating them to actually answer my question. Here is what the TSA said:
Thank you for your email message. If the film is brought to the security checkpoint, it is very likely that you will be required to open the boxes of film. We suggest that you consider alternate shipping options for your film. We hope this information is helpful.
As I expected, this publication means exactly zero.
David A. Goldfarb
I bring my film as a carry on and for 4x5" and smaller usually in a lead bag. I usually let it go through the X-ray these days and haven't had any problems. The last few flights I've taken, I was able to take a pretty extensive 4x5" kit through without getting any further inspection after an X-ray check, though normally there is something that attracts their attention (shutters, a cable release that looks like a syringe, etc.). In one of my last four or five flights they asked to see my rangefinder cams that overlapped in such a way that they looked like a scissors under the X-ray.
I used to carry film boxes under my clothes. They don't set off the metal detector if the foil is removed. However, in the current climate, I thought it was too much risk, and ask for hand-inspection. Sometimes it is granted and they just wipe with the explosive detector, sometimes, they insist on opening the boxes, in which case I let them X-ray.
One further point that is sort of related,
After the TSA announcement that they would allow a thrid carryon for 'professional photographers' that was the subject of a thread here a while ago I thought it might mean something and then again might not.
The arilines are not obligated to to honor the TSA rule on bag numbers and I have specifically asked USAirways, United and American and all said no, they would not allow a third carryon for any reason at all. That by the way was from their customer relations folk and also gate agents (although I generally fly first class as a frequent flyer and one gate agent said they would turn their back for people flying up front) ... not worth the risk.
BTW,, I don;t blame them with most planes flying very full these days there is enough of a luggage space problem as it is.
In December I traveled to from Florida to California and back with my 8x10 and 2 boxes of film. 1 tri-x and 1 plus-x. I just put it through the carry-on xray machine in my backpack with the camera. I have been processing this film all week and I don't see any problems with fogging.
Just a note: Boston may have been the origin of two of the hijacked 9/11 flights, but the terrorist passengers were entered through Portland, ME airport via a connecting flight and therefore not checked at Boston. Curiously, Boston airport authorities were the only ones to receive (deserved) disciplinary and corrective actions.
Hi Linda As you can tell from all the other replies, what you get at any given airport is going to be different. I went from Boise to Mexico recently and had no problems. Boise (BOI) really could have cared less, they did do a hand inspection that amounted to a casual glance at the film to see that it was sealed (DO NOT try to take any film that has been opened, taped shut or hand loaded) Portland (PDX) in Oregon was a little more rigid in their inspection and asked that my lowepro be opened upand they looked it over pretty closely, and by the time we got to Mexico-well thats a different story altogether. At Peuto Vallarta you get either a green light or a red light-green means you can go with no questions, get a red light and they can strip you down to your unmentionables in front of God and everyone. Most certanly here in the States it will depend on the status of the "level of caution." Coming back at San Fran we all (5 of us) were pulled from the line at verious points and hand scanned, though none of my film was singled out for further inspection. Airport personnel are trained to "profile" as ugly as that sounds. The FBI has done that for years (but then guess where most training for airport security personnel comes from), so the less attraction you can make to yourself, the better. A recient flight to Texas (via Minneapolis) went much smoother and without incident, though the overall caution level at the time was down to the low level. I sent all my film through the hand scanners for carry on and had no problems. Do be warned of this: There is no gray area for airport security anymore. They go from passive (which is very rare now) to crisis mode with no stops in between. Once you set them off, the best you can do is co-operate, fighting their system will only make the nightmare worse. I say this as I know some of the law enforcement people at the Boise Airport and they simply state: we don't play games anymore.
Leung Kam Hon
For those who have shipped films using UPS or FedEx, did you have any problem with the films received that way? I am thinking of shipping the film beforehand to the location, but I think freight gets X-ray as well and might even be at a much higher dose. Any experience of that?
I try to strip my roll film of any packaging and Readyloads of their wrapper, and put all of it into clear plastic bags. I save the empty Readyload foils in my camera bag to reuse on location, because I like the idea of using a dark envelope to store the film in the field. I also throw a sacrifical roll of 35mm TMax 3200 film into the bag so that I can show the inspectors that I truly have "ultra high speed film," which can help speed up the request to "please hand inspect my film." I also drop a few stickers and business cards into the bags that say "Frank Petronio, photographer, etc." to establish that I'm a professional, even if I'm not actually travelling for an assignment. I really like the above idea of including a junk 4x5 chrome to show inspectors what the film actually is - I'm going to start doing that too.
In general, I don't worry too much about a couple of domestic X-ray passes but I would grow concerned about multiple scans with international travel.
Ironically, the inspectors in Rochester, NY (home of Kodak, where I live) are the most severe and ignorant in the USA. But maybe everybody feels that way about their hometown TSA"professionals."
Does anyone know definitively whether FedEx or other shippers X-Ray their packages with stronger X-Rays? I've never shipped the film ahead because I thought the shippers would zap it far worse than the passenger inspection process. I know not to put film in checked luggage because they do use a stronger X-Ray.
Simply marking a Fed-Ex box "Do Not X-Ray: Film" does not inspire confidence that they won't X-Ray anyway.
From all my contact with Fed-Ex, they say that if you tell them that there is undeveloped film inside, they will not x-ray it for domestic shipping (can't guarantee international). What I have done is to take the box with the film and packing to the office unsealed and show them the contents and explain that it is film that is not developed. They then mark the box once they have sealed it to insure that it does not get x-rayed.
Re FedEx,... I had them ship 8x10 and Medium Format film to Italy through Rome Airport and they assured me that it would NOT be x-rayed by them with proper paperwork completed and verification by FedEx employees that it was film. HOWEVER, be careful when you fill out the Customs Declaration. The film I shipped was Fuji and Bergger and the customs form demands you declare country of manufacturing,... ergo England and Japan (right off the boxes). Problem was that those countries were/are different than my country of disembarkment (USA). Italian Customs turned that into an 'importation for redistribution' situation and would not release my film until I pay a import tax on same. No amount of explantion from me our my Italian friends could convince them otherwise! Cost a $100 USD to start shooting! Spoke to US Customs about it when I got back and they just rolled their eyes and said,...' you were actually lucky,...we've heard/seen much much worse. YMMV!
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