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Thread: Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

  1. #1

    Join Date
    Mar 2001

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    Hi guys, here's a quick check-in on the LF film airport security issue.

    In the last couple of months I have made three photographing trips from Seattle to the east coast with my 8x10 gear, and all three times I carried boxes of undeveloped 8x10 film going in both directions. And the result is: Security is becomming tighter all the time and the whole "hand inspection" thing is getting pretty dicey. Leaving Seattle on the first trip, the security people said that if I wanted to get on the plane, I had to open the film boxes. I got the top supervisor involved, and he insisted--told me that something had happened (that he couldn't tell me about) in the last couple of weeks that required increased security, and so if I didn't want the boxes X-rayed, they had to be opened.

    So we all went to a separate room, turned out the lights, and I opened the boxes and let them feel the unopened plastic envelopes of film. The security people flexed the envelopes, presumably checking for stiff stuff like a knife, and then handed them back to me and I went on my way. I was concerned about what would happen when I had the exposed film in the box for the return trip (and what would happen if the airport didn't have a dark room available), and so when I loaded the film into the holders the next day, I made sure to carefully cut open the plastic film envelopes so I could use them on the return trip as well. And sure enough, coming back through Atlanta, and Orlando the following week (but not NY strangely enough), they did the same thing--swabbed the boxes, and then also made me open them. I had carefully taped the plastic envelopes shut with double-folded ends so that no light could get in, and we opened the boxes in broad daylight under my dark cloth on a table. I figured that since the film was also in a cardboard sleeve inside the plastic envelopes, it wouldn't be damaged if a tiny amount of light made it through the sleeve.

    So far no film has been harmed during this process, so this will be my new practice: Be prepared to open the film boxes, with the film in cardboard sleeves and those sleeves in the plastic envelopes carefully taped shut. Far as I can tell, this is still a preferrable method to passing the film through the X-ray, because there is no knowing whether the film will be harmed if the security people stop the conveyor belt and give the film an extended dose of X-rays (which they do with my camera bag every time).

    okay that's all for now.



  2. #2
    Join Date
    Jan 2002
    Minneapolis, Minnesota

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    One solution to the dwelling X-ray problem might be to carry the film in a separate bag that's less apt to arouse the lingering attention of the inspectors, like the bag/case you carry your in-flight lunch or reading material in.

    X-raying would seem to be lower risk than fogging given your scanario. It might be better to load the inner film envelopes in opaque bags before leaving for the airport, if all the inspectors want is to be able to feel for solid objects and don't want to open everything up.

  3. #3
    Whatever David A. Goldfarb's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2000
    Honolulu, Hawai'i

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    I've never had film damaged by X-rays (I also don't shoot anything faster than Tri-X), but have a friend who lost a box of 5x7" (thankfully before it was shot) due to a careless inspector. I just put it through the X-ray machine now, but if I know there will be several trips, I try to buy film locally and occasionally I'll ship it home. I also make note of what things seem to bring about inspections and check them--cable releases that look like syringes and rangefinder cams that look like blades are two.

  4. #4

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    Chris, thx for the heads up.

    Tom, I think you have a great idea there. I have some extra black bags from 8x10 paper and 4x5 film. I could double or triple-bag the film so that I can take it out before going through security. Then they could feel it in daylight without having to bother going into a dark room.

    This would be a very good opportunity for someone to manufacture daylight film bags.

  5. #5
    Founder QT Luong's Avatar
    Join Date
    Aug 1997
    San Jose, CA

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    As inconvenient as it is, I must say that the policy "we have to open it or X-ray it" does make sense,
    but it is not applied consistently. Last time I flew from Seattle (September 2004), they only swabbed the boxes. If you really insist on no X-ray you could carry a changing bag with you, which
    certainly beats trying to find a dark room or using a cloth.

  6. #6

    Join Date
    Aug 2004

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    Photographers' film is not a high priority on airport security. The fascinating thing from guys down the local processing lab is that over the summer they found more rolls of film being fogged, most likely due to X-rays left in the main luggage compartment; possibly due to the use of higher doses of x-rays at the hand-check..

    Like most forum users here, none of the hand-luggage which is submitted for xray (mostly film) ever suffered from x-ray fogging.

    One way to make a nuisance of oneself is to insist on carrying a large format trunk in the overhead cabin as well as a separate stash of film. Most airport officials are not acquainted with large format camera material, consequently inspecting it with more caution.

    If anything, US laws sound generally tighter than across the Atlantic, although variations in local practice exist. Courtesy and respect to airport officials, and accepting the fate that travel may involve x-raying hand-luggage is not so frightening if the doses of the x-rays are minimal and cumulatively minimal. I don't know if any of us here are legalistic enough to carry a copy of the airport rules and regulations, or a printed statement to effect a personal hand-search with the airport supervisor?

  7. #7
    Resident Heretic Bruce Watson's Avatar
    Join Date
    Sep 2003
    USA, North Carolina

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    A changing bag beats taking the chance of light exposure by bringing those little foil lined bags into the light. They are not considered lightproof. They are used for moisture protection, IIRC.

    OTOH, make sure the inspectors wash their hands before handling any film. Just what you need is a big old greasy finger print in the middle of a shot that you flew across country to get.

    Me? I don't fly in country any more. If I were going to fly, I would send my film on ahead to a destination hotel (iffy) or friend (better), and send it back the same way.

    If only all this pain actually made flying safer....

    Bruce Watson

  8. #8

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    Is Fed Ex that inconvenient or expensive such that photographers are opting to not use them to and from locations? Last I checked they were allowing the sender to opt for no X Ray during shipment. The hassle and the potential downside from my last major airport experience through security makes me believe that this will remain the last reliable option to travel with light sensitive materials and it will only get worse (particularly as we approach election day).

    I am getting set up with a corporate account with Fed Ex and forget about it.


  9. #9

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    This won't help the 8x10 shooters, but when I fly with large format film these days I only take Quickloads/Readyloads. I carry my boxes of film packets in a small shoulder bag - separate from my camera gear (in a small daypack). Before the trip, I remove the film packets from their foil pouches, place them in clear ZipLoc bags and put them back in the original boxes. When I get to security, the daypack with the camera gear go on the belt and through the x-ray machine (where the operator stares at it, scratches his/her head, runs it forward and backward about 10 times and then asks me to open the bag so they can check the contents by hand). If I have sufficient time (which I usually do), I ask for a hand inspection of my film bag - which goes quickly since the boxes have already been opened and the film packets are in ZipLoc bags. If I'm in a hurry to get to catch my plane, I just place the film bag on the conveyor belt. Since there is nothing but film in the bag to arouse suspicion, it passes quickly through the x-ray machine on a single pass. As I never shoot anything faster than 100 ISO film, I've never had a problem with fogged film in carry-on baggage. The scanning x-ray machines they use for checked luggage use MUCH stronger x-rays that WILL fog even the slowest film in checked luggage.


  10. #10

    Join Date
    Dec 1997
    Baraboo, Wisconsin

    Latest nightmares at the airport -- and a solution

    I used to jump through hoops to get a hand inspection, then started shipping my film by Fed Ex to my destination and back to my home. Both methods were a hassle. On my most recent trip I just said the hell with it and let the film (T Max 100) go through passenger x rays going and coming back (Tampa to Newark to Shannon and back). The x ray machines did no harm to the film that I've been able to see. So from now on I'm not going to worry about hand inspections, Fed Ex, etc. I think perhaps we're all a little paranoid about x ray machines, at least with slow speed film.
    Brian Ellis
    Before you criticize someone, walk a mile in their shoes. That way when you do criticize them you'll be
    a mile away and you'll have their shoes.

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