View Full Version : Protecting film at airports

Bob Freund
17-Sep-1998, 23:57
When I travel on assignment I shoot 4x5 transparency film. Going out all of my film boxes are unopened and thus left alone by the airport security. When comin g back I put my exposed film in the now open boxes. So far airport security has not asked me to open them up but if they did I would have no choice but to run them through the X-Ray device. My question is if I were to cut two 4x5 pieces o f the material from those lead pouch products used to protect film and then put a sheet on top and on the bottom of my film would that protect my film? I haven' t seen a pouch big enough for 4x5 film boxes and I hate to put my precious expos ed film on my checked baggage. Any alternatives? Am I missing something obvious ? Thanks

Alan Gibson
18-Sep-1998, 06:20
When an X-ray scanner sees a lead pouch, it increases the dosage until it can se e through it.

If you don't have too much film, put it in your pockets. There's no metal to set off a metal detector. With a little ingenuity, you could probably carry 250 she ets.

Ellis Vener
18-Sep-1998, 06:37
well one obvious solution is to shoot Fuji QuickLoads or Kodak Readyloads. In my experience the s.g.s give a quick look and leave it alone. They give me more ha ssle about unopened rolls of 120 roll film (yes i use baggies to carry rollfilm in.) Other than the prepackaged film solution i have in the past just ask me wha t is in the boxes of sheet film and shake it for them to hear. I have not tried this on overseas flights however. usually the amount of miscellaneous photo gear I am carrying seems to make the point that I really am a working photographer. Forget the lead sheets.

mike rosenlof
18-Sep-1998, 11:05
I've never used one of those lead bags, so I don't know how effective they reall y are or not.

It's an urban legend that operators of carry on screeners can increase X-ray dos age until they can see through lead pouches at least on machines used in US airp orts. Dosages are actually quite low and fixed, and I'm convinced that a small number of exposures in carry on baggage at airport machines has not a problem.

A couple of 25 sheet boxes can fit very easily in jacket pockets, and they won't trip the metal detectors. If I'm only going through airport security twice, I just run stuff through.

Don't put undeveloped film into checked baggage! On top of the loss possibility , there are X-ray inspection devices that can damage film. These are only used for checked bagage, and the FAA won't tell which airports have them.

Ellis Vener
18-Sep-1998, 12:50
Of course none of us have mentioned the possibility of just handing the film aro und for hand inspection. No they won't understand what it is but tape the boxes shut and explain politely that it is film. It helps if it is in a box that says film all over it. I'd be interested to see what the FAA or international rules say about sheet film (& film inspections in general) rather than just have us sp eculate. I'll do a little research and report back here and on photo.net.

tim atherton
18-Sep-1998, 13:23
Re FAA regulations, somewhere I have a print off of the actual regulation that s ays a hand search must be given for film if requested. I will try and find it an d let you know where it is on the FAA site.

But this isn't any use for somewhere like Heathrow, where the Government regulat ions are that everything must go through the X Ray - or you don't get on the fli ght, simple as that. (the result of 30 years of terrorism I guess). BUT, if it i s 4x5 film in boxes, they aren't going to know that its in your pockets, if they are big enough!

Tim A

Alan Gibson
18-Sep-1998, 13:52
Tim's point was exactly what I was trying to say: to only way to avoid putting f ilm through an x-ray is to keep it in your pocket. "Hand inspections", in the UK , just means a slight delay before your film goes through the x-ray.

In the UK, the situation keeps changing. BAA officially claim that they will do hand-inspections, but the situation on the ground is different.

Turning up the dials may be a myth in the USA, but I've seen it happen on this s ide of the pond.

There's other information in the forum on x-rays.

Michael Wellman
18-Sep-1998, 21:53
The compuserve BB had a long running thread on this topic. Ctein seemed to be v ery knowledgeable in this area of airports, x-rays and films. His response was that the xray machines used in the "U.S." are very low radiation and will have n o effect on film. However, the xrays machines used to examine luggage is a much higher level radiation and has the potential to fog film.

I think some of the other suggestions of hand carrying through the metal detecto rs is a good one. The one drawback to that is if security decides they need to look in the box you may not be allowed to pass till they examine the box. This has always been one of my nightmares.

Bruce M. Herman
19-Sep-1998, 03:43
I read an article, I'm not sure if it was in Outdoor Photographer or PDN, in whi ch the author claimed that the new x-ray machines will ultimately become more wi despread to the point of being used for carry-on baggage.

Rather than risk a scene with the security guards who become suspicious of the b uldging object in your pocket, why not send your film back via an air courier su ch as FedEx or UPS? You could mail it directly to your lab or to your office.

Good luck, Bruce

Doremus Scudder
19-Sep-1998, 08:10
Interesting discussion. Now let me add my 2 cent's worth. I am an American livin g in Europe and travel often - 4-6 transatlantic flights a year. I shoot Tri-X a nd T-max 100 and 400 and regularly have them x-rayed with my hand luggage. I eve n pack loaded (undexposed!) film holders in my check-in luggage. Some 100-sheet boxes have even made 2 round trips with me. I regularly fly through London Heath row and New York JFK, San Francisco and Seattle. In over 8 years I have never ex perienced any fogging or streaking due to x-rays. Maybe I'm just lucky. Has anyo ne out there had the dreaded nightmare experience of having film ruined by the a irports or is it just a case of photographic neurosis? I'd love to hear.

Michael Wellman
19-Sep-1998, 19:15
There are two potential problems when sending your film through via your luggage --(1) potential for stronger x-rays and (2) your luggage may be put through extr eme temperature, which isn't goood for your film. Here in Texas, your luggage c an sit out there on the runway where temperatures are 100degrees plus. Not to m ention the fact that your luggage can get lost/stolen. Seems safer to carry it w ith you and let them xray it and you don't have to worry about loosing it. The several times I've done this I've never had a problem. Several individuals from Compuserve BB mentioned that they have had no problem either and several of the m are frequent travelers. There is one person who responded who has checked his film bag without problems for eight years--so, maybe it doesn't matter. I can' t say that I have know anyone who's had problem with xray fogging.

Rob Rothman
21-Sep-1998, 21:30
According to something I've read recently (sorry, I don't remember where), the n ew X-ray machines used in U.S. airports use such a high dosage that even the FAA and the airlines have admitted that they can fog film. Although I believe that , in the US, we are technically entitled to hand inspection on demand, personnel at some airports either don't know or don't care about the rules and are likely to insist on running film through the X-ray machine--insisting on the rights wh ich the law gives us is likely to result in arrest at some airports. Moreover, I think we large format shooters are more likely to have a problem than the 35mm crowd, simply because the guards don't see much large format film and are less likely to know what it is. Unfortunately, I don't know of a solution, but I get nervous every time I have to bring film through an airport.

QT Luong
21-Sep-1998, 22:03
If you remove the protective foils in the film boxes, they won't set the metal detector. I always travel with loose clothing and put my film boxes under them. It's easy to be unnoticed this way with up to 3 5x7 boxes (that's 150 sheets). It looks like your smuggling stuff but after all you are just protecting your rights which might not always be honored if you were to ask.

Greg Lawhon
22-Sep-1998, 01:09
Here's the relevant FAA regulation from the Code of Federal Regulations, which i s cited as 14 C.F.R. 108.17(e):

"(e) No certificate holder may use an X-ray system to inspect carry-on or checke d articles unless a sign is posted in a conspicuous place at the screening stati on and on the X-ray system which notifies passengers that such items are being i nspected by an X-ray and advises them to remove all X-ray, scientific, and high- speed film from carry-on and checked articles before inspection. This sign shall also advise passengers that they may request that an inspection be made of thei r photographic equipment and film packages without exposure to an X-ray system. If the X-ray system exposes any carry-on or checked articles to more than 1 mill iroentgen during the inspection, the certificate holder shall post a sign which advises passengers to remove film of all kinds from their articles before inspection. If requested by passengers, the ir photographic equipment and film packages shall be inspected without exposure to an X-ray system."

tim atherton
22-Sep-1998, 12:44
You should be able to get the full regulation (as already quoted) at:

http://www3.landings.com/cgi-bin/get_file?pass=11096337&FAR/part_108/section_108 .17.html

(you may have to cut and paste this address because of its length).

Then, you can always print it off and stick it in the deep dark recesses of your camera bag. When you get a pain in the but airport rent a cop refusing a hand s earch, you can decide whether or not it is prudent to argue your case, regulatio n in hand.

BTW, regarding the new machines for checked luggage (non carry on), there has be en extensive debate on other sites about this. The gist seems to be that these c an and will fry film in baggage, especially if they come across a lead bag, when they do a much higher power pass to see right through it. This has been confirm ed by the manufacturers etc.

I believe film maker David Attenborough got his insurance to pay after several m onths footage from Borneo or somewhere was fried by British Airways when these m achines were new and not publicised.

Tim A

art curths
25-Sep-1998, 20:48
By much information is on the web regarding the latest airport security scanners that are better at detecting exposives but will fog even slow speed film that is packed in "checked luggage". Several postings advise that the newest scanners do increase the scanning power substantially if they detect shielded packages (with the smaller carry-on scanners they don't seem to increase power but just run your baggage back and forth several times). So the option of packing film in checked luggage is gone for practical purposes (if a terrorist blows you up into a cloud of vaporized fish food it is likely the film will suffer too).

In the case of carry-on baggage scanners, I have usually succeeded in obtaining hand inspections in U.S. airports, but have to allow time for a guard to open up every one of 80 film cansters. (I can't really object since just a couple of film containers could hold enough plasic explosive to take out a 747).

With 35mm film it greatly helps to use clear plastic cansters (I save the fuji 100 clear containers to use as replacements for dark cansters). In the case of 120 film, its more difficult, particularly with the Fuji foil sealed packages.

I have had 8 occasions in recent years to go thru London and Manchester airports and can attest that it is a total waste of time to try to avoid film going thru the carry-on scanners and just results in supplemental inspections. In fact, lately I have been subject to intensive inspection of camera bodies, film backs, etc after the equipment has gone thru the carry-on scanners -- it helps not to pack the equipment too deep since it is likely you will have to drag it all out -- allow an extra hour of time at both English airports.

One other observation/warning -- twice in my recent trips on American Airline shuttles from Washington DC to NY, passengers have been forced to check their "carry-on" bags at the foot of the boarding stairs since the plane was filled with passengers, leaving no room for carry-ons. Also I have had one transatlanic British Air flight where all passengers had to check at the boarding gate luggage they planned to carry on, including laptop computers, bags with medicine, etc. As a result, I always keep the film in a plastic bag at the top of my carry-on bag.

Having commented upon the problems, I must also state that on many occasions I have had to run exposed Fuji 800 film (pushed to 1600) thru carry-on scanners and have never had any film damaged.