The X-Ray Question

I've answered it in the FAQs, but my previous article on what film choices remain and how to store them raised the traveling question again for me. So it's worth repeating what we know.

Here is the current status as far as I can tell:

  • Hand carried on planes: In the US, TSA still has the same guidelines in place that came post 9/11. While they claim the Rapiscan and other equipment they use for checked bags won't damage film up to ISO 400, they should still honor hand search requests made politely. I would say make sure you give yourself plenty of time for this, and try to be at the security checkpoint at non-busy times, if possible. When I used to shoot a lot of film, I routinely separated my film out of the canisters and into a clear Ziplock bag to facilitate this. I carried the plastic canisters in a separate bag, and reunited film to canister once past the checkpoint. I always put a roll or two of high ISO film in my carry-on bag so that I could easily claim that I needed a hand inspection (my home airport still has signage about high ISO film needing hand inspections, and it's always honored).

    Do not put your film in lead bags thinking it will keep the X-rays at bay. The TSA's response is often just to crank up the intensity to see past the lead. 

    Outside the US: you're going to get varying responses. Kodak suggests that you call the airport security office ahead of time to check on procedure. Many International airports use higher power scanners than we have in the US, so you really want to be careful when traveling overseas with film.

  • Checked baggage: Completely avoid putting film in checked baggage. The X-Ray equipment used for checked bags is more intense and will damage most film. Again, do not put film in lead-lined containers in your checked baggage: the intensity will just be cranked up to see what's in those containers. 

  • Air Freight: FedEx and UPS do not use X-ray equipment on packages on domestic flights in the US. They may be used on International flights, especially since they sometimes use regular carriers for some packages, and thus the packages go through the same checks your checked bag does.

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