In today’s heightened airport security, the days of be able to stroll through the terminal to a comfy seat on the plane is over and it doesn't matter whether your a top world photographer or one just planning a family vacation. Security personnel check everyone who wants to fly these days, and the x-rays they use your carry-ons, and your checked luggage can damage your film.
There doesn’t seem to be a single simple solution to traveling with film; all the schemes have their drawbacks. The film manufacturers seem to be as confused as the rest of us.
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Here’s what Fuji recommends:
Carry the film stock as hand luggage. Most, if not all of the newer hand x-ray machines use weak x-ray radiation and it should not affect the film. But if you check your film as luggage, the x-ray machine is stronger and would cause some fogging of the product. Your best option would be to mail the film with a "DO NOT X-RAY" sticker rather than take it through the airport. If you have to take it through the airport, avoid the x-ray by showing the cans to security and explaining.
Note that first Fuji says carrying your film through the weak x-rays will not hurt your film, but then suggests you avoid x-rays and ask security for a hand check.
Here's what Agfa has to say:
Damage to films caused by ANTI-TERROR luggage checks at airports - New types of X-ray scanner which can detect hidden explosives more effectively than traditional systems are increasingly being used at international airports. Basically there are two systems:
- In the first system ( CT 5000/5500), the suitcases are given an initial check with a normal dose of X-rays. A computer program supports the analysis and signals any suspicion that weapons or explosives may be present. There is then a second viewing, this time with a thinner but much stronger beam. This covers all the suspicious elements in the suitcase.
- The second system (L3) works with broader irradiation and no initial check.
With both systems there is the danger that films can be damaged
by the radiation. The undeveloped film may be foggy and the image of
objects (e.g. keys) which lie in the path of the X-rays can appear.
This new equipment has not yet been installed at all airports in the world, but their number is steadily increasing.
Recommendation - Films which have been developed can be placed in suitcases without risk. However, passengers passing through airports which use the new equipment should be certain to take undeveloped films in their hand luggage. Hand luggage is only subjected to relatively mild radiation during checks, which does not place films at risk. You can of course also request that your luggage be checked visually and by hand.
Since Kodak has more information and sample images of damaged film, users are asked to visit Kodak's website for more detailed information and read their Technical Information Bulletins on Baggage X-ray Scanning Effects on Film
Here's what TSA has to say:
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA)
Carry Your Film...Do Not Check It
Equipment used for screening checked baggage will damage your undeveloped film. Therefore you should place all film in your carry-on baggage. You may ask for a hand inspection of all film and cameras with film at the passenger checkpoint. Click on the following link for more information on Film.
Why is the CTX 5000 x-ray machine so dangerous to film?
Because it's said to be a two-stage detection apparatus. As
presently planned, the unit located somewhere between the check-in
counter and the plane would use a normal X-ray tube scan for all
ticketed luggage. When suspicious material is found the luggage
would be zapped by a second high-scan X-ray tube. From what I've
been able to read, the normal scan doesn't appear to cause film
fogging (although all checks haven't yet been make of this either).
But, the second tube high scan is apparently disastrous on film, and
there are additional worries about scattered radiation from the high
scan causing further damage of film.
Here's what InVision Technologies has to say about film safety:
Find out more about CTX-5000 security equipment, manufactured by InVision Technologies, Inc.
Film Safety and Checked Baggage - InVision’s CTX™ automated explosives detection systems (EDS) are deployed worldwide to protect against terrorist threats. Many airports today utilize InVision CTX or other high dose X-ray scanners to inspect checked baggage. These systems are different than the low dose X-ray systems used to inspect carry-on baggage. To date, airports and government aviation agencies, including the United States Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), have installed hundreds of CTX systems.
The FAA in cooperation with the Photographic and Imaging Manufacturers Association completed a thorough study on film safety in automated EDS. This study confirms CTX and other high dose X-ray systems can, under certain conditions, damage undeveloped film of any speed, whether positive (slides) or negative (prints), color or black and white.
CTX systems, however, will not damage developed or printed films, nor will they affect magnetic media or computers.
InVision Technologies makes the following suggestions to persons transporting unprocessed film during air travel:
- Do not put unprocessed film in checked baggage
- Place film and cameras containing film in carry-on luggage
Here are a few common sense ideas to help you get through security with your film and your sanity...
- Do not pack film in checked luggage. The CTX-5000 x-ray machine that’s used on checked baggage in most airports is a very powerful device that can fog film. Not only is it much more powerful than the x-ray machines at airport check-in areas, it may scan a bag several times from several different angles if there’s something unusual or suspicious inside.
- Put all your film in clear cans, those into clear plastic baggies, and ask security personnel to hand check it. They may not want to, but if you demonstrate to them that you’re trying to be cooperative and you’ve made their jobs simpler by using baggies, they will probably comply. However, on a recent flight out of Los Angeles LAX, the security personnel essentially refused to hand inspect my film. They insisted the x-ray machine would do no damage unless the film had a very high ASA of 1000 or so. After a brief argument (how far do you want to take it when the next step may be to be taken to the back room and strip searched?) and since I knew this would be the only x-ray it would get, I allowed them to send the film through the scanner - with no apparent ill effects. X-ray scanning has a cumulative effect, though, so you don't want to send your film through airport scanners more than a few times.
- Use lead lined film bags, if you don't want to go through the hand checking process. Put the bags inside your luggage and check it. Lead lined bags are available at many camera and photography stores, but be sure you buy ones that are able to withstand the powerful CTX-5000.
- Ship film to and from your destination. As of this writing, the Postal Service, FedEx, and UPS don’t x-ray packages. (This could change at anytime, however, so be sure to check first.) If you know where you'll be why not ship your film to yourself? Or buy mail order, and have your supplier ship it to your destination. Even if you’re headed for a motel, most motels will hold a package for you -- just be sure to warn them in advance.
- Buy and process film at your destination. Processed film is not sensitive to x-rays, so you can safely pack it in your bags. Major cities and many smaller ones have great labs that will take care of your film well. A little research to find them can pay off big.
- Don’t complain. As we’ve heard so many times from so many different sources, it’s a whole new world. Airport security is there to protect you. Although it may be inconvenient, it’s a necessary part of today’s life. We might as well get used to it.
Traveling with Film - The Transportation Security Administration
F-Stop Film Advocacy Committee
Kodak - Technical Information Bulletin, Baggage X-ray Scanning Effects on Film
Agfa - Damage to films caused by ANTI-TERROR luggage checks at airports
Photographic and Imaging Manufacturers Association provides suggestions.
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