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Photography Question 
Aline Levasseur

Getting Film Passed Airport Security


I am flying out of Sea Tac next month and I'd like to get a few things cleared up about my film.

Hopefully we all know the damage that Xrays do to film. On a recent flight, I had 4 different speeds of film "accidentally" put through the security checkpoint scanner (100, 200, 400 and 800). ALL rolls had signs of Xray damage (grainy, marred colouring and 'bleeding' of the colours) regardless of the ISO. The staff assured me at the time that there would be no damage to my film, but, obviously, there was.

On another flight, I requested a hand inspection. Again, the staff told me there would be no damage to my film. I insisted and they begrudgingly complied.

I realize that hand inspection of film does take some time, and I am more than willing to arrive early to accomodate this. I sell my photographs and there is no point in taking this vacation if I cannot take photos.

The FAA does have rules about places being required to hand inspect film. I have actually had my bag of film TAKEN from me and forced through an xray machine. This has to stop!

If you could please tell me what the best way is to keep my film away from any and all xrays, I would be very grateful. Of course, I do not wish to anger the staff!

If anyone has any tips or hints on how to make this less painful and stressful, I would be much obliged!


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10/27/2004 1:05:17 PM

David Archibald   Hello Aline,

Go to and in the search box type in "film" and you will have some articles to go through. Here is one that I posted here.

Transporting Special Items

Transporting Film

WARNING: Equipment used for screening checked baggage will damage your undeveloped film.

Traveling with Film

Never place undeveloped film in your checked baggage.
Place film in your carry-on baggage* or request a hand inspection.

* Carry-on screening equipment might also damage certain film if the film passes through more than 5 times.

None of the screening equipment - neither the machines used for checked baggage nor those used for carry-on baggage - will affect digital camera images or film that has already been processed, slides, videos, photo compact discs, or picture discs.

General use film **

You should remove all film from your checked baggage and place it in your carry-on baggage. The X-ray machine that screens your carry-on baggage at the passenger security checkpoint will not affect undeveloped film under ASA/ISO 800.

If the same roll of film is exposed to X-ray inspections more than 5 times before it is developed, however, damage may occur. Protect your film by requesting a hand-inspection for your film if it has already passed through the carry-on baggage screening equipment (X-ray) more than 5 times.

Specialty film **

Specialty film is defined as film with an ASA/ISO 800 or higher and typically used by professionals.

At the passenger security checkpoint, you should remove the following types of film from your carry-on baggage and ask for a hand inspection:

Film with an ASA/ISO 800 or higher
Highly sensitive X-ray or scientific films
Film of any speed which is subjected to X-ray surveillance more than 5 times (the effect of X-ray screening is cumulative)
Film that is or will be underexposed
Film that you intend to 'push process'
Sheet film
Large format film
Medical film
Scientific film
Motion picture film
Professional grade film

Other Tips and Precautions:

If you plan to request a hand inspection of your film, you should consider carrying your film in clear canisters, or taking the film out of solid colored canisters and putting it into clear plastic bags, to expedite the screening process.
If you are going to be traveling through multiple X-ray examinations with the same rolls of undeveloped film, you may want to request a hand-inspection of your film. However, non-U.S. airports may not honor this request.
If you plan to hand-carry undeveloped film on an airplane at an international airport, contact the airport security office at that airport to request a manual inspection.
Consider having your exposed film processed locally before passing through airport security on your return trip.
We recommend that you do not place your film in lead-lined bags since the lead bag will have to be hand-inspected. If you have concerns about the impact of the X-ray machine on your undeveloped film, you can request a hand inspection.
You may still consider bringing a lead-lined bag if you are traveling through airports in other countries as their policies may vary. Check with your airline or travel agent for more information on foreign airports.

David Archibald

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10/27/2004 2:00:32 PM

Jon Close
BetterPhoto Member Since: 5/18/2000
  As you noted, get to the airport very early. Wait to go through security when there is a lull so that your hand inspection does not hold up a line. Carry the film (without the individual plastic containers - pack them elsewhere) in a clear plastic bag so that it can be clearly seen.

Your 100-800 speed films sometimes get forced through the carry-on x-ray machine anyway because it is alleged to be safe for up to ISO 800 film. However, higher speed film will get you a hand inspection. Include in your bag of film a several rolls of ISO 1600 or 3200 film (eg. T-MAX P3200) to force hand inspection.

While not a "valid form of ID", carrying some business cards for your photography sideline (including taped to or in the clear bag of film) *might* get you more consideration than simply claiming to be a professional.

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10/27/2004 2:06:51 PM

Paul D. Carter   I have the answer.

Buy a special leaded pouch
and place all film and loaded camera in this leaded pouch. The leaded pouch is large enough to hold loaded camera and film (several rolls, 5-6 rolls!).
Ge to the airport a little early and perhaps mention to inspector that
you have film in a special leaded
(heavily leaded pouch). This leaded pouch is not visible in the x-ray (the contents of the pouch), so they will have to hand inspect it. SOmetimes they do not bother to hand inspect it.

I have done this since May 1996 and I have had no problem other than telling them about it beforehand or showing them the pouch and
film and loaded camera in the bag!

Once, they asked if they could place a hand gun in this leaded pouch to see if a gun could be detected and they did and the gun was indeed detected by X-ray! This was the idea of inspector not me--although I often wondered about it!

I purchased this special pouch from
Adorama in NYC in May, 1996 for about $40. I have had no problems!

If I can help further, email me

Paul Carter

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10/28/2004 5:50:47 AM

Alex Cabrall   I'd have to agree with the leaded film bag suggestion, as it has worked for me. Every single time I've gotten a hand inspection with no problem in the US. However, I would like to point out that when I had to fly out of Vancouver, they just sent the film bag through, THEN hand inspected me. So, be warned about that, it can take awhile to uncap ALL of your camera gear...and Sharpies? Yeah, weird, but the pictures came out fine. Final word: most ritz/workman/wolf camera stores carry these leaded bags for cheap. Definetly invest in a couple.

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10/28/2004 8:51:20 AM

Paul D. Carter   I did not make my point about the leaded camera bags clear.

I put film and loaded camera in leaded bag. This is heavy duty thick leaded bag. I put this bag in carry-on bag and it goes through x ray machine in a routine manner. Then, the inspector asks to see the contents and I tell them about it and then they hand inspect it!..... This is a heavy-duty
thick leaded bag! I first took it throuhg London and Rome, ITaly and Naples, Italy airport.

I would not suggest buying an inexpensive leaded pouch.

The leaded pouch that I carry I purchased from Adorama in New York City via toll free number and it protects
film upt to film speed 1600.

I have had no problems and only minor delays since May 1996 and I travel about once or twice a year.

What do others think about this?
Paul Carter

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10/28/2004 9:05:28 AM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  I think that Paul C's and Alex C's lead bag has worked well for each.
They are the safest way, but I've sent my camera bag thru with 100-800 film in it and never had any ill effects.
Leave it out the canisters and leave the leader sticking out though.Makes the initial visual impression more preferrable.

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10/28/2004 9:49:56 AM

Aline Levasseur   Thanks for all of the answers, everyone!

I think I will go with the leaded pouch thing. Apparently you are allowed to request a hand inspection of your film, and they MUST do it. I'm just concerned I'll get what happened last time and they'll just scan it anyway and then I'll have to murder someone. ;)

Think I'll try the lead bag and drop a couple rolls of 1600 and 3200 in there to be extra safe.

My rolls from Hawaii look shitty thanks to the xrays... And I print other people's film all day and you CAN see what xrays do to film.

Thanks a lot for the input.

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10/28/2004 11:38:46 AM

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