If you’re a film photographer and you’re planning on traveling by air anytime soon, your film could be in danger! Recently while going through TSA security at LAX, photography suppliers, Freestyle Photographic Supplies posted an image of the new airport CT scanners at LAX to their Instagram warning:

“Watch out for these machines at the airports. It’s a CAT scan and will absolutely destroy any film in a second. The equivalent of putting your film through the old scanners about a thousand times. Lead bags won’t save you.”

Don’t Let these CT Scanners Destroy Your Film

The good news is you have options. Freestyle Photographic Supplies says, “The nice #TSA agents at #LAX had no problem with a handcheck and seemed to be informed this is no joke.”

These types of CT scanners have been known to completely destroy the images on film, as noted by Kodak back in the early 2000’s.

“There are two types of higher-dose scanners,” Kodak said on the support page. “The first type is similar to a hospital CAT scan and uses a low-dose scan followed by a higher-dose scan on specific areas of the baggage. The second type gives a high-dose, full bag scan on the first pass, damaging the film immediately.

“Tests indicate that there is significant fogging of unprocessed film when the film sustains a direct hit by either of the different scanner’s high-intensity X-ray beam. Faster films show a more dense fog.”

The TSA recently chimed in as well, stating:

“The x-ray machines used to screen check carry-on baggage will not affect digital camera images, slides, photo compact discs, picture discs, or film that has already been processed, including developed medical x-rays.

“For travel tips and information about our screening procedures and what you can bring, please visit www.tsa.gov/travel.

“Most x-ray machines used to screen carry-on bags should not damage undeveloped film under ASA\ISO 800. There are a limited number of screening checkpoints that use x-ray equipment that may damage undeveloped film. These airports will have signage in front of the x-ray stating that the x-ray may damage undeveloped film.

“If you are traveling with the following types of film, please pack it in a clear plastic bag, remove it from your carry-on bag at the checkpoint, and ask for a hand inspection:

  • Film with an ASA\ISO 800 or higher
  • Highly sensitive x-ray or scientific films
  • 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
  • Film of any speed that is subjected to x-ray screening more than five times

A woman walking through an airport terminal. Photo by Sergey Zolkin.Don’t Be Shy About Requesting a Hand Inspection

You won’t always see signage stating that a hand inspection is available, but if you are traveling with film, make sure to request one regardless and a hand-inspection will be provided.

The TSA Website has put out a list of airports that these scanners have been unveiled at. These airports include:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  • Houston Hobby Airport (HOU)
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)

This list is expected to keep growing as more airports adopt these scanners across the US. And they’re not doing this just to anger film photographers. These machines will actually help to speed up the security process, making everyone’s lives easier—the quicker the line moves, the quicker you can get to the hand inspection, and ultimately… the quicker you can be on your way.

And if your film has already been processed, then don’t worry, the x-rays won’t ruin your images—this means processed slides and negatives.

So happy traveling, everyone! And remember to think twice before letting your unprocessed film travel through a TSA checkpoint.

Let us know if you’ve had any experience with x-ray damaged film in the comments below!