Traveling with film through airport security is a common concern for photographers. With heightened security procedures, there is always a risk of damage to undeveloped film when passing through x-ray scanners.

If you’re short on time, here’s a quick answer: Film is unlikely to be ruined by airport security screening, but it’s smart to request manual inspection to be safe.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll discuss everything you need to know about traveling with film through airport security. We’ll go over TSA screening procedures, risks to film, steps to protect your undeveloped rolls, and alternatives to minimize any issues.

TSA Screening Procedures for Film

Film May Be Screened Separately

When it comes to traveling with film, there is always a concern about potential damage during the TSA screening process. However, it is important to note that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has specific procedures in place to ensure the safety of your film while still maintaining security.

One of these procedures is that film may be screened separately from other belongings.

By allowing film to be screened separately, TSA officers can take extra precautions to prevent any damage that could occur from other items in your luggage. This separation also allows for a more focused screening process, ensuring that film is handled with care and attention.

X-Ray Scanners and Film

One common concern when it comes to airport security and film is the potential impact of x-ray scanners. X-ray scanners are used by the TSA to detect any potential threats within luggage and belongings.

While these scanners are highly effective in detecting prohibited items, they can potentially damage film.

However, it’s important to note that modern x-ray scanners used in airports are designed to handle a wide range of items, including film. These scanners are equipped with settings that minimize the risk of damage to film.

Additionally, the TSA recommends that film with a speed of ISO 800 or higher be hand-inspected instead of being passed through an x-ray scanner.

According to Kodak’s official website, “You can request a hand inspection for your film. The FAA has regulations in place that require screeners to honor your request for a hand inspection of film with an ISO rating of 800 or higher.”

Manual Inspection Option

If you have concerns about your film being passed through an x-ray scanner, you have the option to request a manual inspection by a TSA officer. This involves the officer physically inspecting your film without the use of an x-ray scanner.

While this option may take a bit more time, it provides peace of mind for those who want to ensure the safety of their film. It’s important to note that you should arrive at the airport with enough time to allow for this additional inspection process.

Potential Risks of X-Rays to Undeveloped Film

Traveling with undeveloped film can be a concern for many photographers, especially when it comes to airport security. The X-ray machines used in airports can potentially damage the film, resulting in ruined photos.

However, it is important to understand the potential risks and take necessary precautions to minimize any potential damage.

Film Sensitivity Varies

One of the key factors that determine the potential risk to film in airport X-ray machines is the sensitivity of the film itself. Different types of film have varying levels of sensitivity to X-rays. For example, higher ISO films tend to be more susceptible to damage compared to lower ISO films.

It is essential for photographers to be aware of the sensitivity of their film and take appropriate measures to protect it.

Cumulative Exposure Matters

Another important aspect to consider is the cumulative exposure to X-rays. While individual passes through an airport X-ray machine may not cause significant damage to the film, frequent exposure can add up over time and potentially affect the quality of the images.

Therefore, it is advisable to limit the number of times the film goes through the X-ray machines, especially if you are a frequent traveler.

Newer Scanners Have Lower Radiation

It is worth noting that airport security technology has significantly improved over the years. Modern X-ray scanners used in airports are designed to emit lower levels of radiation compared to older models. These newer scanners are often considered safer for film, reducing the risk of damage.

However, it is still recommended to take precautions to protect your film, especially if it is of high significance.

Despite the advancements in airport security technology, many photographers prefer to request a manual inspection of their film instead of subjecting it to X-ray machines. This can be done by informing the security personnel at the airport checkpoint about the undeveloped film and requesting a hand inspection.

It is important to note that some airports may have specific protocols in place for manual film inspection, so it is advisable to check with the airport authorities beforehand.

Precautions to Protect Film During Screening

When traveling with film, it is understandable to be concerned about the potential damage that airport security screening can cause. However, there are several precautions you can take to ensure that your precious film remains intact and unspoiled.

By following these steps, you can minimize the risk of damage and continue to capture those unforgettable moments on film.

Request Manual Inspection

One way to protect your film from potential damage during airport security screening is to request a manual inspection. This involves politely asking the security personnel to inspect your film by hand rather than subjecting it to the X-ray machine.

While not all airports may offer this option, it is worth inquiring about it. By doing so, you can have peace of mind knowing that your film is not being exposed to any potential harm.

Ask for Hand Screening

Another precaution you can take is to ask for a hand screening of your film. This involves removing the film from its packaging and asking the security personnel to physically inspect it. Although it may take a bit longer than the regular screening process, this method ensures that your film is not exposed to any X-ray radiation.

Remember to handle your film with clean hands and avoid touching the sensitive surface to prevent any smudges or fingerprints.

Separate Film from Other Items

When packing your film for travel, it is essential to keep it separate from other items in your carry-on bag. This can help prevent any accidental damage that may occur during the screening process. Placing your film in a dedicated pouch or container will not only keep it organized but also protect it from potential scratches or pressure from other objects.

Additionally, keeping your film readily accessible during the security check can make the inspection process smoother and more efficient.

Remember, these precautions are not foolproof, and there is always a slight risk of damage during airport security screening. However, by taking these steps to protect your film, you can significantly reduce the chances of it getting ruined.

If you have any concerns or questions about traveling with film, it is always a good idea to check with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or the airport’s security guidelines for the most up-to-date information.

Alternatives to Minimize Security Screening of Film

Ship Film Separately

One of the most effective ways to avoid potential damage to film during airport security screenings is to ship it separately. By sending your film through a trusted shipping service, you can ensure that it is handled with care and avoids the X-ray machines that can potentially ruin the film.

This alternative may be more suitable for professional photographers or filmmakers who have larger quantities of film and can plan ahead.

Use Lead-Lined Bags

For those who prefer to travel with their film, using lead-lined bags can provide an added layer of protection against X-ray radiation. These bags are specially designed to shield film from harmful rays while still allowing it to pass through security screenings.

Lead-lined bags are available in various sizes and can be purchased online or at specialty photography stores. Remember to check with your airline or airport regulations regarding the use of lead-lined bags.

Travel with a Minimal Amount

If shipping or lead-lined bags are not feasible options, another alternative is to travel with a minimal amount of film. By reducing the quantity of film you carry, you can decrease the likelihood of damage during security screenings.

Consider carefully selecting the rolls of film you truly need for your trip and leave the rest behind. This approach can help minimize the potential risk to your film while still allowing you to capture those memorable moments.

Remember, it is always important to check the latest regulations and guidelines from the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) or the airport you will be traveling through. These alternatives can provide solutions to minimize the risk of film getting ruined in airport security, but ultimately, it is up to the individual to decide which method works best for their specific circumstances.


While airport x-ray machines present a small risk, most photographic film is unlikely to suffer serious damage during a typical security screening. Still, it’s smart to take precautions like requesting hand inspections, separating film from other carry-ons, and minimizing what you travel with.

Understanding TSA procedures and planning ahead will give you peace of mind that your undeveloped rolls will be protected.

By following security guidelines, using protective bags, and minimizing film when traveling, photographers can rest easy knowing their unexposed rolls will be safe through airport screening.

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