Security Tries To Scan Film

September 27, 2010

in Airport Stories

This isn’t a flight from hell, more like a screening from hell. Two friends and I went to China for a sightseeing vacation. This was 2004, so I didn’t bring my expensive digital camera, just my regular film camera. I put 7 rolls of film in a clear zip-lock baggie and in my pocket. At the Beijing airport security, the alarm went off and I showed them my film. No problem at all. The Chinese lady pulled out her gloves and did a quick hand inspection and realized it was film and off I went. Same thing in Tokyo’s Narita airport. The screener guy saw the film, on went the gloves and off to the plane I went. Last leg was from Hawaii to Phoenix. The conversation went like this:

Screener – “We’d like to run that through the X-ray.”

Me – “It’s film. You’ll ruin it.”

Screener – “It should be OK.” (Note, this was the most unconvincing use of the word “should.”)

Me – “Can I have a hand inspection?”

Screener – “We’d really like to run that through the X-ray.”

Me – “Hand inspection.” Screener calls for a supervisor.

Supervisor – “What film speed is it?”

Me – (lie) “800.”

Supervisor – “I’m pretty sure it’ll be OK.”

Me – “Hand inspection please,” and I pointed to the sign which states that they’ll do a hand inspection if requested for film. Finally, they agreed to do a hand inspection and low and behold, it was film. Seriously though, you’d think that in Hawaii, in the ultratourist place, they’d be a bit more accommodating. All it takes is a minor miscalibration of that X-ray and it can damage all film.

{ 8 comments… read them below or add one }

James September 28, 2010 at 7:34 am

1998 Gatwick airport, they refused — and fogged ISO 1600 film. Bastards.


kimo September 28, 2010 at 10:56 am

you lied….you are among the reasons of extra security besides the nuts.


Mr. Joe September 28, 2010 at 12:11 pm

TSA has a page on their website about the topic: Traveling with Film. I don't think anyone uses film anymore.


James September 29, 2010 at 7:07 am

I use film for special purposes. My hobby is nature and wildlife photography, and I travel extensively for it. I carry two cameras, one digital and one film. I use a higher quality film to get a much better grain and higher resolution than even the best digital cameras.

That said, I admit it is a specialty application, and not the normal situation.


memee September 29, 2010 at 7:34 am

I do!


Wally October 11, 2010 at 1:43 am

I do too for special situations, or if I want to use my old M5. Typically anything under 1600 is safe from fogging, though TSA had claimed in the past 3200 and below is ok. But since film has fallen out of the mainstay, and the rate of new TSA guys since film's end has greatly increased, it is unlikely you'll not go without an argument in the states with a screened.

On a related note, I had a similar issue at Keflivik back in 2001, pre-911 and my ISO400 was trashed by the x-tray machine.


Jason July 25, 2018 at 8:53 pm

Why do photographers act like they’re special. Every mom who takes her kid to Disney has a camera and somehow the pics always make it through security okay.


James August 9, 2018 at 9:24 am

Usually, the mom who takes her kid to Disney and uses a non-digital camera used a standard ISO 100 film. It has a certain sensitivity. I used various different films for different purposes, ranging up an ISO 6400 for cave photography. Those films are much more sensitive and are easily fogged. (They were a lot more expensive than the standard ISO 100 films… One roll of ISO 6400 was something like $25. The roll of ISO 100 was under $2.)

That said — I no longer use the film camera (that was 8 years ago) since the Nikon I have now has 25 megapixels, full frame, and can go as slow as ISO 12 and as fast as ISO 25600.


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