Air travel and x-ray checks (as of January 2000)

Presently new equipment for luggage checks that damage colored films are being installed world wide. These new scanners (type CTX 5000) are supposed to be more efficient in finding explosives. Currently they are only used for checks on check-in luggage, but – not yet – for hand luggage.

You should under no circumstances put your film material into your baggage: there are other reports in the meantime from photographers whose films were in check-in luggage and virtually destroyed by the CTX scanners. You have to carry all your films in your hand luggage from now on, since the x-ray machines for hand luggage are currently still safe. If you want to be absolutely certain, then request for a hand check of your undeveloped film material. You can ask for this anywhere in the USA, you also have a right to do so here in Germany and Holland, but the people working here at these machines often deny this, since it is more work.

If you want to avoid unnecessary discussions with the often unfriendly personnel, request a the right of a hand check in writing from the airport authorities and present this letter.

Here an example of three such letters that I received from the ministry in Bonn, the Frankfurt airport authorities and the authorities from Amsterdam Schiphol:


Sender: the federal secretary of internal affairs, October 9th, 1985

Subject: treatment of film material through security checks at German airports.

Reference: your correspondence dated October 1st , 1985

Ladies and gentlemen,

the from me requested directive on the above subject is as follows:

Hand checks are explicitly allowed according to these directives.

Sincerely, Leicher (under order of)

The federal secretary of internal affairs, postfach 170290, 5300 Bonn-1


Sender: Flughafen Frankfurt Main/AG, January 30th, 1996

Dear Mr. Pölking,

thank you very much for your letter, in which you refer the security checks of our department at the Frankfurt Airport.

You may rest assured, that we will do everything in our power to serve our customers in a way befitting an international airport and formally apologize for any incidents in which our personnel may not have followed these directives.

Our service regulations are based on directives from the authorities in charge ("air security frame work" of the federal secretary of internal affairs). These regulations state the mandatory and complete check of all objects which a passenger carries with him as well as the person him/herself.

Basically you do have the right of a hand check of film material, this request may under no circumstances call for any discussions or unfriendly expressions of our personnel. The passenger controllers are schooled intensely in reference to customer friendly behavior. Unfortunately, this training does not always result in the desirable success.

You have supplied us with a copy of our highest supervisory authority, in which you already have a confirmation of that which you request from us. With this document it is ensured that your wish for any manual or hand checks of film material has be acted on accordingly.

We would appreciate any further notice of your observations – be it positive as well as negative. Only through "feed back" from our passengers can we find ourselves in a situation where our work can be assessed and improved.

Sincerely, (ppa. Zintel i.A. Kriegbaum) 60547 Flughafen Fankfurt Main/AG


Sender: Korps Rijkpolitie, Postbus 7577, NL-1118 ZH Schiphol-C, March 16th ,1990

Dear Mr. Pölking,

herewith I confirm receipt of your above mentioned letter in which you ask for advice to avoid having films X-rayed.

The scanning machines we use at Schiphol Airport is most modern and tests have proved that it is safe for all (unexposed) films, even during several inspections by this equipment.

In the meantime we certainly know that many airports use less qualitive equipment through which films will be damaged. For this we understand the anxiety by the bad experiences of passengers on airports.

Although our equipment is safe, we therefor instruct our Security-personnel to handcheck photo and film equipment if the passenger requests. They are obliged to carry out such requests.

I hope you are informed to your satisfaction, so we can still welcome you at our airport.

Yours sincerely, Commander of the aviation branch, Dutch National Police Force (Maurer).


From the magazine "Visuell", issue 6/1999

Shadow over the pictures

Anti terror baggage checks on airports is difficult.

It is know that new types of x-ray scanners have been developed in the USA which can detect dangerous items for air traffic, such as weapons and explosives, more efficient than the scanners presently used.

This added security for travelers is reached through a baggage control system which functions similar to the computer tomography . The bags are pre checked with a normal standard dose of radiation by which software supports an analysis which signals with an alarm if the suspicion of a weapon or explosives exists. Following this a second check, this time with a thinner, but much higher dosed ray of radiation. This ray only seizes the articles in the suitcase that were suspicious in the first check. Even harmless objects like the case of a single roll of film, an electric shaver or a battery can trigger the alarm of this software and a higher dose of radiation is set off. Since the danger of damage on film material is especially great during the second check, the film industry reacted by forming a common investigations team. This commission has done extensive research and analyzed the results. All major film manufacturers have supplied a test packet with their most important film types starting by 100 ASA up to 1000 ASA in different formats like 35mm, APS and roll film 120. The test material which consisted of developed and undeveloped material was sent up to 50 times through the baggage scanner in which the position on the belt was varied numerous times.

Results of the tests:

The results were alarming!! The new type of baggage check equipment damaged every film from 100 ASA up. The film turns hazy and objects that are positioned in front of the film while scanned turn up on the film. On full rolls of film (but not yet developed) the damage – depending on the motif – can be minor.


(Film safety for traveling on planes)

Leading picture, film and travel experts in the USA have gathered to form a committee called "FSTOP" (Film safety for traveling on planes). This group uses its influence to inform the public which photographs of the dangers on possible damage to film material.

In a survey conducted recently by "National Family Opinion" with travelers who take a private trip at least once a year only 9% of the questioned thought it possible that baggage scanners could damage film material at airports. A third of the interviewed air travelers had heard about airport baggage scanners that could damage film material but could not imagine how and in what way or how to protect their films against this. (The survey results were published last year by the FAA – Federal Aviation Administration – and the film manufacturers).

"We basically welcome all improved security devices because they make air travel safer" Michael Jacobs, Chairman of FSTOP emphasizes "but there is still confusion on how travelers should handle their film material in the new security environment. The awareness of possible danger is too small so that our group would like to strengthen this awareness in photographers and the public, since damaged photos can be very disappointing in amateurs and professionals alike."

As a first step, FSTOP has published guidelines for travelers with slide or film material:

For travelers that carry less than 20 rolls :

For travelers that carry more than 20 rolls :

In unison with Jacobs, does the committee want to put further measures to sensitize professional photographer groups and organizations in a centralized position. This should be supplemented through the pointed policy of information at photo clubs as well as with photo equipment retailers.

Contact: FSTOP, 3772 N. Broadway, Chicago, IL 60673, USA, Tel.: +7 888 307-2665, URL: http://

FSTOP members: NFL Films Vice President Steven Andrich; FUJI FILM Technical Product Specialist Gary Barr; The Traveler´s Journal Executive Producer Dave Bear; NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC TRAVELER Editor-in-Chief Keith Bellows; Director of Photography Rob Draper, ACS; Director of Photography Michael Falasco, ACS; Freelance Photographer Nancy Jo Johnson; POPULAR PHOTORAPHY Contributing Editor and Consultant Peter Krause; PETERSON`S PHOTOGRAPHIC Editor Ron Leach; PHOTO DISTRICT NEWS Publisher Jeffrey Roberts; Photographer and Writer Art Shay, and NEW YORK POST Deputy Photo Editor Vernon Shibla.



Remarks to this last article in VISUELL: The from me red highlighted suggestions of the organization FSTOP seem to be extremely difficult to me. It seems that with protective covers and protective bags what is meant are lead bags, in which you should place the films in order to store them in your luggage. I strongly advise against this. These led bags avoid radiation rays to reach the films, but the controller can´t see what is in them in so has raise the intensity of the radiation until he does see what is in the bag which of course ruins the film. So with the protective led bags you achieve nothing but the opposite of what the intention is.

To organize a manual check of your film material ahead of your departure seem to be rather unworldly suggestion. If start out in Munich, Hanover, Hamburg or Berlin and have to change airplanes in Frankfurt, chances are that you will have pass an additional security check. Same on your way return trip. A manual check at your point of departure does not seem to do much good.

I can make two suggestions: Currently the scanning equipment at major European airports (except London) and in North America for hand luggage are safe. You can be pretty certain that your films are safe and have them scanned there.

Absolute security of course is only provided through manual (hand) check.

I transport my film in two ways: If I am lazy and carry a lot of films with me (like i.e. Frankfurt to Miami), then I place them into a small second bag solely for films, in addition to the Photo back pack with the measurements of 33cm wide, 14 cm deep, and 22 cm high. 160 films in plastic containers and 260 without, fit into this small bag. Almost all airlines allow for an additional small bag to the carry on luggage measuring 20X40X55 cm.

If you transport films in this way, you have to have them scanned since a manual check is not possible.

If I need a manual check because the expected material is too valuable or the airports are not dependable enough (South America, Africa or Asia), then I put the films - without plastic containers – in plastic resealable bags. The ones you use to keep vegetables fresh. I place 20-30 films in a bag and distribute them between the back pack and the carry on. These bags with about 30 films each should create no problems with the checking personnel (If you carry a letter from the airport authorities with you).
Now that the problems with the new scanners CXT 5000 are known, it is easier to take film material in your carry on and to receive a manual check.