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While analog film is probably still the most common X-ray sensitive item encountered at airport security, there are some emerging electronics technologies that use MOS floating gates as precision analog devices (instead of the simple on/off or multi-level digital/digital-like constructions found in say a Flash memory), which renders them at least somewhat X-ray sensitive. Passing such equipment through an airport X-ray scanner may damage it, reduce its lifespan or necessitate time-consuming and/or expensive recalibration.

How does one travel by air with such equipment? What happens when you tell the people at security, "This can't go through the X-ray machine?"

  • 3
    We can tell you how to travel with such a device as it is, in your carry-on or checked luggage. Electrical Engineering can tell you how to modify the design of such a device. So it depends on what you're looking for. You may want to pose the slightly different questions on both sites. – Michael Hampton Oct 11 '16 at 5:13
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    not worth an answer, but, i'd just tell the lady/man at the gates " please, this item can't go through x-rays without being damaged, can you please close-examine it by hand? i don't care waiting longer for you to do it". – CptEric Oct 11 '16 at 6:44
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    I'm afraid this will inevitably depend on the countries and the airports you plan on visiting. – JoErNanO Oct 11 '16 at 8:08
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    I was at security at LHR T5 and a photographer was requesting hand check of his high speed film. He was refused and told it was ok to go through the x-ray. Asked for supervisors, who refused and was still arguing as I left 10 minutes later. YMMV. – Berwyn Oct 11 '16 at 9:37
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    OK, so far we have four answers talking about what the TSA does, and zero about the other two-hundred-and-how-many countries in the world... – David Richerby Oct 12 '16 at 12:43
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The FAA regulation has this to say:

If requested by passengers, their photographic equipment and film packages shall be inspected without exposure to an X-ray system.

I am unaware of any official TSA word on this but it'd be very hard to imagine them contradicting the FAA.

Anything is a "photographic equipment" if you try hard enough. First ask politely not to be x-ray'd and if they don't then pull out the printout of the regulation and ask them to kindly please attend to federal regulations. Avoid trying to explain what it is. Only if pressed further tell them it's photographic equipment but don't go into details much. Don't forget the TSA is essentially a federal jobs program for otherwise unemployable people. The chances of them understanding what is an FGA and why you don't want to X-Ray it is nil. It's photographic equipment, like an external timer. Use simple words of one syllable or less.

Edit: to react to @reirab's comment, finding TSA regulations is very difficult. However, 49 CFR 1546.209 - Use of X-ray systems. seems to apply to the TSA (and foreign air carriers but that's not relevant):

(2) At locations at which a foreign air carrier or TSA uses an X-ray system to inspect checked baggage the foreign air carrier must ensure that a sign is posted in a conspicuous place where the foreign air carrier accepts checked baggage.

(3) The signs required under this paragraph must notify individuals that such items are being inspected by an X-ray and advise them to remove all X-ray, scientific, and high-speed film from accessible property and checked baggage before inspection. This sign must also advise individuals that they may request that an inspection be made of their photographic equipment and film packages without exposure to an X-ray system.

Please note how this copies the FAA regulation word-by-word starting from "their". And then this repeats:

(4) If requested by individuals, their photographic equipment and film packages must be inspected without exposure to an X-ray system.

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    I would upvote this answer if it wasn't particularly condescending of TSA employees. – gerrit Oct 11 '16 at 11:43
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    And Im upvoting for this: Don't forget the TSA is essentially a federal jobs program for otherwise unemployable people :) – Shantnu Tiwari Oct 11 '16 at 13:28
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    @gerrit Even if a particular TSA employee isn't stupid, they're required by their jobs and law to act as if they were. So it's rather difficult to tell the difference. – Michael Hampton Oct 11 '16 at 15:02
  • @reirab OK, I found a 2002-2004 regulation explicitly mentioning "At locations at which a foreign air carrier or TSA uses an X-ray"... – chx Oct 12 '16 at 1:54
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    Surely, FGA stands for "fotographic generalization apparatus". Spelling fotography with an "f" indicates that film is used, so clearly, FGAs are to be exempted from X-ray machines under the photographic equipment guideline. – HopelessN00b Oct 13 '16 at 16:39
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OK, So I've never tried this with electronic equipment (which I think will make it harder).

But I've flown several times with personal radiation dosimeters as required by my employment at the time. Obviously, an x-ray exposure would contribute to a recorded dose - overreporting is a much smaller problem than underreporting, but still something to be avoided.

I've been able at all airports that I've tried, to either leave the item in my pocket, or where clearing of pockets was required (most often where terahertz imaging was used), hand it to a member of security staff to bypass the x-ray machines. Recently, this request to bypass x-ray has always led to a chemical swab being taken of the dosimeter (presumably policy, because it's too small to be a dangerous device).

This has sometimes involved a minute or two of explanation to the security staff in question. I've done this at airports in the US, UK and France. The UK staff at Manchester were perhaps the hardest to convince, and remained somewhat suspicious. TSA staff at IAD took some time to explain, but were friendly once they understood (they were also sticklers for "nothing in pockets", not even allowing card voucher type receipts etc).

So in principle, explaining that something you are carrying cannot be exposed to x-rays can get it to avoid the x-ray machines. However, it possibly helps if the item is small and safety-relevant, and I'm not sure I'd chance it with something that I couldn't let be xrayed. (Of course, the dosimeter also records a small level of cosmic ray exposure from long haul flights. So you should think about that with anything you are flying with).

  • I feel your comment about cosmic rays is irrelevant. You don't receive the security Xray dose, you do receive the cosmic dose. – yo' Oct 11 '16 at 14:02
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    @yo' I find the comment about cosmic radiation makes perfect sense - if the OP's device is too sensitive they should also be aware of that risk. For the poster of this answer not x-raying the dosimeter (since they were not x-rayed) but wearing it on the plane (like them) was how these things are supposed to be used in my understanding, as there are limits to personal dosis of radiation no matter whether caused by their work or personal travel. – mts Oct 11 '16 at 14:08
  • @mts well, the OP doesn't seem to be worried by this and as stated, the answer doesn't make a remark that the OP "shall be careful about cosmic rays too", so to me, it seems like completely unnecessary information (in the current version). – yo' Oct 11 '16 at 14:13
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    @yo' the OP might not be aware of this so it seems like highly relevant information to me, but of course that's just my 2 cents. – mts Oct 11 '16 at 14:17
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For the United States, items are screened by the Transportation Security Administration. While I didn't find anything on their website stating a general policy for all x-ray-sensitive equipment, they do say this regarding camera film (bold emphasis in original, italics are mine):

Undeveloped camera film is not prohibited, but you should only transport it in your carry-on baggage; the equipment used to screen checked baggage may damage undeveloped film.

If you are transporting high speed (800 ISO and higher) or specialty film, you may request to have it physically inspected when presented at the screening checkpoint instead of undergoing x-ray screening. You may also request that all of your undeveloped film be physically inspected instead of undergoing x-ray, particularly if your film has or may be screened by x-ray more than five times. To facilitate physical inspection, remove your undeveloped film from the canister and pack it in a clear plastic bag. We recommend leaving your film in the unopened manufacturer’s packaging.

Even if an item is generally permitted, it may be subject to additional screening or not allowed through the checkpoint if it triggers an alarm during the screening process, appears to have been tampered with, or poses other security concerns. The final decision rests with TSA on whether to allow any items on the plane.

Source: The "When I fly can I bring my..." search result for "camera film" on TSA's website.

They may or may not treat your equipment in the same way as camera film, but this was the closest I was able to find on their website.


I would especially advise paying attention to the last line in their statement. Effectively, TSA has no obligation to let you bring any given item through the checkpoint. A particularly non-tech-savvy and/or particularly suspicious agent or simply an agent who is in a bad mood might refuse to allow a given item to pass through the checkpoint without going through the x-ray scan.

Most agents will probably be more reasonable than that and will generally work with you as long as you're polite and cooperative, but there's no guarantee that all of them will. If you want to be really sure a given item is not subjected to an x-ray scan, it's probably better to transport it another way.

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TSA says they will do hand-checks on any equipment that is sensitive to X-rays. I have never put it to the test, but you might consider mailing the thing rather than take the chance.

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    Any sources for this? As is this might be better as a comment. – mts Oct 11 '16 at 7:54
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    This would be very good if supported by a written TSA policy. (Basically as @mts asks.) Even then, it would apply only to the US. – yo' Oct 11 '16 at 14:03
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    How can you make sure it doesn't get x-rayed when you mail it? – hertitu Oct 11 '16 at 14:20
  • I think normal mail also go for x-ray examination. – Juan Carlos Oropeza Oct 11 '16 at 18:43
  • Some mail gets x-rayed but if it does, it goes through a high-speed scanner that is maintained by expert technicians and read by a computer, instead of run through the slow-broiler while some high-school drop-out turns the belt back and forth trying to figure out whether it's a sex-toy. – Malvolio Oct 20 '16 at 19:01

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