The Department for Transport (UK) announced this week that CT scanning technology will be phased in at UK airports over the next two years, according to the legislation they released on December 15, 2022. CT Scanning technology was already being tested in the UK, but the wide-spread implementation was paused due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
2024 is the goal year by which most UK airports will install the new 3D scanners. These scanners will allow security staff to see baggage in greater detail. Because of the increased visibility, many of the rules in place will be removed, such as taking large electronics out of cabin baggage and the 100ml liquid limit.
The Department for Transport said, “The new deadline follows several trials conducted at some airports since 2018, which have demonstrated the effectiveness of this new screening equipment – which uses CT X-ray technology to essentially provide a 3D image of what’s in passengers’ bags, as well as deploying highly advanced threat detection algorithms. It will further enhance our airports’ ability to detect prohibited items but with greater convenience for passengers.” (Source: UK GOV News/DOT News)
These scanners worry many in the film community. Already in place in the US, the CT scanners are stated to harm undeveloped film, even under 800 ISO films. Kodak Alaris warned photographers of the damage that this technology can do to unprocessed film, as reported by DPReview in 2020 after the TSA in the U.S. announced the installation of this technology in 145 airports across the country.
Travelers carrying film can ask airport staff for a hand check, however this is not as easily done as said. Many film shooters have experienced airport security staff refusing to hand check film at UK airports, on the basis that the current scanners do not harm film below 800 ISO. Some airports have placed signs in the queue letting travelers know that film under 800 ISO will not be harmed by the 2D (non CT) scanners.
Having traveled from the US to the UK through Logan Airport in Boston this autumn 2022, which has deployed the CT scanner technology already, I can say that the airport security staff agreed to hand check a large bag of my film without any fuss. I also left my lead lined film carry bag in my carryon which did go through the scanners, but was flagged for hand inspection as the security staff told me the scanners could not “see” through it.
Led lined bags made for carrying film through scanners are available to purchase on Amazon or shops that sell travel accessories for film shooters. Photographers can also get labels, such as the ones made by Kodak here, for film to let airport staff know that it can be harmed by the scanners.
This is promising that we will still be able to travel safely with film from countries installing this technology, however it depends on the airport security staff training. Hopefully if the new scanners are installed in most airports around the UK, the training that comes along with it will reinforce hand checks for all film.
Thanks to Francis Fitzgerald for the tipoff and voicing concerns about the new scanners from personal travel experiences.
Read more of the DOT’s announcement here.
Featured image credit to Bibhash (knapsnack.life) Banerjee (Pexels).
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11 thoughts on “UK Airports to Install CT X-Ray Scanner Technology by 2024”
I have a bunch of the “old” lead bags for travelling with film — I keep my film in them, in my freezer — to hopefully help the film last longer and be resistant to Aliens and UFOs as well!!! But I have always wondered, since I order all of my film through the mail — and send out film to be developed in the mail (US mail) — are they not using such scanners to scan the mail? I have not seen any issues, as far as I can tell, with my film orders or development orders — but I rarely shoot ISO 800 or higher films. Should we be concerned when ordering film/sending it out for development?
OK, you did it. Here’s what happened to me in September of 22.
We traveled to London from Boston’s Logan Airport. In the US, it’s a federal regulation that TSA will hand inspect film. No problem.
No reciprocation with the UK, EU or other countries if you’re an American citizen.
We departed London on the 25th of September. I had four rolls of Kodak p3200 & two rolls of unexposed HP-5. At Heathrow security, I informed the security greeter that I had film. She told me “no problem, tell them at the scanning point and they will hand inspect your film.” At the scanning point, I was told the machines will not harm 800 speed or less film. They were clearly using the newest generation scanners. I stood my ground and asked for a supervisor. The supervisor hand inspected my p3200 but refused to hand inspect the HP-5. The HP-5 went through the scanner. We boarded our flight, and there was an engine failure while on the tarmac. After four long hours, we de-plane and were put up for the night. The next day, we repeat the process. Again, I ask for hand inspection of the p3200. Again, a supervisor needed to be called in. I asked for the HP-5 to be hand inspected along with the p3200. They refused. remember, we’re talking about six rolls total. They would only inspect the p3200.
When I got home, I developed the p3200. OK. I developed one unexposed roll of HP-5. Ruined. I threw the other roll away.
The good news: before we departed London, I had 15 rolls of HP-5 developed at Rapid-Eye Lab. They shipped out the 15 rolls of film about five days later, correctly developed. It cost me about $9.00 per roll, but it was work it.
I understand and agree with the need for security. I don’t think it’s too much to post notifications that the scanning machines will ruin film with one pass. This should be posted on the websites so you can make plans before you leave on the correct handling of film.
Here are my recommendations:
1. In the US, TSA agents are required to hand inspect photographic film. You should not put film in checked baggage. Allow extra time to be processed through security. This applies only to airport travel in the US.
2. If you can afford it, buy film after you arrive at your destination if you’re out of the US. If you’re coming to the US, buy it here.
3. Plan to have your film developed ‘in-country.’ Again, factor in the cost and only you can decide if the additional cost is worth it.
3a. Consider carrying a film developing kit. Ilford makes a dandy one. Develop your film in your bathroom like professionals did in the 1960’s & 70’s.
4. Security protocols change all the time. There is a reason for this. Remain calm and flexible.
5. Security agents are rude and impatient. You don’t need to be. Remember, it will be you in the security office for losing your cool, not the agent. You can always find a bar and have a drink and then complain to the bartender about security.
6. Fly when you have no other way. I’m still waiting for the tunnel to be built from the US to Europe, but until that happens, we’ll need to fly. But we can ride by train once we arrive.
7. Say screw it, buy a digital camera.
8. Stay home and don’t travel.
I can’t let this go without a little advice for my senior citizen photographers on Medicare (I’m 71). Your Medicare card does not work outside of the US (I think there is a couple of minor exceptions if you live in Alaska.) Your Medicare supplemental coverage may or may not work. My supplemental insurance will only cover ER visits overseas. I pay out-of-pocket expenses and I would be reimbursed when I got home. Buy good, international coverage travel insurance with medical included. We always travel with good travel insurance. Check w/your insurance agent, not your brother-in-law.
I’ve found the film through airport security thing to be very variable over the years. I’ve got better at the right approach/ tone of voice to the right looking staff member and more often than not it’s no problem. The only time I’ve ever come across a fogged film was one that had been in my partner’s camera through God knows how many ill-maintained scanners in the old Caucasus republics of the USSR ( “the Stans” ) but I’m aware that so far I’ve been quite lucky.
A positive of the new scanners is that the people trained to use them have all (in my experience) been briefed that they simply have to hand-check film because any ISO will likely be toast, so they are prepared to be asked and to be helpful.
I hope I can impart some of my luck, and I hope no-one is discouraged from partaking in one of life’s great joys: travel and film photography are each wonderful but the combination is just dreamy!
It was my understanding that while the lead bags work, the security folks just keep cranking up the power until they can ‘see’ the contents. Is that not true?
This is what I had heard as well, but going through the scanners with the agent telling me that they couldn’t see through the bag, I’ll take that. 🙂
It’s not that they crank up the intensity of the x-ray scan (that would pose a health risk to the scanner operator) but they pause the conveyor belt to look at the items in the bag. If your film is next to a bag that is paused on the belt, it could be subjected to more harmful rays. This applies to film in unleaded bags.
At every US airport they have always hand examined my film. I always ask nicely. At every UK airport they flatly refuse to hand check my film, I also asked nicely.
As much as the very thought of it makes me break out in a rash, it looks like I will have to take digital gear with me the next time I visit family in the UK.
A grim tale for the UK side of things Huss! But, I have had the same experience generally. Either digital or buying film there and processing it there, but this is hard to work out with timing though!
Chris & Molly,
I’ve been told (secret pinky pledge!) that the scanners at the passenger gates can’t have the intensity of the scan boosted. It’s a real health risk for the operators. The real danger to film occurred when film (not in a lead bag) was passing through the machine, and the operator paused the conveyor belt for a longer than normal look at the contents of a bag. Film would get an extra blast.
My advice based upon experience is to dial in extra time to have your film processed before returning home.
Take advantage of the US TSA hand inspection if you’re traveling domestically.
Film industry groups need to push the EU, UK and Asian gov’t to clarify policy regarding film & security.
Years ago before Fancy scanners, I used lead bags! Don’t! My films were sent up and down thru scanner, at least 6x!
I no longer carry film on trips where security exists. I avoid certain airports! Heathrow a definite NO. Rude, arrogant and intrusive1
All my cameras needed to be opened, lenses also. Lenses touched with ungloved hand and paws.
USE DIGITAL! delete post, you are all losers.
Why would you end a perfectly valid, experience based argument/comment with that last sentence? I would also just shoot digital on holiday, or at most buy then shoot film and have it developed in the country I was in. But I still understand why for others it’s worth the trouble to get through security. And certainly don’t think that anyone who chooses to partake in a hobby in a different way to me is a loser.