Getting Your Film Through TSA

Traveling without some form of camera in today’s world is virtually unheard of. How else would you ensure that your future self has tangible memories to either reminisce or cringe over? More specifically, film cameras are making more frequent appearances on travel checklists. Film is rather delicate and requires a few extra steps to ensure it arrives at its destination unscathed. If you find yourself looking to pass through TSA with film in the near future, consider the following to help optimize your experience:

Ask TSA to hand-check undeveloped film 

Recently, high-powered CT scanners have been placed throughout TSA security checkpoints across the United States. Previously, these scanners were low-powered and carry-on luggage containing film under 800 ISO with no risk of film damage. With the power upgrade in the new scanners, undeveloped film of all speeds could face irreparable damage. 

Most TSA screeners are aware of the risks and have been trained to hand-check film rolls and related media, so be sure to kindly request a check.

Airport security checkpoints with updated CT scanners have signage indicating film below 800 ISO will not be damaged. Hand-checks can still be requested in airports without the signage. 

Simplify the TSA experience 

Make your film easily accessible for TSA by placing it all in a transparent, ziplock bag. I always have my bag of rolls, (sans canisters and wrappers), in-hand as I approach the scanners. A quick explanation to the TSA screener, and your rolls are on their way to a safe hand-check.

Remember to keep your film in your carry-on bag - the x-ray equipment that scans checked bags could result in fogged, damaged film. Processed film won’t be damaged by x-rays.

Hand-checks may be unavailable

It’s rare, but in some cases, TSA screeners may decline a hand-check. If this happens, keep in mind that film below 800 ISO won’t be damaged. 

My Experience

This year, I traveled outside of the United States with film for the first time. To be on the safe side, I request film of all speeds to be hand-checked when travelling within the U.S. Despite my efforts to explain, my initial request for a hand-check in Nigeria was declined - I was much luckier for the rest of the trip. Fortunately, the security checkpoint scanner that wouldn’t grant the hand-check appeared to be an older model and the film I was carrying was 160 ISO. The other checkpoints I encountered resembled the high-powered CT scanners and the TSA screeners were more receptive to my hand-check requests. 

Despite the pass through the initial scanner, my scans turned out great!

  Kodak Portra 160 |  1 X-Ray Pass

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