Airport security and your film

Talk about bad timing. For several years now, I’ve been planning to visit with friends Aaron and Carole Martens on their home waters in southern California.
Bass anglers will recognize Aaron’s name as the 28-year-old Valley boy who has been tearing apart the Bassmasters and FLW tournament circuits of late.
The last time I talked with Aaron, he was well over a half-million dollars in career-winning earnings and had driven home 18 trucks and fully-rigged Ranger bass boat as prizes.
Yet, no sooner did I book my flight to Los Angeles than I turned on the television set and watched Gov. Davis of California call out the U.S. National Guard to patrol LAX’s perimeter. Seems the airport is number-one on al-Qaeda’s hit parade.
Well, if the worse should happen, I thought, at least I’ll get some good action photos. Or will I?
With all the increased airport security these days, travelling anglers—heck, anyone vacationing via air—need to be extra careful about how they store their camera gear and films.
As friend and fellow outdoor writer, Bob Jones, recently remarked, “I do a fine job of destroying my own film through improper ASA and/or aperture settings which have nothing whatsoever to do with existing light conditions, therefore, I do everything within my power to thwart the airport security people from adding to my problems.”
According to Jones, despite what the airlines might tell you, repeated zappings from security X-ray machines will fog your film and quite possibly destroy once-in-a-lifetime prints and slides—regardless of the film’s speed.
The very worst thing you can do, Jones cautions, is to pack your camera gear—no matter how securely—and then stow it as checked baggage. Every piece of checked baggage in the 50 largest airports in the United States, the major ones in Canada, and most in Europe is now scanned once it waves good-bye and rides the conveyor belt downstairs.
And the settings on these special checked baggage scanners (called CTX-5000 and CTX-5500 Invision scanners) deliver far more film-punishing doses of X-rays than the machines we’re accustomed to passing our carry-on baggage through.
According to the folks at Kodak, there are two types of high-dose scanners and neither is particularly film friendly. The first type delivers an initial low dose much like a hospital CAT scanner. But then, like its hospice counterpart, it whacks the daylights out of anything that looks suspicious with a much higher dose.
What about the second type? It delivers a high-dose destroying scan on the very first pass and quickly gets it over with.
By the way, if it is of any interest, the folks at Kodak say you can tell which type scanner destroyed your prints and slides. If you can see centimetre-wide soft-edged foggy bands running across the print, the CAT type zapped it.
(They can run in any direction across the print or slide depending on how it was laying when it was X-rayed).
If your film was zapped by one of the high-dose scanners, on the other hand, the print or slide will appear washed out, over-exposed, and grainy. And you’ll know why it is called “fog.”
Don’t think you can buy protection in the form of one of those special lead-lined photographic bags, either. Jones says all the shields do is cause the scanner operator to crank up the X-ray machine even higher until the lead liner—and your film—are penetrated.
And in case you were wondering, if you forget and inadvertently pack your film in a checked bag, there is nothing the processing lab can do to compensate or correct the problem—even if you tell them in advance of developing.
For that reason, Jones says never put your film in a suitcase you intend to check in. Instead, keep your camera and film in your carry-on bag. He says it’s best to pack exposed, as well as unexposed film, in clear plastic film canisters and put them all in a see-through zip-lock bag.
That way, the security guards can quickly and easily see what is inside when you ask them to do a visual check of your equipment. It is the first step in airport diplomacy.
“Security staff endure a lot of jerks during the course of a shift, so I try not to be one—even when I encounter the odd jerk who just happens to be an airport security guard,” Jones warned.
Following up on Jones’ advice, the best possible way to thwart airport fogging problems is to deny the agents the opportunity in the first place. You can do that by having your film processed in the town or city where you’re staying.
Or by mailing it to a central Kodak or Fuji Film processing lab and then having the lab mail the developed prints or slides to your home address.
Another option is to package up all your exposed rolls of film and send them via courier to your home address. Kodak recommends this approach; but not before you ask the courier agent about the company’s own security procedures.
And finally, what about digital cameras? Well, that is about the only good news on the photo front these days. Digital cameras are unaffected by scanners and their potent X-rays.
So, if you own one, let ’em zap away.

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