London City Airport has become the latest UK airport to install CT hand luggage scanners, which are harmful to unprocessed film.
The small airport in east London’s Docklands, used for short-haul flights within the British Isles and mainland Europe, follows the likes of Heathrow to introduce the scanners, which take a more accurate 3D image of objects than traditional X-rays.
The scanners have been rolled out at major airports since 2019, when photographers first published warnings about the film-harming capabilities of the new machines.
Both Kodak Alaris and Harman then published warnings not to let film be passed through the scanners. The film can damage both unexposed film and unprocessed exposed film with just one pass, though results vary due to the strength of the scanning and how many passes the film gets.
London City’s new scanners are part of a programme to modernise all of the UK’s airport hand luggage scanners before the end of 2024. The scanners mean passengers no longer have to decant liquids into small travel bottles of less than 100ml, a restriction caused by an attempted bombing of aircraft using liquid explosives in 2006, and reduce waiting times in security screening zones.
In January this year, Teeside Airport in north-east England also introduced the new scanners.
The scanners have also installed in a number of US airports, aswell as major hubs such as Singapore’s Changi Airport and Amsterdam’s Schiphol.
The introduction of CT scanners mean that photographers travelling with film should request a hand check of films they are taking with them. In Kosmno Foto’s experience, even Heathrow – where staff rarely handchecked film prior to 2019 – are accommodating with requests. (Read this long-read piece on recent experiences by Johnny Martyr on PetaPixel.)
General guidance is to pack films in clear plastic bags, out of the plastic containers, so they can be easily swabbed by airport staff.
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I have always requested hand checks of film at airport X-ray security. Most recently returning from Rarotonga, Cook Islands to New Zealand 10 months ago, the security officer didn’t know what film was and didn’t know what I was talking about requesting my film be checked. Eventually I managed to explain. So allow plenty of time if you want your film checked, which involves slightly turning the spool of each 35mm cassette. Best to leave the tail of the film sticking out and fold a crease in it to show if its exposed.