All film photographers have one overriding fear when they set foot in an airport: the dreaded X-ray machine.

General worldwide policy is that X-ray machines won’t affect film slower than 800ASA, but I can tell you from experience that even 400ASA film definitely gets a wonderfully shitty haze when run through a standard airport X-ray machine, especially when I’ve traveled through multiple airports and multiple X-ray machines. So what do we do? We beg, we plead, we offer free babysitting services, whatever it takes to persuade the emotionless, job-hating airport security gorillas.

Here are my general experiences throughout the world, I will add to this as I travel more.

US airports

In general, all US airports are fine. When I put on my normal “woe is me I’m an artist and the big bad X-ray machine will ruin my ART” act, I generally get some give.

European airports

Madrid Barajas sucks. Not only did they not hand check, they ran my film through the xray machine twice just to spite me.
Second pass: holy shit is Barajas fucked up. Just transfering internally, there was passport control to get from EU-bound flights to international flights, AND an additional passport control at the US gate. Luckily there was no xray, but damn, you REALLY don’t want us to go to the states do you?

Paris CDG (security line at gate): ok (better than most). After a little arguing they hand checked my film, but not the camera itself (loaded with film). I gave up at that point considering it the best I’d get.
Second pass (terminal 2, security line at main check in): identical experience. Note to self: blow out your roll of film before leaving France.

London Gatwick: worst. Absolutely no give. They even detained me for about 1/2 hour (at least felt like it) just to check my bottle of valve oil.

Dublin: no give here either, but by this time I had completely given up all hope of redemption.

Istanbul (IST): BEST. Ok, this was just for the international transfer security screening, not “coming in from the street”, but I said I have film, they didn’t really understand, but they looked at my film canisters, asked me to take a picture of a pretty customs girl with my camera, then just handed them all back to me! Worst language barrier, best experience!
Second pass: I had to be slightly more persuasive, but again they did handcheck. Thank you Istanbul!

Sarajevo SJJ: typical fucking communist bastards, right down to the Cyrillic on their uniforms (really? I hadn’t seen Cyrillic anywhere else in the fucking country). Thanks for xraying my film, assholes.

One thought on “Airports vs. Film”

  1. Ok, I get to post a Gatwick redux, and the airport redeemed itself. I think I happened to get an inspector who was really into film, because he asked me about my photography and commended me for continuing to shoot on film. And he checked every. single. roll. that I brought (I think it was around 20 or 30). I don’t see why he couldn’t have swiped them in, say, 5-10 roll batches, but he insisted on swiping each roll individually, which took us both a lot of time. He even mentioned that his shift was over, but he continued doing each roll individually. I almost felt like I should have given him a tip, but it probably would’ve looked a little suspicious. Anyways, thank you, unnamed Gatwick security agent. You went above and beyond the call of duty 🙂

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