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Airport Security Scans - What You Need to Know Before You Fly

Airport security has gone through many renovations and advancements in recent years. Nothing is the same since 911. Those who have never flown before, or have not flown in many years may want to read up on new airport security so that they will know what to expect when they fly.

Airport security is a lot more thorough than it used to be, so it could be quite a surprise to some people who haven't flown in a while and are asked to step into an airport security scanner. In fact, there are many things about this security measure that many people find scary or controversial. It's a good idea to inform yourself about it online ahead of time.

 Airport security scanners are essentially a quick, full bodied x-ray. The scan is intended to detect any hazardous objects under the clothing.

There are both positives and negatives to this highly controversial security measure. Those who support the security scans will note the extra level of protection it provides. It can also offer a substitute to being frisked by hand, preventing people from being touched by strangers when searched.

There are also downsides people have mentioned. Part of the problem is the issue of privacy. Since the scan is an x-ray, a nude image of the person is shown to the security guard on a screen. Some airports have instituted a scan that produces "non-nude" body images to make the scan less offensive.

A lot of people are concerned about the health risk of airport security scans. Many experts have stated that there is minimal health risk of getting the full body scan. Kelly Classic, a health physicist at the Mayo Clinic, claims that going through a backscatter scanner is like "is the same as tacking a few extra minutes onto a flight from New York to Los Angeles" since flying at an altitude of 30,000 feet exposes passengers to X-rays from the sun. Some professionals disagree, and believe that the radiation could lead to risks of cancer. However, this is mostly speculative as no concrete evidence has surfaced of yet, suggesting the scans cause health problems.

The full bodied security scans are becoming more and more prominent in the larger, busier airports. Many smaller airports cannot afford the scanners, or deem them unnecessary. The larger the airport you go to, the more likely you are to be asked to step into a security scanner.

When in the scanner, the individual will have a front and back x-ray image taken of them. Metal objects under the clothing will appear as a dark black image on the screen, helping security to identify dangerous weapons. Be sure any metal objects have been removed from your person in advance. Even fingernail clippers are not allowed.

Luggage is typically scanned as well. This has been a common procedure long before the body scans. Carry-ons will pass under an x-ray while on a small conveyor belt. Most objects will not be harmed by the x-ray's radiation. One exception can be undeveloped film. If you have any photography equipment that you would like hand-searched instead of taken under the x-ray, be sure to mention it to one of the security personnel.

Be prepared to remove any electronic devices such as laptops from their case. You'll also need to have your prescription medicines in a plastic bag. Always keep them in their original bottles with the prescription label still on the bottle. Lotions and shampoos also need to be in plastic bags and in containers smaller than three ounces. The security officers in most airports will hand search items you don't feel comfortable being exposed to x-ray radiation.

A similar option is available to the people who are asked to step into a full body scanner. If you are too concerned about the radiation causing cancer or if you are pregnant, you may opt to be frisked by hand instead of having the scanner x-ray you. One option or the other must be taken once you are asked, or you will not be allowed to pass the security checkpoint and get on your flight.

The process is very controversial and many people are opposed to it. However, there is often no way around it for airline travelers. It is something you will need to be aware of in advance and decide whether or not you are willing to go through it; because you cannot simply decide you won't do it at the last minute unless you are willing to sacrifice the money you spent on your ticket.


About the Author: For over 20 years, the U.S. Passport Service Guide team has helped hundreds of thousands of travelers with their travel document questions and shared advice about how to make traveling abroad simpler, safer, and more enjoyable.

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