How To Travel With Film

The country is opening up (again in 2022), and what better way to celebrate the transition by traveling and documenting your perspective along the way! However, things can be a little tricky when it comes to taking analog film through the airport. Here’s a short guide to understanding what to do in order to prevent your film from being ruined by the machinery.

Apparently, there is a new development of TSA CT scanners that are being slowly introduced to airports and it has been reported that they can damage unprocessed film. All it takes is one scan and poof! The money you spent on precious cargo is gone like a flash. Sounds like a small nightmare right? Well never fear. It’s pretty easy to be prepared for this situation.


According to Kodak, there will soon be CT scanners operational at 145 airports in the US. As of November 2021, the following airports are confirmed to using CT scanners at TSA checkpoints and carry-on baggage screening:

  • Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport (ATL)
  • Baltimore-Washington International Airport (BWI)
  • Chicago O’Hare International Airport (ORD)
  • Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG)
  • Detroit Metropolitan Wayne County Airport (DTW)
  • Houston Hobby Airport (HOU)
  • Indianapolis International Airport (IND)
  • John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK)
  • Logan International Airport (BOS)
  • Los Angeles International Airport (LAX)
  • Miami International Airport (MIA)
  • Oakland International Airport (OAK)
  • Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport (PHX)
  • Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport (DCA)
  • St. Louis Lambert International Airport (STL)
  • Tampa International Airport (TPA)
  • Washington-Dulles International Airport (IAD)
  • Green Bay–Austin Straubel International Airport (GRB)
  • Daytona Beach International Airport (DAB)
  • Baton Rouge Metro Airport (BTR)
  • Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport (BZN)
  • Billings Logan International Airport (BIL)

Pre Travel

Take your film out of the canisters and plastic wrap. Put your film rolls/disposable cameras in your film case, and put a sticky note on it that says “Hand Check request”. Make sure that you can easily access it so that you can hand it to the TSA agent in an efficient manner.

If you have a camera that already has film in it, make sure that it is in your carry-on bag. Do NOT put it in your luggage. Too many horror stories exist of situations where a photographer’s precious camera just “disappeared” from their luggage. Therefore, it is in your best interest to steer clear of putting cameras, film, or lenses in your luggage. If anything, this is the perfect time to have a camera bag, as it is perfectly designed to keep your camera and gear safe as it withstands the occasion lumps and bumps of travel.

When you get to the airport, be sure to tell the TSA agent that you would like to have your film hand-checked as it is unprocessed film, and you don’t want to run the risk of it getting exposed to the x-ray light. They have probably done this many times before and will understand this request. Currently, most scanners will not harm your film if it is below an ISO of 800, but you are well within your right to request a hand check regardless. Hand checks aren’t always granted when you travel internationally, therefore you can put your film inside of a lead-lined bag, which will protect your film from the X-ray lights. It holds up to 15 rolls of film, and you can put it in your carry-on and pass it through the TSA scanners with confidence.

During Travel

Try to keep your film in a cool, dry environment when it is not in use. A hotel drawer or refrigerator is perfect. If you happen to be going to the beach, it’s a good idea to have a disposable or a well-worn point and shoot to keep sand and debris as far away from your camera as possible. Also, be sure to keep your lens cap firmly on your lens until it is time to shoot. When you have finished some rolls, put them inside of your film case for easy storage as you go on your trip.

Pro Tip…Pack a variety of films that have different ISOs for your travel. Film that has an ISO between 50-200 is suitable for brighter daylight, 400 is for afternoon-evening and 800 is created for lower exposure to light, which is ideal for nighttime. This ensures that you have many to choose from that suit every time of day.


How Do You Travel with Instant Film?

Undeveloped Instant film, like Polaroid and Instax, will be ruined by X-rays at the airport (or other places) because it is more sensitive to X-rays than roll film. The best way to protect instant film from being ruined by x-rays is to carry your unwrapped instant film (and camera if it has film in it as well) in a sturdy clear plastic bag and ask to have it handchecked when going through baggage check.

Always ask for it be hand checked but keep in mind the attendant will most likely open up any of the foil pouches that instant film comes in so if you go ahead and open it beforehand to save time.

Tips for taking your Instax camera on an plane are:

  • Try to identify how many times you’ll have to pass through airport security
  • If possible, obtain a lead-lined bag (here)
  • Keep your instant film and instant camera in your carry-on luggage and not in your checked luggage
  • Take all of your instant film out of the silver wrappers.
  • Keep your instant film and camera in a clear, sturdy plastic bag
  • Store your transparent bag of instant film and your instant camera in an easy to access location of your carry-on luggage
  • Arrive 20 – 30 mins early airport security
  • Ask for your instant camera loaded with film and undeveloped instant film to be hand-checked

Do X-rays Ruin Instant Film?

Yes, X-rays will create light and dark bands on your image, fog your undeveloped Instant film, and produce dark and muddy shadows. Notice the images below where the x-ray scan created fog on the image and the x-ray created white and dark bands of color.

X Ray machines really affect Instant film as shown here.

Post Travel

Now your trip is over but not forgotten, as you have documented numerous memories for the time being. Simply return your completed rolls to your film case.

If you still happen to feel a bit unsure about taking your processed film through TSA once again, submit your film order online, print out the prepaid label at the end of your transaction, slap it on an envelope put it in the mail. As soon as our lab receives it, we will get to work on processing it!

Traveling with film can seem a bit daunting, but it can be done the easy if you properly prepare. Leave a comment below if you have any additional questions!

Latest articles


Related articles

1 Comment

Leave a reply

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here