What Can Airport Scanners See In Luggage?

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America introduced airport scanners after five years of intensified plane hijacking. The first U.S. airport to use scanners for passengers and their luggage was the New Orleans International Airport in Louisiana in 1970. By 1974, all airports in the U.S. were forced to use metal-detecting scanners.

Airport scanners do not only detect metal. In fact, these x-ray machines can see almost everything, including metal and non-metal items, liquids, organic and inorganic materials. Modern x-ray machines pick up the shape, position, and density of things in the scanned luggage, forming a color-scale picture of its hidden contents.

What Are Airport Luggage Scanners Designed To Detect?

The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) was formed shortly after the tragic 9/11 incidents in 2001. To lessen the incidence of hijacking and improve the safety of other passengers and staff, they use security scanners at airports to identify threatening weapons before staff or passengers enter certain parts of an airport.

If an item looks potentially dangerous for transporting in the aircraft or illegal under federal law, TSA staff may request a luggage check. Things considered potentially hazardous for airline travel include flammable or oxidizing liquids, objects, or something that could explode due to changed air pressure.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Drugs?

The X-ray machines at airports cannot detect drugs outright. If a scanned item or items resemble illicit drugs, or if a TSA Officer suspects an article in the baggage may be drugs, they may insist on a baggage check or full body scan of the passenger.

Will Airport Scanners Detect Personal Medication?

Personal medication is permitted in baggage, but passengers are encouraged to pack it in their carry-on luggage for easier inspection. There are no limitations to how much medication a passenger should pack, although excessive medication may be flagged as suspicious.

While tablet boxes and medicine reminders are allowed, passengers are encouraged to keep their medication in its original packaging as far as possible and to pack it in carry-on luggage for speedier inspection, if necessary.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Money?

Airport scanners can detect money in coin and note form. Densely packed cash notes will show up more prominently in a scan. Large amounts of cash might be flagged as suspicious and checked, as some countries limit how much money a passenger can carry into the country.

Passengers traveling over U.S. borders may travel with any amount of money in any form or currency. However, those with more than $10,000.00 should declare it by filing a Report of International Transportation of Currency or Monetary Instruments at Customs.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Seeds And Plants?

Seeds and plants in their original form are organic and will be picked up by an airport scanner. Many plants and seeds can be brought into the U.S. legally, but some are not allowed because of the diseases or pests they may introduce to American soil.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection states that all seeds or plants must be declared before bringing them into the country. Therefore, passengers should check in advance if they plan to bring in any agricultural products. On domestic flights, carrying agricultural products is less of an issue.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Meat?

Airport scanners can detect meat and other organic produce. As with seeds and plants, international passengers must declare meat products at U.S. Customs and Border Protection. Declared organic produce potentially harmful to U.S. agriculture may be confiscated, but no fine will be imposed.

Domestic passengers are generally allowed to pack local agricultural produce, but should pre-check with their airline and destination state on any restrictions.

Can Airport Scanners Detect Alcohol?

Airport scanners can detect liquid, but not specifically alcohol. In many cases, passengers are allowed to pack up to 1.3 gallons of alcohol in their luggage. However, passengers may not pack it in their bags due to the explosive nature of high-proof alcohol (70 percent and above).

Passengers who have bought alcohol bought at the Duty-Free shop in an airport can take their purchase as carry-on luggage as long as it remains sealed and in its original packaging in a sealed STEB bag.

Can Airport Scanners See If Animals Are Inside Baggage?

Since airport scanners can pick up organic matter, they will detect if an animal has been placed inside baggage. Usually, it is considered inhumane, and an animal packed inside a luggage bag could indicate black market trading of animals or plain animal abuse or neglect.

Some airports scan pets to check for drug or contraband implants. The radiation from the scan is nominal; however, many passengers feel it is inhumane to subject animals to radiation. Passengers should check if they are allowed to travel with pets and be prepared for the necessary paperwork and requirements.

How Do Airport Luggage Scanners Work?

Two types of scanners are used in airports. The first is a full-body scanner that uses millimeter-wave scanners that detects metal on a surface, like belt buckles, concealed knives, or guns. The second type is the Backscatter X-ray-type scanner that can reveal objects hidden behind baggage or layers of garments.

Behind the lead curtains of an X-ray machine, luggage passes through high-energy X-rays, which are picked up by two detectors. The first detector picks up the energy difference in the rays that have gone through the luggage instead of around it. The second detector picks up only high-energy waves.

The combined outputs of the two detectors are overlapped to create a picture of the contents of the baggage. Organic items such as food, explosives, or paper will appear orange in the image. Metal and glass will appear blue or green. The denser the material, the darker the color of the picture.

What Should You Not Pack In Your Luggage?

To avoid extended waiting times due to baggage checks, passengers can consider avoiding packing the following flammable items in their check-in luggage: High-proof alcohol, lighters, matches, propane canisters, e-cigarettes or vapes, particular aerosols and pressured-gas containers (like bear spray), specialty glue, ammunition, fireworks, cordless curling irons, and chemical kits.

Unloaded firearms that have been declared may be packed without their ammunition or might need to go into a different hold.

Other items to avoid packing in checked-in luggage include wrapped gifts and novelty items. Security officials may need to unwrap wrapped gifts, so placing these items in a gift bag is wiser. Likewise, novelty items that may look menacing, like plastic hand grenades or guns, may cause unnecessary suspicion.

Why Do Some Airport Scanners Not Detect Weapons Or Drugs?

Some passengers have outsmarted airport scanners and the FSA staff by cunningly packing contraband such as weapons, drugs, or explosives in their check-in or carry-on baggage. But how did they do it? The secret is often in masking the object’s or substance’s true nature.

For example, semi-liquid explosives can be hidden in shampoo bottles or toothpaste tubes. Sometimes airlines prohibit these items in carry-on luggage. X-ray scanners detect foreign objects by creating a contrast from the things surrounding them. Therefore, it will not be seen if the contraband does not contrast with surrounding objects.

Although many have tried this so-called trick, aluminum foil does not hide contraband from airport scanners.