The Federal Aviation Administration has approved new X-ray units to detect the presence of explosives in ticketed luggage. Good for travelers. Bad for film. The silver halide crystals in the emulsion of photographic film absorb X-rays and will show up as a fogged slice across your prints or slides and/or shadowy images. The higher the ISO rating of the film, the more the X-rays may affect it. Do not pack your film in your checked suitcase.
All carry-on luggage is also X-rayed. Will those scanning machines harm the film? The airport security personnel will tell you no, it won't. Don't take their word for it.
The best way to protect your film (both exposed and unexposed) from airport X-rays is to avoid having it X-rayed at all.
Before the trip, remove the film from the cardboard boxes and canisters. Purchase small, clear, airtight plastic bags. The sandwich size holds five rolls of film compactly. Place these into a larger clear airtight bag. (Now your film is double sealed.) Hand the large bag to the security person and request a visual inspection.
In the past we recommended that you pack your film in shield bags. Shield bags are lead-laminated pouches which protect film from low-dose X-ray machines and fluoroscopic inspection devices. Professional camera shops stock super-lead laminated bags which provide even greater protection. The problem with these is that they do not afford the screener an acceptable view of the contents. The screener will dump out all your film, and if it's in canisters, they will open every single one. It's a laborious and time-consuming measure.
TIP: Do not put your tool kit in your carry on! Any item perceived as a security hazard will be confiscated.
How many times have you been miles away from home with a broken piece of equipment and you are not able to fix it? Hardware stores in remote locations or on a liveaboard, no way. "Where there's a will there's a way," I say. Think outside the box. Remember, MacGyver, that TV character who could fix anything anytime anywhere. He was an ingenious guy and his jerryrigging became known as "MacGyverisms." Here are some of my MacGyver-type tricks for you.
Bag of do-it-yourself tricks
Airport security is a necessary inconvenience. Since September 11, 2001, stringent new regulations and restrictions apply worldwide. As of January 1, 2003 the U.S. Transportation Security Administration began screening 100 percent of checked baggage at all 429 commercial airports across the United States. At most airports the bags are screened at a special screening area before you go to the ticket counter for your boarding pass. Here bags are electronically screened, routinely opened, inspected, then closed. Not locked.
At the time of this writing the procedure varied from airport to airport. On one trip from Los Angeles, we were not permitted to touch our baggage after it was inspected but we were able to persuade the inspectors to put our locks back on. At John Wayne Airport in Santa Ana, California the screeners closed the bags with a tamper-evident seal, similar to a cable tie. In Salt Lake City, Utah they didn't screen the bags at check-in; they X-rayed them en route to the plane. And then called one member of our group from the gate to come open his locked bag to see what a suspicious-looking item was. If he had been unavailable, they would have broken the locks on his bags.
TSA recommends that to prevent the need to break your locks, you keep your bags unlocked. We recommend that you safeguard your equipment with standard cable ties, tie wraps or best of all, purchase TSA approved locks.
For more information, go to www.tsa.dot.gov/pub
In Chapter 7 we said that some of the things that can harm your equipment are: a bump, bang, drop or jolt, improper storage, neglect. That's why packing your equipment properly is so important. A shopping bag carry-on will not do. A canvas tote will not do. A soft-sided case will not do, either.
Invest in a rigid-wall case specifically manufactured for transporting photographic equipment. These are constructed of shock-absorbent materials such as fiberglass, aluminum, or high-impact, injection- molded plastic. A good one will have corrosion-proof hinges and latches, an O-ring seal to protect the interior in damp or humid environments, and a pressure vent to equalize internal pressure when flying. Make sure the case is deep enough to accommodate your largest piece of equipment.
The case will come equipped with high-density closed-cell foam. The foam will protect your equipment from shock, heat, and vibration. These three enemies can attack when traveling by air, boat, or car.
If yours is a deluxe system, it's possible that the case will exceed the airline's carry-on limits. If so, you can safely check the case through. The hard shell case and interior foam will protect your equipment.
If you don't have a hard shell case, buy a bag or backpack specifically designed for photo equipment, compartmentalized with soft partitions. Fragile items go deep within the bag, away from the bag's vulnerable periphery. Hard objects should be cushioned against soft ones or against the padding of the bag. This type of bag is designed as a carry-on.
To prevent damage to all O-ring sealed equipment (amphibious cameras and strobes) caused by decreased atmospheric pressure, remove O-rings before flying. Cut a tiny nick in an old O-ring and seat it in the O-ring channel. This will serve as a cushion and prevent an air lock within the system. Mark the O-ring with nail polish or paint to identify it as a substitute. Don't forget to replace it with the good one before diving or you'll flood the system.