We get asked all the time about how to handle traveling with film. Is it ok to put it in my bag? Do I need to hand check it? What ISO’s do I need to worry about? They would not hand check my film, am I screwed?
As a team who travels A LOT and almost always with at least 50 rolls of film ranging from 100-3200 ISO AND instant film, let us share with you our experience.
Checked Bags vs. Carry-on Luggage – We would never put my film in the luggage that gets checked (the luggage where all clothes, toiletries, shoes, etc. are). The X-Ray machine they use for that will almost always leave weird streaks throughout your film. We’ve heard of a couple isolated incidents of people who did send film through but we can not recommend enough to NEVER put film in your checked bags. Carry-on luggage is a completely different story. We put film of all ISO’s (all the way up to 3200) through the TSA Security Checkpoint x-rays multiple times. Anything under 800 ISO does not need to be hand checked if you are traveling domestically within the United States. We cannot vouch for other countries but as long as you walk by the machine and it does not hum like a microwave you should be fine :). Some folks may argue this statement, but we’ve traveled on hundreds of flights with film all over the world and we’ve never had a problem with fogged film in any of our scans. If it does exist, it is so minute you’d have to get a loupe out on a light table to see it.
Instant Film – This cannot be put through any x-ray machine. It must be hand checked. And for those traveling with the Fuji pack film, we highly suggest taking it out of the box and out of the silver wrapping as if you don’t, TSA might do it themselves which could cause you to miss your flight depending on how long they take. Instax, Polaroid, Fuji pack film, anything instant will be fogged by the x-ray machines. You should expect your blacks to be very muddied in x-rayed film.
High ISO Film – It is suggested that you hand check film OVER 800 ISO. Meaning that 800 ISO film (particularly Portra 800) can go through the x-ray at TSA. 3200 speed film should be hand checked by TSA. Again, just like the instant film, have it out of the box and wrapper. If it is in the box, they regularly open each box and swab each roll which can be a nightmare depending on how much of that film you brought with you. Have it all ready in a ziplock bag by itself completely separate from my other film so you can easily hand it to TSA.
Flying Internationally – If you are flying internationally with film, allot yourself a bit more time at the airport for security to hand check and use your best judgement. Every country will be different. Every situation will be different.
Pushed Film – We recommend having it hand checked AFTER it is exposed. Prior to exposing it is fine. When in doubt, ask for a hand check. We highly recommend carrying a sharpie in your camera bags and write in big, bold, black letters the ISO that you shot it at. That way TSA sees it says 1600/3200/6400.