Nov 202010

Call me naïve, but I thought I would be told if I were about to step into an X-ray machine and get zapped.

Guess again.

A few months ago, I took a flight out of the Albuquerque International Airport which I’ve done many times before. Of course, I went through security, but there was nothing brand new or out of the ordinary that I ought to be aware of. Or so I thought.

But last night, with all the talk in the news about people being subjected to full-body scans and pat-down searches, I got wondering. I did remember stepping into a machine where they had me stand on a mark and put my arms up. I didn’t stop to think about it and assumed it was some kind of metal detector, but could that have been a body-scanner? And if so, was it safe?

Thanks to google, I soon had my answers. Sure enough, I had indeed been X-rayed. I saw no indications and no one said a word about it.

I was irradiated without my knowledge or consent.

Given the choice I would NOT have walked through that machine. I don’t even get dental X-rays unless absolutely necessary, nor do I get frequent mammograms like most women do. Extra radiation? No thank you.

I am quite angry about this.

I think we should have a clear choice about this kind of thing.

I decided to at least help YOU not be subjected to this unless you choose to be. Here’s the essence of what I found out.

Beware of “Safe” Scanners

More than 65 airports around the world, and especially in the U.S. currently do the full-body scan as part of routine security procedures.

There are two types of machines in use. Both use X-rays but of different types.

One is called backscatter X-ray which uses ionizing radiation, and the other is called millimeter-wave screening. 189 backscatter units and 152 millimeter-wave machines are in use right now and their numbers are increasing rapidly. The total number of imaging machines is expected to near 1,000 by the end of 2011, according to the TSA.

Of course, the TSA claims they’re safe, and here’s a fairly well-balanced article about the safety concerns.

But given the government’s track record so far, I tend to be skeptical of quick safety assurances, especially when big brother or huge monetary gains are part of the equation.

Update, March 2011. Read this article from USA Today about the TSA’s maintenance records on some of the devices showing radiation levels 10 times higher than expected.

According to one source (or read the full article Full-Body Scanners to Fry Travelers With Radiation):

Dr. John Gofman, Professor Emeritus of Molecular and Cell Biology, University of California, Berkeley is a leading U.S. expert on the biological effects of X-radiation. His exhaustive research leads him to conclude that there is NO SAFE DOSE-LEVEL of ionizing radiation.

His studies indicate that radiation from medical diagnostics and treatment is a causal co-factor in 50 percent of America’s cancers and 60 percent of our ischemic (blood flow blockage) heart disease. He stresses that the frequency with which Americans are medically X-rayed “makes for a significant radiological impact.”

It goes on to state: Dr. Gofman believes that medical radiation is a co-factor in 75 percent of breast cancer cases. So why would girls and women want their breast tissues irradiated every time they take a commercial flight?

Hmmm, maybe because no one told them they were being X-rayed?

Welcome to the Machine: How to Recognize Scanners

Here’s what they look like:

The X-ray scanners are on the left, and for the backscatter method you stand in-between the two boxes. The metal detector on the right uses magnetic waves, not X-rays, and I’m not aware of any safety concerns with metal detectors.

And here’s a complete list of the types of scanners in use by which airports, from FlyerTalk Forums.

What You Can Do

So now you are educated and you won’t make the same mistake I did.

And just to be clear, by “mistake” I don’t mean getting X-rayed if that’s what you want to do. I mean waltzing through the machine without even knowing you’re being X-rayed and unaware of what kind of risks are involved.

  • Be aware that you may get no indication at all that you are stepping into an x-ray machine. Watch for it.
  • You have a choice. You can get X-rayed or you can opt-out and get searched manually instead (oh boy… but that’s another topic altogether).
  • You can boycott this practice either at the airport security gates or by not flying out of the participating airports.
  • You can contact the TSA directly at or 1-866-289-9673. Good luck with that.
  • You can learn more and/or get involved with groups who want the system adjusted in some way.
  • You can continue to do whatever it is you do to help bring peace and reason-ability to humanity and all life on this beautiful planet.

Shine on! But don’t glow in the dark. 😉

If you found value in this post, please subscribe, and share it on Twitter and with your friends. Thank you!

  5 Responses to “Fliers: Don’t Get Zapped By Surprise”

Comments (2) Trackbacks (3)

    I too flew out of Chicago in September and was x-rayed. It was a random thing and I was chosen and my husband was not. It happened so fast and I didn’t really know what was going on. There was a sign there that explained it but I didn’t have much time to read it so I acted like cattle being guided into the pen and stepped into the machine to be x-rayed.

    Now that I am aware of the situation I will be opting out for all future flights. I’ve heard some horror stories about the manual searches but I am remaining optimistic that I will not experience anything I can’t handle. I will be flying out again in January so I am hoping for the best.

    Great article to keep people informed.


      Hi Michelle, nice to see you again. I’m glad to hear this might be useful since I don’t know if I can really justify it as fitting into my blog topic but I felt so strongly about it, it just flew off my fingertips.

      In ABQ, all the lanes seemed to have one of these (as I recall) so it’s not like you even get a clue that there’s anything special going on. And I don’t remember a sign tho there may well have been one. Like victims of horrific crimes I was even beginning to feel foolish for posting this because it’s obviously my own fault (sheesh)!

      Anyway, I’m with you. The lesser of two evils seems to be the uncomfortable pat-down.

      Thanks for coming by, and here’s to a safe and comfortable experience for you in January!

Sorry, the comment form is closed at this time.