What Can Airport Baggage Scanners See?

Airport body scanners and Airport luggage scanners, both are different than each other and both have their pros and cons like body scanners have low radiation that doesn’t let agents see inside the body but baggage scanners have higher radiations which are extremely harmful if used for body scanning but can help see inside the luggage contents.

So, Airport luggage scanners can see luggage, and most importantly the scanner understands the composition of the items inside the suitcase or briefcase and represents them in different colors like orange color for organic items like paper and weed and similarly different colors for plastic, metallic and non-metallic objects.What Can Airport Baggage Scanners See

What Can Airport Baggage Scanners See?

There is no chance you can hide anything illegal like harmful chemicals, powders, explosives, cocaine, knives, or firearms because the TSO sitting in front of the scanner display is trained enough to distinguish between items and carefully scan the contents visually to identify abnormal or forbidden items.

Sometimes things hidden in materials like lead or aluminum raise more suspicion because agents cannot see inside those things and that triggers them to look more deeply and ask the passenger to open the bag.

What Can Airport Scanners See in Luggage?

Carry-on Bags:

There are separate scanners at the Airport for carry-on bags which are similar to big luggage scanners and can see all contents like gels, liquids, aerosols, toothpaste, and similar other things which may be banned or illegal with the help of the images constructed with the scanner. This is how the agents and scanners ensure you may never get anything illegal onboard.

Checked Baggage:

Checked baggage goes through the bigger scanner that is much more powerful and all the bags move on the conveyer belt that moves and takes your bangs from the entrance to the exit of the scanner.

If during the screening, there is something that raises suspiciousness of the agent, you may be asked to open your bag and if there are forbidden items they may be confiscated at that time if there are illegal items, then you may be handed over to the local authorities.

How Does Airport Scanner Work?

Working with Airport scanners is pretty simple the scanner will send x-rays from one end and the other end will receive the rays if they are penetrating and if not then they will reflect revealing the contents and density of objects.

Brief History of Body Scanners:

Dr. Steven W Smith was the first person to introduce body scanners and he introduced two body scanners (An ultra-low-dose backscatter scanner and a Millimeter Wave scanner) in 1992 which were the early version of the scanners designed to find objects concealed under clothes. But, these scanners were not able to scan inside the body and could only penetrate slightly beneath the skin and the TSO would only see the shin bones but not the genitals, ribs, or internal organs which could still help smugglers to hide things like cocaine in their bum, stomach, or rectum.

Dr. Smith sold the patents and device to Rapiscan systems ( https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rapiscan_Systems ) and these scanners were assessed by Food and Drug Administration, National Council of Radiation Protection and Measurements, and other independent sources to regulate the use of these scanners for commercial applications.

Then in 2000, Dr. Vladimir V. Linen patented a system for full body scanning which utilized X-rays to scan the contents and was known as the CONPASS body scanner that was the enhanced version of the above-discussed scanners and could easily detect concealed metal, plastic, ceramics, chemicals, and explosives on or inside the body. 

In 2009, a Nigerian citizen attempted to explode a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight by hiding the explosives in his underwear but due to this unsuccessful attempt, he is now serving a full life sentence ( https://www.ice.gov/news/releases/underwear-bomber-umar-farouk-abdulmutallab-sentenced-life ).

That is when TSA took this seriously and ordered 500 body scanners and deployed them all over America to foolproof Airport security.

These scanners were advanced and invasive enough that they would show naked passengers and the TSA agents started taking photos of those nude photos shown by the scanners. Due to these revealing details, passengers started calling these scanners “nudie scanners”.

TSA took a lot of steps for improvement like they seated the agent 100 feet away and would never see who is passing from the scanner. Similarly, they started using “Automated Target Recognition” software that would replace the human scanned image with a cartoon-like avatar so that the genitals and human figure are not shown. Still, only the suspicious parts of the body were highlighted with a yellow box.

TSA also said that the images were neither saved nor printed but there was a case of 31,000 leaked images of scanned passengers when TSA decided to remove these scanners from the Airports.

Body Scanners and Their Types:

Passengers are afraid these days that their naked bodies are being watched and stored but that’s not true anymore. Airport scanners are completely safe and do not invade your privacy and safety anymore. 

Even passengers with health conditions like pregnancy, anxiety, and cancer, can easily pass through the scanners without getting worried about their naked body representation as the scanners are smart enough to not show your body parts but instead replace your body with vague genderless cartoon-avatar which the agent cannot even distinguish if it’s of a man or a woman, thanks to the Whole Body Image technology.

With this advanced technology, TSA has taken control of illegal smuggling and can easily catch explosives, dangerous powders, and chemicals to protect Airport, crew, and passengers.

TSA agents with the help of these scanners can now easily capture smugglers wearing or carrying illegal contents on or inside the body. Thankfully, now they can identify metallic ( like knives ) and non-metallic ( like explosives ) contents and other dangerous items like chemical powders to protect the lives of others.

body pins can get you flagged, body piercing can get you flagged, body jewelry, sweaty armpits, small skin lesions, prosthetic limbs can trigger an alert, medical devices like pacemakers or defibrillators, higher-than-normal moisture on your body, different thicknesses of clothing, false indications, scanners do get triggered with hair extensions, bobby pins in hair, underwire bras, and so on,

Just make sure that you are not wearing stuff like keys, chains, or watches, or have liquids like coffee, aerosols, and gels with you while going through the scanners. By the way, you will be asked to put those things in a different tray that goes through the scanner for deep verification of the contents that you have with you.

Sometimes, passengers are annoyed by the false alarms which can trigger due to several reasons like body pins, piercing, skin lesions, prosthetic limbs, pacemakers, defibrillators, hair extensions, or even sweaty armpits that can get flagged. So, be prepared when going to Airport to get on board the plane smoothly.

Luggage scanner: 

Luggage scanners are where things get serious because the use of x-rays in these scanners not only penetrates deep inside the suitcase but can easily highlight the contents inside the briefcase including the mass and density of the contents that can help agents to identify suspicious objects like drugs which are represented in orange color. Therefore, be cautious when taking stuff in your luggage bag and must follow rules and regulations of airline flights.

Backscatter scanners:

The backscatter scanner is the original body scanner that was used earlier for body inspection at Airports. This scanner utilized x-rays which contained ionizing radiation but the lowest dose of radiation that is not the harmful body TSA was sued several times to suspend these scanners as these scanners invaded not only privacy but health as well. So TSA sacked all these scanners because the images produced by these scanners were too intimate and explicit.

Millimeter wave AIT scanners:

Millimeter wave scanners contain non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation but use only a low amount of this radiation which is far less compared with those of cellular data transmitters. The wave scanner is completely safe for health and does not invade privacy because it uses no X-rays and has non-ionization electromagnetic radiation that poses no health risks.

The difference between these body scanners is that the backscatter scanner takes two pictures one from the front and the second from the rear to form an image of the passengers while the millimeter scanner produces only one picture and emits much less energy that makes it the ideal scanner for passengers at security checkpoints of Airports.

Spectrum diagram:

Hand-held metal detector: The handheld metal detector is used for searching an infant being held by a parent, followed by a pat-down search, 

Transmission scanners:

Transmission scanners are specialized scanners that use powerful x-rays with a high frequency of ionization electromagnetic waves which reveal a lot of things even human cavities so it becomes easier to trace contents hidden inside the stomach, bum or any other body parts of humans but these scanners pose a serious health risk and TSA won’t get public acceptance for using these scanners at security checkpoints when there are already so many controversies over privacy and safety.

Infra-red thermal conductivity scanners:

The infrared thermal conductivity scanners use temperature for object identification and the difference between heat and cool helps these scanners detect objects concealed under clothes on passengers but these scanners are less popular. 

How Do Airport Scanners Detect Drugs in Luggage?

Compared with the body scanners, the drugs are easily detected inside the luggage because body scanners do not use powerful x-rays which don’t show things inside the body but are powerful enough to detect such items hidden in the stomach or bum the luggage scanner visually shows the weed contents on the screen.

Sometimes a large pack of paper can be considered organic material in large density which later security personnel will find so false alarms are also part of the job but this doesn’t mean the agents would ignore it because they would just imagine that it’s drugs or not.

How Airport Scanner Detect Other Forbidden Items?

Detection of objects will depend on the type of scanner because body and luggage scanners operate differently and according to that the agents are trained to detect illegal items effortlessly.

Baggage scanners use high-frequency x-rays which penetrate the contents of the luggage to determine the shape and density of the objects and that helps the agents to distinguish between normal and illegal objects.

It is hard to say that body scanners can always detect such items concealed or hidden inside the body but they provide clues to the agents that lead to a pat-down search or further inspection.

Can Airport Scanner See Through Clothes?

Airport scanners are not designed to show human body parts on the screen anymore so the agent only sees a vague genderless body outline the detector does penetrate beneath the clothes and can detect concealed items but is not capable of seeing inside body cavities.

Sometimes, scanners can pick up the medical conditions on your or any medical device on your body, leading to further inspection and investigation.

Hiding Things From Airport Scanner:

Gone are the days when you could easily hide things from Airport scanners but gradually the scanners and agents both are getting smarter and that has dramatically decreased illegal activities like taking explosives on the plane but people still try useless approaches like using aluminum foils or lead to hiding things which also doesn’t work anymore.

Do Checked Bags Get Searched For Drugs?

The checked bag doesn’t get searched for drugs but will be checked definitely for flammable materials like lithium batteries.


In a nutshell, Airport luggage scanners provide detailed images of luggage contents because X-rays pass through the bags to calculate the mass and density of contents and agent looks for anomalies which are rare because most of the time there are socks, clothes, skivvies, bottles of shampoo, pills contained in plastic, or money in small or large bundles ( Must know rules of carrying money ).

If the agent suspects anything suspicious like scissors, cigarettes, lighters, car airbags, pool cues, course, guns, knives, bombs, or weapons, then they will act accordingly and you will face the consequences for carrying illegal, forbidden, or banned items.

Losing your luggage at Airport is a common thing that you get compensated for in case you don’t find your luggage at all but make sure to report that immediately to the property irregularity report.

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