There are always rumors flying around (get it?) that airport scanners damage batteries. Most of these center on the idea that your laptop passing through an X-Ray scanner might seem fine initially. But a couple of days later the battery will have died. This is a potential nightmare: what if you’re on business and need your laptop, or even camera or mobile?
This blog takes a look at how safe it is to take your batteries through scanners at airports. Especially when 3D airport scanners are becoming more prevalent and issues around batteries in planes coming more important, this information is important to know.
Which Items Need to be Scanned at Most Airports, and Why?
Nowadays it’s common knowledge that pretty much everything you own needs to be passed through a scanner before you get on a plane. If you haven’t flown in a while, you should be aware of the 100ml liquids limit. Even bottles bigger than 100ml aren’t allowed on most flights! But there are some items you have to get out of your bag and for thorough checks.
1. Power Banks and Battery Packs
If you’ve travelled with a power bank recently, you might have been asked to present it at check in. The airport staff will check to see that your power bank is under 100Wh (watt hours); if it isn’t, or is up to 160Wh without prior approval from the airline, it will probably be confiscated. This isn’t directly due to any notion that airport scanners damage batteries. Rather, it is because there is always a slight possiblity of combustion occurring; larger power banks have a blanket ban to reduce these risks.
Our handy page helps you calculate the watt hours of your device.
It’s important to note that your power bank isn’t allowed to travel in your checked luggage.
Your power bank has to travel in your hand luggage because taking lithium-ion batteries onto planes can be dangerous. Whilst generally safe to use and protected by many safety features, such as iSmart technology, lithium-ion batteries have a greater risk of combustion than other types. These fires are rare, but can happen – read about a recent emergency landing caused by a power bank fire on a flight between London and New York here.
If a fire began in the cargo hold, it would be incredibly difficult to extinguish. In hand luggage, this is a lot easier.
(Power banks) are portable devices designed to be able to charge consumer devices such as mobile phones and tablets…For carriage by passengers, power banks are considered spare batteries and must be individually protected from short-circuit and carried in carry-on baggage only.International Air Transport Association Document, quoted at zendure.com
2. Laptops and Tablets
Often at airports, you’re required to take your laptop and tablet out to scan them separately to your luggage. Whilst this can be an annoying hassle, there is a key reasons for the regulation. And it isn’t to do with whether airport scanners damage batteries.
Essentially, this is because these devices are larger so they are deemed capable of concealing a weapon. Laptops in particular are pretty dense, and could hide anything from a knife to a small explosive in a bag as it passes through an airport X-ray scanner. Particularly in America, you might also be asked to prove that your laptop can be turned on and is fully functioning. These rules also apply to iPads and tablets – essentially anything bigger than a mobile phone.
Because of these rules, it is easier to:
- Place your laptop or tablet at the top of your bag in an easy-to-reach place
- Make sure that they are fully charged before going through security
- Buy a special ‘Checkpoint Friendly’ laptop bag to store your laptop in
- Consider if it is necessary to bring your laptop or tablet with you
It is also generally required that large cameras are processed separately through any airport x-ray scanner. This has been a rather recent proposition, and includes if you’re carrying your camera in a separate bag. In particular, if you’re taking large recording equipment on board, you might need to present it all separately.
This often isn’t enforced with smaller point-and-shoot cameras, which can be screened easily in bags. However, any TSA agent can ask to check your camera and regulations may change.
It is advised that you don’t take lots of extra batteries on a plane, regardless of if airport scanners damage batteries. This is for the same reason as power banks; the chances of combustion are higher, and therefore it is a protective measure.
If the batteries’ terminals were to come in contact with each other during the flight, they could short-circuit and start a fire. Additionally, if the battery terminals come into contact with some sort of metal, like a coin or keys, they could short-circuit, too, causing a fire. All batteries should be securely and separately stowed during a flight.Lifewire.com
What Kinds of Scanners Do Airports Use?
Before exploring if airport scanners damage batteries, you need to know about the two main types of scanners that are in place at airports nowadays. These are: x-ray, and 3D.
Airport X-ray Scanner
Often used, an airport x-ray scanner works by offering two different shots of your bag. One from above, one from the side.
The x-rays, which are similar to visible light with the exception of their shorter wavelength and higher frequency, travel through objects. Light, on the other hand, is absorbed. This gives agents a good way of looking at what’s in your bag without actually having to nose through it.
This is why it’s so important to take out your laptops and larger cameras. Dense objects are shown as darker, whilst anything that the x-ray goes straight through is light. This creates an image that provides detailed outlines of what’s in the bag. An image intensifier makes the contrast even greater. Your laptop could block something dangerous hiding underneath.
3D Airport Scanners
However, the standard airport X-ray scanner is increasingly being replaced with 3D airport scanners. This has often come into the news due to 3D body scans. It’s also an important new means of scanning bags, which the BBC claims might stop the laptop removal and 100ml liquid limit…
3D airport scanners work through “computed tomography”, AKA CT scanning that had previously been reserved for cargo baggage and, more commonly, in hospitals. This creates a clearer image of the bags, which agents can move around to get a total view. Staff will also be able to zoom in, for a true clear view.
Whilst these are a relatively new inclusion in airports, American and UK Governments are planning on rolling them out across their respective countries.
Do Airport Scanners Damage Batteries?
More often than not, this question is asked in relation to an airport x-ray scanner.
The answer is: generally, no. Whilst it’s always worth taking precautions, most batteries and data storage devices should be impervious to large doses of x-rays as they don’t have living tissues.
In large doses, ionizing radiation can harm biological tissue by damaging cell DNA faster than it can be repaired. But electronics aren’t made of biological tissue and they don’t have any DNA to worry about. So can X-rays cause them damage? Not in any significant way, no.makeuseof.com
Whilst there are always exceptions to the rule, our advice is not to worry. Your laptop, camera and power bank are likely to be unaffected by an airport x-ray scanner or 3D airport scanners. What’s worse for your items is dropping them, or exposing them to extreme heat and cold. Try your best not to do this, wherever you fly!
Want to learn more about charging safely at airports? Read our comprehensive guide!