Insane new TSA rule for film inspection

Discussion in '35mm Cameras' started by jj, Jun 16, 2004.

  1. jj

    jj Guest

    Well, here ya go, people -- our tax dollars at work.

    Last week I flew to Chicago from Seattle to photograph the Chicago
    Blues Festival. I do a lot of that, flying around the country to shoot
    music events. When I shoot Jazz Fest in New Orleans I always take at
    least 100 rolls of film, all fresh and factory sealed. I pack the film
    in a clear plastic removable insert in one of those insulated lunch
    things you find at K-Mart. I toss in a frozen pack of Blue Ice if I
    have concerns about the weather being too hot. After the shoot, the
    exposed film comes out of the plastic cannisters and goes into a clear
    plastic grocery bag containing only the casettes. This has been my
    standard M.O. for years, and especially after 9-11, because I want to
    make it as easy as possible for the security people when I ask for my
    customary hand inspection. The only film I carry these days that's not
    already in clear plastic cannisters is p3200 Tmax.

    So there I am at the airport with my big clear plastic container,
    handing it over and asking for hand inspection. Anybody with a brain
    can tell it's film. Anybody with a brain can tell I'm a professional
    photographer. (Ten grand worth of lenses and bodies might lend

    Anybody but the TSA.

    Apparently, a new TSA regulation went into effect in April that
    requires the opening, inspecting and swabbing of EVERY SINGLE ROLL OF
    FILM! That's what they told me at Sea-Tac a week ago, and that's what
    they told me at Chicago-Midway today. Last week the TSA person spent
    20 minutes cracking open every single factory-sealed roll of film in
    my insul-pack. That included two boxes of Fuji 800 20-roll pro-packs.
    She took every roll out of its cannister, even though you could see
    right through the clear plastic. She peeled open every individually
    boxed roll of p3200, Tri-X, Sensia and Ektachrome. Then she handed
    them all back to me.

    Gee, are you really sure I'm not a terrorist? Maybe you should check
    and see if I've got any Kodachrome hidden in my shoe!

    Before I left Chicago, I tried to call ASMP to find out what they knew
    about this new reg. The phone number posted on their website for the
    main office in Philly in no good. So I dialed up the Chicago office
    number listed on the website. Surprise. It doesn't work, either, and
    there's no listing for ASMP in Directory Assistance.

    I figured the best I could do on the way out of Midway was to hope the
    TSA people there had a little more sense, and a lot less time to fool
    around. What was I thinking?

    I asked for the hand inspection, gave them the clear container with
    all the film, sent everything else through X-ray and went to wait for
    my film. This time it was worse than Sea-Tac.

    How could it be worse, you ask? Heh heh heh. Well, ya see, the TSA guy
    almost had a meltdown when he realized he was going to have to inspect
    about 60 rolls of film (20 of which were cassettes in the clear
    plastic baggie). So, after doing about 10 rolls, he called in his
    supervisor to assist. They took all my film, used and unused, and
    dumped it into one of those big gray trays. Then they opened and
    swabbed every cannister, every box AND every cassette of exposed film!

    "Midway" through this process, the super turns to me and says, "Can I
    see your ID?" Sure, and I hand him my passport. "Got something with
    your current address on it?" Er, yeah. I hand him my drivers license.
    "Is this current?" I wanted to respond, "Well, DUH! You asked me for
    something current didn't you?" But that would have gotten me the Abu
    Ghraib treatment. Then he asked for my boarding pass. He took all this
    stuff and disappeared for a few minutes. He came back and resumed
    checking more film, while I was no doubt having my entire credit
    history pulled by the CAPPS computers. (Er, sorry about that student
    loan thing in the '80s, but they were late getting to the bankruptcy

    The super also asks, "Are you taking any medication?" I look at him
    like he's nuts. What's that got to do with my film? Is Barry Bonds
    taking any medication? Does he have anything to do with my film? How
    about Sammy Sosa? "No," I answer, and he goes back to checking film.

    This insanity goes on for nearly half an hour. I'm standing there
    patiently, co-operatively, whatever -- reading my Sun-Times and
    periodically thinking how lucky I was to miss all the morning traffic
    jams. I had time to burn, and it's a good thing I did, too, cuz these
    guys had nothing but matches.

    Now, it's not like they were nasty or anything. They were just doing
    the job some dumbfuck handed down from a bureacratic bunker in D.C..
    But can we please buy a clue here? I fit the profile of a professional
    photographer. If I had ulterior motives, would I really ask these guys
    to hand check my film, especially if I knew they were going to open
    every cannister and swab every cassette? Hell no. I'd do what I did
    with my vitamins, just to prove a point. I put them in a clear Fuji
    cannister, stuffed the cannister in my pocket, and waltzed right
    through the X-ray Arch. Of course they didn't stop me. And if I'd had
    C-4 in the cannister and a fuse in my shoe and a pack of matches in my
    camera bag -- OOPS! I *did* have a pack of matches in my camera bag.
    Oh well. ;)

    When they finally did hand me back all my film, my papers and the
    torn-open film boxes, the super sez, "Um, there must have been some
    contamination on the tray." SCUZE ME? YOU GUYS dumped the film into
    the tray!!! That's why I just spent half an hour standing here???

    I have no idea what that chemical trace agent is on those swab pads. I
    don't know if it will affect my film in any way. But I do know it's
    going to cost me time and money to find out. And I do know that, if
    this ridiculous exercise is going to be standard procedure, I'm going
    to be shipping my film FedEx from now on. That's going to cost me,
    too. And for what? Increased security? Yeah, right.

    I don't know what the TSA is thinking, or if it's thinking at all. Far
    as I can tell, this "new rule" hasn't been posted to their web site.
    All I could find was this:

    I've been having the usual ongoing debate with my digitally enhanced
    pals, who keep trying to bring me over to the Dark Side. But in the
    final analysis, it may be the TSA guys in the white shirts who finally
    convince me it's time to dump the strips and go for the chips.

    Rant over.


    (Personal replies: remove "unspam")
    jj, Jun 16, 2004
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  2. jj

    Mike Guest

    Don't expect any logic from TSA and Home Land whatever.
    Your experience is the reason why I ship everything ahead of me.
    The whole thing is a big joke designed to make the flying public "feel
    Mike, Jun 16, 2004
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  3. jj

    Bill Hilton Guest

    It's either that or toss it on the belt and have it x-rayed (yeah, I saw you
    use T-Max 3200 ... bummer).
    I just open every cannister ahead of time and put all the film in a big clear
    baggie and hand it to them, takes a few minutes for them to swab 100 rolls.
    Then I put it back in the cannisters and boxes while I'm waiting to board the
    plane. Pain in the butt but that's the way it goes these days. My biggest
    gripe is that I don't feel comfortable re-freezing this film in case moisture
    got in.
    Anybody with a brain could also figure out how to open the cannisters and put
    explosives in them too ... that's why they swab.
    Yeah, I've pretty much dumped 35 mm entirely, especially since I get better
    results with my Canon 1Ds. Another reason to go digital ... I still shoot
    medium format film but I'm usually driving to those spots.
    We hear you but that's the way it is in the post 9/11 world.

    Bill Hilton, Jun 16, 2004
  4. jj

    Mxsmanic Guest

    Anybody with a brain could figure out how to put explosives in lots of
    things with as small a volume as a film canister, so there is no
    particular reason to swab canisters if every other object not being
    x-rayed isn't also swabbed in a similar and complete way.

    Another option is simply to buy film at your destination.
    Mxsmanic, Jun 16, 2004
  5. jj

    EDGY01 Guest

    Has there EVER been a case where it was confirmed that explosives were found
    hidden with film??

    EDGY01, Jun 16, 2004
  6. Richard Williams, Jun 16, 2004
  7. jj

    TP Guest

    Funny how the US officials in this harrowing account sound like so
    many of the Americans on this newsgroup - ignorant, aggressive and
    innately hostile.

    No coincidence, surely!
    TP, Jun 16, 2004
  8. jj

    Sabineellen Guest

    Sabineellen, Jun 16, 2004
  9. jj

    Sabineellen Guest

    TP your are you from? your style of humor feels australian or south african.
    Sabineellen, Jun 16, 2004
  10. jj

    howard Guest


    ROFL !
    howard, Jun 16, 2004
  11. jj

    Lewis Lang Guest

    Subject: Insane new TSA rule for film inspection

    If the events are in or near major cities you could buy film there and/or how
    about shooting 400 speed (and slower) film (could your lenses
    apertures/technique handle the 1 stop drop in speed?) which might be less
    sensitive to get by with no fogging after a couple of passes through
    inspections lower dosed x-ray unit (forget about cargo's hand checked luggage
    as they are supposed to have much more massive doses of x-rays there).

    Do a test to see how much if any the x-ray passes affect your 800 spee film (or
    400 speed film if you switch over to that). Why not _let_ a roll or five of
    your 800 speed film go through the X-ray machine (place them in strategic
    places in your bag and mark them "C" (Center of bag between clothes, gear,
    etc.), "LTR" (Left Top Corner), "RTC" (Right Top Corner), LBR (Left bottom
    corner) and "RBC" (Right Bottom Corner) and use these rolls as a
    "coordinate/point map" (using the x-rayed rolls and their placements as
    "points") for each x-ray machine at each airport you test. Shoot these rolls on
    non-critical subjects in a body marked just for that purpose (subjects against
    dark or black backgrounds would show fogging/loss of d-max best and/or simply
    take a few shots of the back of your lens cap or with shuttersppeed and
    aperture stopped down in manual mode in a dark room/closet. Then on one of your
    regular/non-x-rayed rolls shoot one frame (either lens capped or with shutter
    speed/aperture stopped down in a dark room/closet and go to a pro lab and ask
    them to read (I forget if they should read for d-min or d-max to determine
    fogging but the pro-lab/technician could tell you) each clear (for neg) film on
    a densitometer (mark each film snip for what it is, x-rayed or not) and see if
    there are any differences in their readings to tell if any fogging happened to
    the x-rayed roll and how much fogging there was. They might also have
    densitometers in photography schools (Brooks INstitute had them in Santa
    Barbara back in the early '90's, don't know if they still do as digital has
    spread like a VD in this era... Elaborate, yes, but, hey, I'm at least trying
    to spare you from going over to "digimania" ;-).

    Maybe there are even more way(s) around this Orwellian problem without having
    to go digital or FedEx...

    Anybody else?

    Hope this helps. Sorry for your inconvenience :).
    Lewis Lang, Jun 16, 2004
  12. Was there EVER a case where terrorists fly planes into the World Trade
    Center BEFORE 9-11?
    Michael Scarpitti, Jun 16, 2004
  13. jj

    Alan Browne Guest

    This is the latest variation on the theme, your pain amplified by
    the volume of film and their individual passing through the process.

    Writing here may be cathartic but writing to the TSA, your
    congressman and senator might have greater long term effect...

    Good luck,
    Alan Browne, Jun 16, 2004
  14. jj

    Lionel Guest

    Kibo informs me that (Lewis Lang) stated that:

    Jesus. I think I'll avoid the USA until all this insanity goes away.
    Wouldn't it be easier to either go digital, or just delay any air-travel
    until monkey-boy's been voted out of office? ;)
    Lionel, Jun 16, 2004
  15. jj

    TP Guest

    You can feel where you like (!), but I'm from Europe.

    But I think you will find most people in the world have similar views
    of Americans.
    TP, Jun 16, 2004
  16. Sounds like the perfect place to hide it, to me.
    Michael Scarpitti, Jun 16, 2004
  17. jj

    TP Guest

    TP, Jun 16, 2004
  18. jj

    Hzakas Guest


    Although I'm not a pro photog, you have my empathy. The last time I flew -- in
    which I took my camera gear -- was pre-9/11.

    At Newark Liberty International, I requested and received a hand inspection of
    my camera bag with its approximately thousand dollars' worth of gear. At
    Chicago O'Hare (where I caught a connecting flight to KCI), the screener gave
    me a hard time and insisted I pass it through the X-ray machine. I also had
    hassles returning home.

    "Sheesh," I thought.

    It's because of the hassles that people endure in the name of "safety" (what a
    joke!) that companies have sprung up to ship your things ahead, such as when
    you go on vacation, and thus avoid the screening nonsense.

    I am assuming that, in your "experience," you were calm, rational and
    reasonable in dealing with those clowns. Did you ask to speak to a stupid --
    er, supervisor?

    I do agree with one respondent about writing the TSA, your local Congressman,
    DHS director Tom Ridge, and maybe even President Bush. Taken individually, your
    letter may not have much of an impact, but a collection of letters detailing
    similar experiences by others may cause them to sit up and take notice.

    Dieter Zakas
    Security Screen, NJ
    Hzakas, Jun 16, 2004
  19. jj

    howard Guest

    Not a bad idea, I was treated like shit at Miami airport, along with
    all the other high security risks (foreign passengers).
    howard, Jun 16, 2004

  20. Aren't politics wonderful.
    But this is really no different than any other government bureaucracy.
    It's what we get for giving into Daschle's federalization of the program.

    Collin Brendemuehl, Jun 16, 2004
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