What Exactly Can Airport Scanners See In Your Luggage?

Some people are nervous about flying, for whatever reason it might be. It could be that you don’t like flying, or maybe the stress of the airport is a problem for you! For some people, they don’t like the invasive way that ourselves and our luggage is extensively screened. You might think we go through a rigorous security check, and they can basically see inside our bodies, and our suitcases.

Well, actually, airport body scanning may not be as invasive as you think. When it comes to scanning ourselves, there is quite a small number of people that actually have to go through the scanner, and as long as you remove any items that might flag up, you should be able to walk through without a problem. When you flag up, then you may be asked to go into the larger scanner. Don’t panic, you haven’t done anything wrong, sometimes the machine flags up at random as well.


Its pretty important that airports are checking everyone’s luggage at crucial points in the journey. Ultimately, safety is of the utmost importance here. And the security have really been doing an amazing job so far. If they have to search our bags and scan our belongings to make sure we’re all safe, then thats definitely worth it for me. Who knows what some people might be packing in their bags, and it could be anyone. And the dangers they bring can be too scary to think about. So, the tedious task of going through security and having all of our bags scanned isn’t so bad when you think about it.

How does an airport scanner work?

Its pretty baffling to think about all the technology and apparatus they use to check out whats inside out suitcases. Can they really see whats inside our bags without looking inside? Cause if so, thats pretty mind blowing. Well, the answer is yes.

Here’s how an airport scanner works. They’re basically used to build a picture of whats inside your bags, and allow security staff to check anything that might seem suspicious. X-rays are sent from one side of the machine and picked up by detectors on the other side. The curtains are lined with lead so that the X-rays can’t escape and cause damage to anyone or anything.

Without getting too scientific and complicated, one detector picks up the X-ray and the energy and position is recorded. Then they continue towards the second detector, but it only collects high energy X-rays. The machine will then compare the two outputs, and contrasts an image showing the position, material, and density of the objects in your suitcase.

Typically, organic metals like paper, food and explosives are orange, while blue or green shows metals. The denser the material, the darker the colour.

Airports in the US, but not so much in Europe, use a CT scanner. This is a computer tomography scanner. This process is a lot slower than an x-ray scanner, and only will be used on bags that seem suspicious or if the bag has suspicious circumstances around it. For example if the owner of the bag paid in cash and for a one way journey, anything like that can mean your bag will be flagged up to be CT scanned.

Similar to an X-ray machine, the CT scanner is able to calculate the mass and density of individual objects in your bag.

So, what exactly can they see?

Basically, from the airport scanner x-ray image, the security officers can see everything. Every object shows its density and shape and size, meaning you can really see what to object is without colour. Of course in some cases they may not be able to work out exactly what it is, but if it looks suspicious, they will likely ask to have a look through your bag.

For me I don’t have a problem with X-ray scanning. An even more invasive way of checking our luggage would be for someone to physically check and search each and every one of our bags. I’ve had one or two embarrassing encounters with this, and I’d like to keep the number as low as possible. The only time I’ve ever had to empty the contents of my bag was when I had left a bottle of water in there by accident. Any other time, the security can see right in my bag and know I’m not travelling with anything I shouldn’t, and I can go straight through without a problem.

If you don’t want security rummaging through your bag, I recommend you check the guidelines on what you can and can’t take with you in your hand luggage, to avoid them having doubts about whats in your case when it goes through x-ray!

So, pretty much, high tech airport scanners can see everything in your luggage, but the thing is not many checked bags actually get scanned. If you’re unsure as to what you can bring with you, just read up on your airlines regulations. You should be able to find all the info you need there. You definitely can’t take guns or weapons in your carry on. However you are allowed to take things like pocketknives or Swiss army knives in your checked luggage. As I said before every country and airline is different so just make sure you check.

Overall, just remember that they have some pretty high tech technology back there, and the primary concern of airport security is the safety of everyone in the airport, and on the plane. If they were to scan your luggage and something suspicious came up, they wouldn’t hesitate to search all of your luggage, and you would then be in trouble if you were trying to conceal something. Its best to avoid these kinds of situations, and keep yourself out of trouble.

So anyway, I hope you have happy travels, and a safe flight!

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