Full Body Scanning at Airports: What You Should Know

Scanners are coming to airports between 2010 and 2011, and there are a few things you might want to know before you encounter one.

Millimeter Wave Scanner

The Millimeter Wave Scanner is a giant cylinder with glass walls and scanning panels which move around you as the scan is taking place.  Small radio waves are passed through your clothing and return to produce the image of the body (human skin) underneath.  The scan takes approximately 40 seconds. This machine reveals the most body detail and is sometimes referred to as the “Digital Strip Search,” but will blur your face.

Backscatter Scanner

The Backscatter Scanner is two large boxes which face each other. During the scan, you will stand between the two boxes and place your hands on your head.  The image is produced by two low-level x-ray images of the body taken within 20 seconds of each other.  The images will appear more skeletal (rather than show flesh) and most likely, if you saw your image, you would not recognize your own face.

The image is produced as the electromagnetic waves are absorbed into the body.  If the waves are absorbed, then the image appears showing only the passenger - no foreign objects.  If foreign objects are being concealed, the items will reflect the rays and appear on the image.


Passengers walk through the machines fully clothed and the resulting images appear on a monitor in a separate room. As such, machine operators do not see passenger faces, and the TSA staff working directly with passengers are not allowed to view the images.

Is Radiation A Concern?

 Radiation from the scans is not a concern as the amount you are absorbing is equal to the same exposure you receive during daily life.

Can You Decline?

Passengers can decline to be scanned; however, a full body search (pat-down) will be performed by a TSA officer or the passenger will not be allowed to fly.




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