I Got Scanned by TSA on a Day When Radiation Overdose was Reported

This morning at Orlando International Airport TSA gave me the finger — that come hither finger (no, not that other finger signal!) signaling that I was selected to go through the Advanced Imaging Technology (AIT) unit (aka the “full-body scanner”). Since these machines have been put into operation, I have gone through them numerous times, with a miniscule fear that the radiation emitted would pose a health risk. To me, this was preferable to the full body pat-down alternative.

Back in March, USA Today reported that the TSA would be re-testing airport body scanners for radiation after they found maintenance records for some of the machines showed radiation levels ten times higher than expected. TSA said these records reflected math mistakes and that the machines passed all inspections. My miniscule fear grew. I’ve since tried to avert these machines by using lanes that have a regular x-ray machine (much less radiation here, right? Please say yes!).

Then today I read this article on Radiation Overdose at the Airport reporting that “A large number of workers have been falling victim to cancer, strokes and heart disease.” This got my fear ball growing.

Just how far does this radiation reach? Could people standing in the nearby x-ray lane, just a few feet away, be affected by this radiation, as well? What is the cumulative impact of going through (and standing near) these machines? Add to that the radiation we’re exposed to by flying on a plane and then what does the impact of radiation look like?

While I await scientific answers to the above, I’ll be more attentive to what security lane I enter. I’ll be looking for a lane where the full body scanner isn’t in operation and thus will get the regular x-ray lane by default. If a regular x-ray machine is abutting a full-body scanner lane, I’ll head to the x-ray lane and keep my conversation to myself.

I think what got me the ‘come hither finger’ today was that I said a friendly Good Morning to the TSA Agent standing at the entrance of the full body scanner. When our eyes met, ‘the finger’ came next!

Here’s a recap of your options to avoid the full body scanner:

  • Opt out of the scanner and submit to a full body pat-down;
  • Be vigilant in getting into security lanes with the old-style x-ray machines;
  • Avoid flying and instead take a car, a bus, a train, a boat, or charter a private plane

And watch out for the ‘come hither finger!’

To receive a free copy of our ebook, 70 Secrets to Safe Travel — Because Your Life Can Change in a Heartbeat, and for more travel savvy info to help you travel smarter, safer and with more enjoyment, visit SmartWomenTravelers.com and PearlsofTravelWisdom.com.


  1. You can breath a sigh of relief, as the old style machines are not x-ray machines at all. They are metal detectors, and are quite safe. For the record, I refuse to go into the porno-scan, I have opted out twice. -oh and in my case (male) I told the screener that I just had a vasectomy. This is perhaps the only thing that elicits a certain amount of sympathy among men. I little groan as they approach the crotch goes a long ways after they know about the operation.

  2. The “old style x-ray” machines aren’t x-ray’s at all, they’re magnetometers (aka “metal detectors”) and they are harmless.

  3. The old machines are metal detectors, not x-ray rays, right? When you get an x-ray, the tech puts on a lead shield!

  4. 1) Not sure what you mean by “regular x-ray” machine. The old-style machines were metal detectors which use no radiation and are harmless.
    2) As a radiologist, I refuse to go through the scanners (though I really don’t care if they want to touch me out in the open). We spend a lot of time trying to minimize radiation for medical imaging, and at least in those cases the additional radiation provides some added value (in diagnosis or exclusion of disease). As far as I can tell, the full body scanners have not been proven to be more effective than metal detectors. If they aren’t, then why subject billions of people to any risk (even if minuscule), and if they are, why let anyone go through an inferior screening device?
    3) A distance of 6 feet gets rid of about 99.9% of radiation. Anything in between you and the source (source being anything between the actual radiation source and the people in the machine, which cause scatter) will reduce radiation as well. Ask to stand behind a TSA agent as you walk by a machine.

  5. What do you mean by “regular X-ray machine” and “old-style X-ray machine”? The only X-ray emitting devices are the full body scanners and conveyor upon which you place your carry-on stuff and shoes?

    When you refer to “regular X-ray machine” do you mean Magnetometer, the metal detector you walk though?

  6. Steve – love your excuse of why you can’t go through the “porno-scan” machines! I’ll have to think of an equally good excuse for us girls about “our girls.”

    Geoff/Doug/Erndog — Sorry about the generic x-ray word I used. All I can say is that I knew it was just a metal detector before I got fingered into using the “porno-scan” yesterday morning– real life brain cell destruction is occurring from this machine before your very eyes!

    Mike – thanks for sharing that a distance of 6 feet gets rid of about 99.9% of radiation – and for the tip on standing behind the TSA agent as you walk by a machine.


  7. We are Freedom to Travel USA, an organization dedicated to regaining freedoms taken away from us by the TSA. We believe that suspicionless unwanted touching should not be a condition of travel. We believe that being subject to the equivalent of Peeping Toms without cause should not be a condition of travel. We believe that exposing ourselves to radiation, however small, should not be a condition of travel. We believe that merely the presence of a medical device, in and of itself, should not constitute “probable cause.” h t t p : / / fttusa .o r g

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  9. It’s hilarious to me how unbelievably self involved you all are in that you go through the airport a few times and are exposed to this while their are individuals who work at these facilities and you do not seemed to be the least bit concerned about their health. The two minutes that you are around these machines, and the little dosage that you receive seems to pale in contrast to the amount that the workers receive yet you are all only concerned with yourself… and the data that relates to the flying public. Are the TSA workers not humans? Or are you just such a comfortable white fenced world in which your exposure to radiation is more important than someone else’s? God forbid you except that one day you too will perish.

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