/ Travel & Leisure

Are you glad to see airport X-rays restricted in the EU?

Airports have been banned from installing full-body X-ray scanners by the European Commission due to health and safety reasons. Do you want to see the back of body scanners, or do you prefer them to a pat-down?

There are fears that the radiation released by X-ray scanners can increase the risk of cancer. Yet, the Health Protection Agency has said:

‘The radiation dose from an examination of two or three scans is less than that received from two minutes flying at cruising altitude.’

The EU has enforced the ban until a specialist health committee has finished assessing their risk. I can’t help but think that it would have been a good idea to do this before they were installed. Why are we allowing technology to make its way into airports when it hasn’t been fully and independently assessed for its safety?

Airport body scanners in Britain

The so-called ‘naked’ scanners, already trialled in Manchester and Heathrow airports, have been controversial for more than just health risks. Their propensity to invade passengers’ privacy has also been criticised since they produce a clear outline of your body. In fact, Heathrow scrapped their X-ray scanners due to such complaints.

Manchester Airport has 16 of these £80,000 scanners, and will ban anyone from flying unless they walk through one – a decision that has previously been backed by the Department of Transport. Indeed, hospital consultant Tony Aguirre was escorted out of Manchester Airport by police after refusing to walk through the scanner in July.

Manchester has been given permission to continue using its ‘backscatter X-ray scanners’ until November 2012 while tests are carried out.

An infringement of our privacy?

Of course, protecting us from terrorism and immediate danger is incredibly important, but I think a balance has to be made between protection, privacy and passenger’s long-term health.

But even if the European Commission’s tests do find that X-ray body scanners are relatively safe, would you still be concerned about the invasion of your privacy? Many are uncomfortable that they reveal your naked body and some Muslim groups claim it violates their religion.

The campaign group Big Brother Watch has long been against these compulsory scanners:

‘While we understand that security in airports is crucial to passenger safety and national security […] the willingness to sacrifice individual privacy for this security has gotten completely out of hand. Big Brother Watch has said on numerous occasions that these body scanners are invasive and compromise an individual’s privacy and dignity.’

Despite this, Which? members don’t seem overly concerned – around three quarters said they’d be interested in full-body scanners being introduced. I can see why – the alternative often means intrusive pat-downs, having to take off coats, belts and shoes, and almost never-ending queues before you even get to this stage.

There’s been many a time when I’ve been asked to strip off my belt, where I’ve promised myself to ‘go baggy’ whenever I next go on holiday. X-ray scanners can remove this inconvenience and speed up the process.

However, would you take this compromise if it came with a cost to your health (even if minimal)? We’ll have to wait and see what the European Commission’s tests uncover, but in the meantime, what kind of airport security would you prefer?


A bomb ripping though your body at 30,000ft is likely to do a little more damage than scanners for a minute or two.

However, my concern is more about the entrance to Airports, I would like to see baggage scanned and taken from people at the entrance to the airport, this would give security a lot longer to check it thoroughly, and people should be body scanned at the doors, so has to increase security.

We have seen around the world attacks on airports, this would be positive action against terrorism.

Agree with John, the large crowds and queues of passengers before check-in seems a big security risk and not one that an individual passenger can avoid.

When we were young the shoe shop used to have a machine that x-rayed our feet when trying on shoes – then they were banned because ‘the small amount of radiation could damage our feet and possibly cause other health problems’. People said then that it was only a minor dose. No dose of radiation is minor. It can cause permanent damage. Ban these x-ray machines at airports for people.

It is down to a risk/benefit analysis. X-raying children’s feet does not offer much benefit and was little more than a gimmick. Dental x-rays are useful, but are used less frequently than in the past. X-ray baggage by all means but maybe offer passengers the choice of a search or X-ray until the risk is better understood.

concerned says:
18 November 2011

Yes security is important but so is health, i travel almost 4 times a year from Manchester. With the alarming rise in the numbers of cancers occurring within developing countries it’s wrong to assume that the ‘small’ doses of radiation we receive from scanners won’t have an effect.

When added to the other small doses of radiation we’re receiving it can be carcinogenic. Although the European Union is checking the safety of single doses from x-ray scanners it isn’t checking the effects of this when coupled with other unnatural radiation, like the food that we eat that has been radiated (the new ‘fresh’). I don’t think it’s fare to say that this is an inevitable situation ‘we should accept that radiation is a new part of life’ as this is just opening the doors to accepting that our children could die in front of our eyes from untreatable cancers.

Yes it’s annoying standing in queues but shouldn’t more pressure be put on the airports to provide more staff at peak periods to facilitate greater ease, they have a degree of responsibility as well.

And last and most importantly, this is a serious trashing of our civil rights.The Labour government did well to slowly diminish our civil liberties, this is just a step further. It’s not just Muslims that are screaming that this is unethical and demeaning, it’s parents as well.
If we open the door to screening in this way it will only be a matter of time until it begins to get trialled elsewhere in hospitals for example, then night clubs, then maybe even schools. All we need is another terror attack whether big or small (let’s face it the media wants us to think the worlds coming to an end when it happens) and the government will be drawing up guidelines to effectively ‘screen’ the nation.

Just to end on a more positive note, when it comes to terrorism i like to remember the Russians who around 8-9 months ago had a terror bomb go off in a subway, people died and it was tragic. The authorities there repainted and repaired the subway overnight and the next morning people were using the same track just like normal. The western media was in awe when the next day they stood on the track next to common people waiting to catch the train, it wasn’t exactly the ‘meltdown’ that they were expecting.
Unfortunately there will always be people with extreme views, every government and nation has them, what is a tragedy is when people have to overly compensate for them, loosing their civil liberties in the process. We do need security but to hand over your ‘god given rights’ on a plate isn’t the key to the utopia that we want.

Concerned wrote: ‘…when coupled with other unnatural radiation, like the food that we eat that has been radiated …’

Sorry but this is nonsense. Irradiated food cannot pass on radiation to you.

Nobody is being forced to fly, so it’s hardly an infringement of personal liberty. And if anyone is flying so much they have a concern about the long-term cumulative dosage from regular body scans, they really need to spend less time worrying about their own health and rather more on how their selfish behaviour is affecting the environment and well-being of others.

I totally agree, but I don’t know what it will take to make some people behave more responsibly.

A lot of flights are made on behalf of companies and other organisations. Many of these could be avoided by using video conferencing.

I’m afraid they just don’t get it!

I once worked for a large UK company and they were always nagging their employees about how they travelled from home to work. The company imposed schemes of limited benefit that required car sharing or forced employees to use public transport, so they could claim how environmentally responsible they were being in their corporate literature.

Then they went and outsource their IT department to India. Teleconferencing is the order of the day, but there are still hundreds of consultants flying in from India on a regular basis. One flight produces more CO2 and pollution than I could have saved in a year of walking to work. For some reason I don’t understand, the company never mentions this aspect of their business model when they talk about how much they have reduced emissions over the previous year.

Absolutely. It is overall use of energy and resources that matters. And the real problem that no-one seems to want to discuss is overpopulation. Solve that and a lot of environmental concerns will be a lot less important.

The pat-downs also need some reform. The current rule is that pat-downs are always conducted by the same gender as the passenger. When a pat-down is required, the passenger should instead be allowed to choose the gender with which they feel more comfortable.