Airport Full Body Scanners

By James | Last updated May 9, 2024

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With no sign of a let up in attempted terrorist attacks on airliners, airlines and airport authorities are accelerating the rollout of new detection systems, in particular devices to detect guns, knives, bombs and bomb making equipment.

The latest device is the full body scanner. Unlike the conventional metal detector screens that have been in use at all airports for a number of years now, full body scanners produce a virtual 3D image of the passenger.


Using either passive millimetre waves or backscatter X-rays they are claimed to be able to penetrate clothing and produce a digital image of the passenger, effectively “in the nude”. This potentially allows the operator to spot any packages that a terrorist might have hidden within or under their clothing, even if it is not metallic.

The passenger has to stand in a booth with their arms raised away from their body whilst they are scanned with electromagnetic waves.

Civil Liberty Issues With Full Body Scanners

Civil liberty groups are concerned on privacy grounds, citing that the scan is effectively a strip search. Procedures have been put in place to alleviate this. For example, the operator is located out of sight of the passenger and in theory the images are not stored. However images of Indian film star Shahrukh Khan were circulated amongst security staff of London Heathrow airport after he passed through a body scanner.

Full Body Scanner Airport Rollout

The new body scanners are being rolled out at a number of airports both in the United States and globally in countries like the United Kingdom with several hundred planned for 2010.

In Florida, scanners are already in use at Miami International Airport (code MIA), Tampa International Airport (code TPA) and Jacksonville International Airport (code JIA) and are scheduled to be rolled out to Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (code FLL) and Orlando International Airport (code MCO) during 2010.


In the United Kingdom they are already operating at Manchester International Airport (code MAN) and London Heathrow Airport (code LHR) with more planned for Birmingham International Airport (code BHX).

Full Body Scanner Rules

However, different countries have adopted different protocols as to who must submit to a full body scan.

For example in the United Kingdom, all passenger will continue to go through the traditional metal detector screening process but some passengers including children will be selected to be subjected to a full body scan. The government will not state the criteria for selection. Any passenger who refuses to undertake a full body scan will not be allowed to fly.

Already there have been two cases in the UK where women have refused the scan, one on medical grounds and one on religious grounds. In both cases, they were not allowed to board the aircraft.

In the United States, all passengers will go through the full body scanner but passengers can refuse and instead submit themselves to the normal metal detector screen and a “pat-down” search.