Can I Go Through the Airport Body Scanner if I'm Pregnant?

Protect Yourself and Your Baby at the Airport

As if traveling while pregnant isn't challenging enough. The use of airport full-body scanners makes a lot of expectant women feel uneasy. What exactly happens to your body, and your developing baby, when you pass through one of these screeners? There's really nothing to fear, actually. The TSA stresses that all of its screening methods are safe for pregnant women. And if you ever feel uncomfortable, you can choose a different screening method.

What Does the Body Scanner Do, Exactly?

Pregnant woman pulling a suitcase inside airport

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First, the basics. The full-body scanners that most airports now use to screen passengers employ something called "millimeter wave advanced imaging technology" (AIT). When you step into the scanner, the machine emits electromagnetic waves that it uses to form a 3-D image of the body, allowing the TSA agents to see if passengers are carrying any threatening devices. The images that the agents see are just basic outlines of a human body.

Note that the body-scanning process has changed for the better. As recently as 2013, the TSA used X-ray technology to scan travelers' bodies, and the scanners produced realistic images that made a lot of passengers feel violated.

Are Body Scanners Safe?

Yes. Airport body scanners are thoroughly tested for safety before they are deployed, and the USDA monitors and regulates them. One of these machines uses a fraction of the energy used by a cell phone, according to the CDC. And, unlike the previous generation of scanners, modern millimeter wave scanners don't use X-rays or expose travelers to ionizing radiation.

Do I Have to Go Through the Body Scanner?

Pregnant woman pulling a suitcase inside airport

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Most likely, no. The TSA allows passengers to request a physical screening instead of AIT screening. If you're nervous about going through the body scanner while pregnant, you can just tell a TSA agent that you would prefer to be patted down instead. Then, a female TSA agent will thoroughly check you for weapons or other prohibited items.

Pat-downs are usually done in the general screening area. You do have the right to ask for a pat-down to be done away from the crowd, and you can bring a companion to the private area if that helps you feel more comfortable.

A small number of people are chosen for enhanced screening at check-in, and their boarding passes are printed with indicators that require the TSA to subject them to AIT screening.

Tips

It's possible that you won't even encounter a body scanner on your next trip. Some airports still use old-school metal detectors, which pose no health or safety risks. However, if you end up at an airport that has both body scanners and metal detectors, you can't choose the latter over the former. You may decline scanner screening in favor of a pat-down, but you don't get your pick of scanners.

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