Airport X-Ray Machine

Airport X-Ray Machines – Not the biggest threat to our safety?

On a recent flight from Dallas to Chicago, someone at our security checkpoint was fairly upset by the airport x-ray scanner. Mumbling about dosages and “getting zapped,” the passenger was allowed to leave line and get a personal inspection. It could have been an embarrassing situation for both the passenger and the TSA, but it seemed to be handled very well. There was little disruption and the passenger was able to be “processed” privately.

Airport X-Ray Machine

A new physicists’ report says we get more radiation in the plane than in x-ray scanners like this.

I know there are many people who are suspicious (at best!) of the scan monsters we pass through at airports and virtually any large public or government facility. There have been dire warnings about the dose of radiation we’re subjected to for as long as the scanners have been in use, though a good number of studies have shown the dosage does not pose a health risk.

A new study, said to be the first non-governmental study using current equipment in daily use at airports, says the same. This study, by the American Association of Physicists in Medicine (AAPM), found that people absorb less radiation from airport X-ray backscatter scanners than they do while standing in line waiting for the scan itself. According to their report, we get an equivalent dose of radiation every 12 seconds during the flight we’re getting onto, and 10,000 times more radiation just standing outside every year. (They call this natural radiation – such as “cosmic radiation from space.” Only without the thrill of actual space travel. Shame.) You can read more about the report at Science Daily.

This made me wonder about airport safety in general. Are there other things we need to be wary of while making our way to the gate? Turns out, the answer is yes. And we don’t even have to be paranoid about it: accidents happen!

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Several reports (mostly from personal injury lawyers) indicate that Slip & Fall is the most common airport injury, which makes sense. We know the floors are slippery when wet, and often times even when not. Adding pedestrian inattention only makes matters worse. Hundreds, maybe thousands of people pulling/pushing/carrying bags, boxes and Venti Latte’s (what, just me?), and staring up at departure boards while walking, jogging or outright sprinting through the terminal add up to disaster waiting to happen. Slips, slides and bumps often result in falls. On that hard tile floor. And worse, you’ve probably spilt your coffee.

A similar injury is what we call Moving/Not Moving, which occurs mostly at the ends of moving sidewalks and escalators where passengers not prepared to be moving on their own suddenly find themselves not moving. Momentum and gravity take over with disastrous (though sometimes hilarious) results. It’s usually the ego that is injured the most in these accidents but we have seen some pretty ugly scrapes and bruises.

Collision is another leading cause of injuries in the airport, as opposed to collisions that occur outside the airport which are generally far worse. There are two common types of collision:

  • Mano-a-Mano: It’s a passenger vs passenger knockdown when one or more weren’t watching where they were going. Boom, smack, bruised knees and spilt coffee. Again.
  • Mano-a-Carto: You know those guys in the golf carts that honk their horn and yell “Please watch the cart”? They mean it, because it kind of hurts when they run into (or over) you. On the other hand, you can generally get a cart of your own afterwards.
US Airways Courtesy Cart

Meant to assist the handicapped, courtesy carts can seriously handicap pedestrians who don’t mind the cart!

Nuisance Injuries are more common than they should be, given that most could be avoided with a bit of common sense. These are things like muscle strain from over-packed bags, spilling of hot coffee when juggling too many bags (for goodness sake: drop the bags, hold the coffee!), and our personal favorite, PWW or People Watching Whiplash. (Yes, that was Steven Tyler you saw at LAX!) We have no one to blame but ourselves, not that it keeps us from complaining.

On a serious note, there are plenty of opportunities for real injury at airports. Passengers are in unfamiliar surroundings, overburdened, rushing and trying to focus on too many things. If you happen to be injured because of faulty facilities, wet floors, or negligence on the part of the airport, be sure to get a report from airport officials, give them your statement, and use your smartphone or camera to capture everything you think might be pertinent. Personal injury lawyers say any claims must be filed within two years of your injury, but don’t wait.

So it turns out the airport x-ray scanner is likely the least of our worries when it comes to airport dangers. Yes, it’s still a nuisance but at least we know it’s not what’s making us sleepy, sickly, stinky, orange, anemic, shorter, taller, rounder or anything other than later for our flight. And maybe a little grumpy.

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