Does an Airport Scanner Affect Laptops?

By Aaron Charles

The TSA claims that agents shouldn't ever turn on your laptop during inspection.
i Joe Raedle/Getty Images News/Getty Images

If you fly with your laptop domestically, you'll be one of the 1.8 million passengers screened by the Transportation Security Administration each day as of March 2013. If you fly internationally into the U.S., you'll be among the some 300 million persons scrutinized by the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol. Regardless of who's doing the checking, though, if your laptop is subjected to X-ray screening, you really don't need to fear damage from the X-rays themselves. However, there's reason to be cautious about other kinds of potential damage during such inspections.


Regardless of what size your laptop is, it's going to be scanned by an X-ray machine if you carry it on the plane. If your laptop is 11 inches or smaller, however, the TSA doesn't obligate you to take it out of your laptop bag. Such a provision doesn't block any kind of radiation from reaching your laptop, but it does protect your laptop somewhat more from any physical damage that could potentially happen as it sits and moves on the scanner conveyor belt.

X-ray Scanners

Based on known evidence up to this point, a laptop's exposure to X-rays won't do any damage to it. There's just no data to support that idea, in spite of the fact that a handful of passengers have claimed their laptops started acting funny after having gone through the X-ray scanners. However, the electromagnetic radiation emitted by the X-ray machines evidently isn't powerful enough to affect laptops or any other digital equipment while passing through airport X-ray scanners.

Metal Detectors

A device that could affect your laptop, though, is a metal detector. This device, also used by the TSA and other agencies in the form of a walk-through or wand-like detector, creates an electromagnetic field that could damage your laptop, according to the British newspaper "The Telegraph" and other sources. Generally, though, metal detectors at the airport are used primarily to screen persons and not belongings like laptops.


One of the bigger threats to your laptop when putting it through the X-ray scanner is the risk that someone will steal it. For this reason, always keep your eye on your scanner after it leaves your hands. Even if TSA agents pull you aside for more scrutinized screening of yourself, do all you can to keep your laptop and other valuables within your line of sight. After you've passed through screening and so has your laptop, collect it as quickly as possible.