If you’re wondering if airport scanners can see pills, the answer is yes, they can see the pills that you are traveling with.
This is regardless if the pills are contained in plastic pill bottles, or contained in any other non-metallic and metallic objects.
However, a passenger has the right to refuse to have any pills or other medication they are traveling with X-rayed, and can instead opt for a visual inspection instead.
Of course, this must be requested before the pills or any other medication is sent through the X-ray tunnel.
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Hiding Pills From Airport Scanners
Except for liquid medication in your carry-on, as it’s completely legal to fly with pills in both your checked baggage and carry-on bags in unlimited amounts, there is no need to hide pills.
Additionally, as the TSA’s main security screening concern is detecting potential threats and keeping passengers safe, even finding illegal pills is not something that officers look out for.
Of course, it would be beyond foolish to even attempt to travel with and hide illegal pills, considering the consequences.
However, it’s interesting to know that despite airport scanners being very high-tech machines that have no problems finding pills anywhere a passenger may attempt to hide them, the TSA is not concerned with finding illegal pills in the first place.
You Don’t Have to Declare That You Are Traveling With Pills
The TSA does not require passengers to present their medication or even notify an officer about any medication they are flying with.
However, if you are traveling with liquid pills, these are subject to additional screening.
Additionally, at the start of the screening checkpoint process, you should inform the officer that you are traveling with medically required liquids.
Quantity of Pills the TSA Allow
The TSA does not specify a maximum limit that you are allowed to travel with.
As long as the pills are screened, you are able to bring an unlimited amount with you.
The exception to this are pills in liquid form.
If you intend to travel with liquid pills in your carry-on baggage, they must not exceed 3.4 ounces/100ml.
Medically required liquids are exempt from this rule and are allowed to exceed 3.4 ounces/100ml in your carry on.
Pills Don’t Have to Be in Prescription Bottles
While the TSA does not require any medication to be in prescription bottles, state laws about the labeling of prescription medication apply.
What Happens if Illegal Pills Are Found
There’s clearly a big difference in traveling with and going through airport security and scanners with legal pills that are part of your medication and illegal pills.
While TSA officers don’t actively search for illegal drugs, if illegal drugs are found, including illegal pills, the officer is obligated to inform local authorities.
It is then up to the police to decide how they want to handle the matter and what will happen next.
Airport Scanners Can’t Actually Detect Drugs
Airport scanners are unable to outright detect drugs.
Instead, they create detailed images of a passenger’s luggage and belongings, which TSA agents may decide to investigate further if they spot something that looks suspicious.
This also means that airport scanners cannot outright detect a specific drug.
Airports use backscatter scanners, millimeter-wave scanners, and cabinet x-ray scanners to perform full-body scans and check a passenger’s luggage.
Ella Dunham, a Freelance Travel Journalist and Marketing Manager, boasts an impressive career spanning eight years in the travel and tourism sectors.
Honored as one of "30 Under 30" by TTG Media (the world’s very first weekly travel trade newspaper), a "Tour Operator Travel Guru" and "Legend Award" winner, Ella is also a Fellow of the Institute of Travel, a Member of the Association of Women Travel Executives, has completed over 250 travel modules, and hosts travel-focused segments on national radio shows where she provides insights on travel regulations and destinations.
Ella has visited over 40 countries (with 10 more planned this year).