Modern airport scanners, with their extremely sophisticated technology, can see everything in your luggage, including any items a passenger attempts to conceal or hide.

This includes both metallic and non-metallic objects, as well as organic and inorganic materials, including items such as illegal drugs.

Airport scanners are able to detect practically any item in a passenger’s bag by creating detailed images that security personnel, who are fully trained to easily identify all forbidden items, will then take a closer look at.

Even items that are hidden inside layers of clothing or aluminum foil can be detected.

Carry On Bags

Airport scanners can detect both metallic and non-metallic objects, including organic materials like food or toothpaste, to ensure a passenger is following regulations and isn’t travelling with anything illegal.

Airport scanners use X-rays to see through your carry on bag’s surface and construct detailed images of its content. Security officers use these images to check the density of items in your luggage.

Airport Scanner X-Ray Image Example
What the contents of luggage look like to an airport scanner

They use object density to determine whether you’re carrying any illegal substances. 

Security officers cannot determine what each item in your bag is, but they will search your bag if they notice anything suspicious. 

Checked Baggage

As part of the TSA’s security screening procedures, your checked baggage is also screened by an X-Ray machine when it passes through the conveyor belt.

The contents of your checked bags are checked the same way as your carry on bags.

Security personnel will seize and examine the content of your bag if they suspect any illegal items. If they do not have access to the keys of your baggage, they will open it by other means if necessary.

How Airport Scanners Detect Drugs In Luggage

Technically, airport scanners like modern Millimeter-Wave and Backscatter scanners cannot actually detect drugs. Instead, these scanners make it extremely easy to identify drugs in people’s luggage.

What this means is that these scanners can detect an organic mass with a large density, which airport security personnel will then have a closer look at to determine whether the detected item is a drug or not.

The density of the most commonly used drugs is well-known to airport security officials.

An X-ray of what weed looks like on an airport scanner

Once the airport security personnel are made aware of the presence of a suspicious item, they will open your luggage to investigate. 

How Airport Scanners Detect Other Forbidden Items

The scanning and detection method may depend on the type of scanner being used, but most scanners with the help of TSA agents are able to detect illegal items with ease.

Baggage scanners use X-rays to see through your luggage’s surface and build detailed images of the items inside. Those images are usually sufficient for security personnel to recognize illegal items.

Note that these scanners do not explicitly detect any types of illegal items, they only inform security personnel of your luggage’s contents, and the security personnel will then take a closer at the items to determine if they are illegal or not

The only type of illegal item that an airport scanner potentially cannot detect is if it is stored inside a human body, unless it is made of metal.

How to Hide Things From Airport Scanners

Modern X-ray airport scanners can detect most items easily due to the way they function by contrasting items to surrounding materials.

What this means is that if someone wanted to hide an item from an airport scanner, they would have to store the item inside their body, as an X-ray machine cannot detect items inside a human body if they’re made of the same general chemical composition as the rest of the body. 

Contrary to popular belief, aluminum foil cannot hide objects from airport scanners, either.

Checked Bags Don’t Get Searched for Drugs

A checked bag will not get searched for drugs, but it can be searched for other reasons.

For example, airport security officials may search a checked bag for flammable materials like lithium batteries. They might also search a checked bag if they see any suspicious-shaped items.

Checked bags getting ready to be scanned

On average, only 1 out of every 10 checked bags are searched by airport personnel.

If a security personnel finds drugs in a checked bag, they will simply report the bag’s owner to the police.

In conclusion, airport scanners can see everything that’s not inside your body. They can see what’s in your luggage and detect any concealed items underneath your clothing.

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).