Airport X-Rays' Effect on Computers


While very bad things can happen to the human body with repeated x-ray exposure, laptop computers fare much better. Airport travel is often a stressful experience, so you may be concerned for the well-being of your laptop device you're taking with you. While you're justified in being concerned about your laptop surviving the trip, the baggage scanner x-ray machine is actually the least likely element of the journey to be a danger to your computer.

X-Ray Exposure

  • X-rays will not harm your laptop. While laptops and computer devices are vulnerable to outside forces like magnetism, they are not susceptible to radiation damage from x-ray machines. While x-rays are considered a form of electromagnetic energy, they emit light waves and not magnetism. Laptop-related data storage mediums like optical discs, flash media and hard drives are likewise not affected by x-rays, and your laptop will not pick up enough residual radiation from airport scans to become a threat to you.

Metal Detectors

  • While it's perfectly safe to send your laptop through the x-ray machine, it is not safe to send your laptop through the metal detector. Many components inside the computer, specifically disk-based hard drives, are prone to magnetic damage. Hard disk drives use magnetism to save data to metal disks, which can be warped or partially erased through magnetism exposure. Avoid taking your laptop through a hand or full-body metal detector.

Checked Baggage

  • Putting your laptop in checked baggage to avoid x-ray exposure puts the device at risk for other types of damage. A laptop sent through checked baggage may be dropped or handled roughly, which can damage the device if it's not in a highly protective case. In addition to the extra wear and tear that comes from handling, your device may be stored in an unheated compartment and exposed to extremely low temperatures. Sub-zero temperatures can damage laptop hardware.

Airport Safety

  • The x-ray machine is preferable to almost every other element of airport travel. Airports are a high-risk location for getting your laptop stolen, so you'll want to keep an eye on it at all times. By bringing your laptop with you as a carry-on item, you avoid risks from placing the device in checked baggage, and by sending the device through the x-ray machine you avoid exposing it to metal detectors at the security checkpoint.

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