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Consequences for Refusing a Full Airport Body Scan

By: Garry Crystal - Updated: 2 Dec 2023 | comments*Discuss
Full Body Scanners Airport Images

Full body scans used at UK airports have been criticised by civil liberties groups for breaching privacy rights. But this has not stopped the authorities from enforcing consequences such as banning passengers from flights if they refuse a full body scan.

Full Body Scanners and Safer Flights

Full body scanners have been in use in some UK airports since the summer of 2010. These devices are aimed at improving security on flights and designed as an anti terrorism measure. These scanners were introduced after a failed bomb attempt on a transatlantic flight on Christmas day 2009. The body scanners are being rolled out at major airports across the UK and are already in place in Heathrow, Manchester and Birmingham. Many people simply view body scanners as necessary security measure but civil liberties groups do claim they are an infringement of privacy rights.

The Public’s View of Full Body Scanners

Many passengers believe that if they have nothing to hide they have nothing to be concerned about. But the first passengers to use the scanner did have mixed reactions with some claiming that the scan felt incredibly intrusive. The biggest misconception, according to airport security staff, is that the scanners will show passengers naked. According to security employees this is not the case, although photographs of the images taken from the body scanners are extremely revealing. The images taken from the full body scans are deleted as soon as the scan has been undertaken.

Alternatives to a Full Body Scan

People who do refuse to allow a full body scan in the UK do not have an alternative. In the US, passengers can refuse a full body scan and have the right to request a full body pat down by security officials instead. This is not the case in the UK as the government decided that full body pat downs would not offer the same search efficiency. Not everyone will be chosen to undergo a full body scan at airports. The selection process is random but passengers who are chosen for a full body scan and refuse to comply will not be permitted to fly.

Extra Security Measures taken at Airports

Undergoing a full body scan at airports may not actually be the end of the airport security checks. If for some reason the scanner cannot make a full assessment of the passenger then a strip search may be necessary. Passengers will then be required to enter a private area where they will be asked to explain any abnormalities. If security officials are still not satisfied the passenger may be required to remove layers of clothing until the security officials are satisfied. Passengers do have the right for a body search to be made by members of the same sex.

Consequences of Refusing a Full Body Scan

Anyone who is chosen for a full body scan at a UK airport and refuses will be banned from the intended flight. There is no alternative method of security search available to passengers. This consequence extends to every age group, and the exemption for under 18s that was in place has now been removed. Civil liberties groups are critical of this infringement of rights especially since no alternative to the full scan has been set in place. Members of the public who have refused the scan on religious grounds have been banned from flying.

Airport Full Body Scan Code of Practice

A code of practice has been drawn up by the Department of Transport on the use of full body scanners. Rules for the use of the scanners include:

  • Body scanner operators and passengers are separated by a screen
  • The images are anonymous and are destroyed after the screening
  • Passengers are chosen to be scanned at random
  • Passengers cannot be selected for scanning on the basis of race, ethnic origin, age or gender
  • Passengers have the right to request that they are scanned by members of the same sex
Although there has been an outcry from civil liberties groups the airport full body scanners are set to stay in the UK. Passengers have a choice if they are selected for screening, and that choice is comply with the screening or be banned from flights.

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Just went through security at Heathrow and had some change in my pockets. When I tried to refuse the scan, I was just was told "that was the old system". Obviously in that situation you are in a bit of a bind, as I wasn't sure on the law on this. When I travelled before I would often choose an alternative.
travelleddec2023 - 2-Dec-23 @ 4:58 AM
Can Gary the writer of this article please check that they have their facts right and report back to us all on here please. Please provide copies of these changes you mention because on the Govt's website "know your rights at the airport" plus the airport code of practice there have been no changes. Under these it is possible to still request a body search instead though I can understand this not being advertised widely and and being a nuisance for staff as it takes more time however in reality it is only very few who ask for this. There is evidence (which has even been confirmed by the WHOand other studies) that these scans are not completely safe for example for eyes nor skin especially if you have skin cancer lesions. I have never had a a problem politely requesting a pat down and as recent as 2 months ago in London due to skin problems.
Suzy - 31-Oct-23 @ 1:30 PM
I refused the last time I went. No issues. each time I had no problem with being let on the flight, after being taken to a private room, emptying out my pockets and taking off most of my layers of clothes except for the one layer; and then had a pat down. This is completely misinformation
Sashka88 - 19-Oct-23 @ 4:12 PM
I work in security at London Heathrow and this is not true. Passengers can refuse to use the body scanner for whatever reason, however they’ll be subjected to a full private search which can delay them as we have to wait for another available security officer to witness the search if they are travelling alone. Theres also a document to sign. Also we do not see body parts on the body scanners anymore that was the case when the scanners were first introduced but this is no longer allowed for obvious reasons. Its now just a generic ‘stickman’ picture and its the same for everyone. The reason why we hate when people refuse to use the bodyscanner because of radiation is because you were subjected to far more radiation just travelling to the airport. One phone call alone is much more radiation than one scan. One flight alone is far more radiation. Also it holds up everyone waiting.
TJ - 16-Aug-23 @ 1:15 PM
You're article has some serious misinformation maybe disinformation. You present yourselves as expert. Not good enough!! I refused to do the body scanner in Heathrow on 22/07/2023. They forced me to sign a consent form which I verbally stated I was signing under duress which they didn't like at all. I was told that I will being profiled if I insisted on not complying. First they said they would get the cops on me but then they backed off. We must NOT comply with their global electronic enslavement agenda otherwise humanity is screwed
H - 25-Jul-23 @ 3:51 AM
Dear Garry Crystal who wrote this article, you are spreading misinformation. Under U.K. law, passengers have the right to refuse the body scanner and be offered an alternative method instead i.e. a full pat down. What you are saying is not true and I advise you take down this article or amend it.
Sandy - 28-May-20 @ 9:46 AM
I flew 3 times this year and each time i beeped (i think its my bar ) and was selected for this scanner i was made scared that i will miss my flightso went ahead. This happened in Edinburgh btw. the other 2 times i flew i refused as soon as you say you refuse you get cold/nazilooks and barrage of questionswhy you dont want to go in. You are made feel like you are wrongand they are right. I said i dont trust this machine they keep saying its safe but hry so was cigaret science. Some woman said it is as harmlessas sonograph for a baby but this has been proven to be wrong. (Jim West- 50 human studies) check it out. I think he has something on youtube on this subject. So that didnt make me feel at ease at all. And see also said that usa was using bad scanners but uk is ok. Yeah right. So any way both times i went head with full pat down, slabý etc. No clothing was removedand i was made to sign this from which i wanted a blank copy of but was refused by supervisor. Not sure why they thought that blank piece of paper will threaten airport security. So yes if you say you know your rights and you want pat down they will do it with a sour face and a fen remarks. ..make sure you come earlier so they cant use scare tactics of pressuring you on being late for your flight. This guy said i will be 20-25 min and it was like 10 min. I didnt like the fact my belongings were left there for anyoneto steal and overall feeling of unwillingnes. I wont go in one of them ever Godknowswhat is the accumukative effect of these machines on our DNA and cellulartissues.More people should opt out.
Evix - 25-Jul-19 @ 9:42 PM
Yes the websiteinfo is correct. You can opt out and use traditionalmethods. .. I unfortunatelyleft my printed putdirective at home on one flight to Turkey from Manchester 2018. My son has severe autism ..I was picked out. .. I explained I wanted the other options..and most the securityseemed not to understand that. .then they tried to scare me into it by saying I had to, and it may take ages to get a manager..even saying stuff like but your son might find the pat down upsetting ..is that what you want ?etc etc etc. .but I wouldn't budge. . I will not go through those full body scanners but will do whatever else fine. Eventually. .15 plus mins we went into a room 3 securitywas swabbed and patted down... I'll take the print outof the opt out rights next time
Lou - 12-Jan-19 @ 3:45 PM
Went through one At EMA about 2.5 years ago, flew twice in 6 months 1st time none then 2nd time was one so I guess relatively new at EMA However it made me feel almost immediately dazy and not well, although it was brief I refused other times and asked for body search, which they did and another just plain through the old metal detector, I dress with no metal. AT ALL, why should I have to allow someone to self harm! #agenda21?
Whitee - 12-Oct-17 @ 5:42 PM
If the passenger is an illegal immigrant/rejected asylum seeker, who is about to be deported by plane, would his refusal to go into the x-ray radiation chamber also bar him from the intended flight thereby preventing his deportation? Or can in that case the passenger be forcibly x-rayed?
Bastian - 29-Sep-17 @ 11:52 AM
Hi, Can anyone find the directive @mountaingoat mentioned on uk transport department website? I've been trying to look for it but cannot find? I believe these machine are extremely dangerous for the health. I tried two times and I was feeling bad after that. I have been sort of bullied but two agents at the airport who were supposed just to search me but instead they quizzed me over what I have done in my past trips showing on my passport. These was made on purpose to scare me out. They seemed not to care at all whether you are carrying something dangerous but their only concern is to stick you inside that machine. I'll be happy to remove all my clothes if that make me avoid that but these guys all the want is that you get inside there. This is something everyone should be worrying about . Everyone should help to raise awareness on this!
Chico - 22-Sep-17 @ 2:25 PM
i went for my flight at manchester airport on the 18th aug 2017, on going through the baggae check i wasstuned to find people being full body scanned, i was third in line, i walked over to one of the officer"s and explaned that i was not going through with the scan and they could do whatever they needed to do so i could go on to my flight, he then explainedi have no choice but to go through it, so i did, then they finished and i was shown to an officer who patted me down, no problem, then i was in line to collect my jacket and mobile, when another officer just picked up my jacketwithout my consent and took a drug swab, no explaination was given by the officer , who after the test justgave me my jacket and said enjoy your flight.
bart12345 - 24-Aug-17 @ 3:44 PM
I was asked for the first time to go through one of these scanners at LHR. I had removed all jewellery, shoes etc, so I must have been selected randomly as was my husband. He complied and I refused on health grounds. I was made to it on a chair by the scanner(how much radiation did I receive from that I wonder?) I was constantly asked when my flight was and told that they didn't know how long I would have to wait that I could miss my flight.I watched a constant stream of people selected for scanning going through without refusing including young children and teenage girls for the 30 minutes I was waiting. I eventually had to accept to go through because our flight was soon to depart. I felt they did this intentionally. On our return flight back to Marseille this happened to me randomly again. I refused and asked for a search, again I was asked when my flight was but this this time we had 4 hours for the connection. After about 15 minutes i brought to a room and patted me down, not very intrusively. Whilst waiting I noticed that people like myself who were overweight were supposedly being selected at "random". Because I had refused the scanner they also opened and swabbed all our hand luggage. My conclusion now is to leave plenty of time to get through security in the future so as not to be coerced.
Sabrina - 3-Aug-17 @ 8:21 PM
We just left Gatwick last night on our way back to Copenhagen. At security my 12 year old son was allowed to pass through and so was I, but my 9 year old daughter was pulled out to go through the Backscanner. I was shocked that first of all they tried to separate us even as she started to cry. The officials who were incredibly rude said the only way I could wait with her was to go through the Backscanner myself. I of course took this option as she was very distressed and the officials were so unpleasant to her. This left my son on the other side trying to deal with all our carry-ons by himself while the official told him to get everything off the belt. Afterward, they searched and wiped my daughter's rugsack. Tight security should not mean a loss of children's rights nor is there professionalism where kindness is not demonstrated. I believe that most countries allow a pat-down rather than forcing children through Backscanners.
Aquamarine - 19-Jul-17 @ 12:45 PM
If you go to the following page on the uk transport department website, you can download the diective dated 31st of october 2016.good luck!
MOUNTAINGOAT - 25-Jun-17 @ 2:39 PM
Mountaingoat,where is the directive, i have looked and cannot find, possibly post a link for us all here who are fed up with this prison approach.
flop1 - 2-Jun-17 @ 6:19 AM
There is now an opt out option in the UK, go to the UK department of Transport website and you will find a new directive (dated 31 october 2016). I went through Aberdeen airport recently and managed to get a pat down by showing the directive that I had printed out and carried with me. The security staff did not know anything about it, however after a phone call they had to give me the manual search. I WOULD SUGGEST YOU PRINT OUT THE DIRECTIVE AND CARRY IT WITH YOU WHEN TRAVELING THROUGH ANY UK AIRPORT: THEY HAVE BY LAW TO GIVE YOU A MANUAL SEARCH IF YOU REQUEST IT AND CANNOT LONGER REFUSE YOU THE RIGHT TO FLY!
mountaingoat - 22-May-17 @ 5:56 PM
Can airport authorities be sued for failing to post a sign at the airport informing travelers of the below, so that they can make informed decisions whether they embark on the flights or not: ? The exact type of the scanner (either backscatter/xray or millimeter wave) through which all were asked to pass? The unknown risks associated with millimeter wave scanning -- less known than xray. ? The potential health damages to expect due to insufficient testing and practice (“no known negative results”...) and because every human being is different; such informative approach is needed in light of the extended controversy and independent tests proving health damages (DNA and cellular breakages) ? The precise policy: by law travelers are allowed to opt out and ask for a pat-down search The necessity of a warning is analogical to posting signs on wet floors, warnings on cigarettes and wine bottles, and mercury warnings in fish markets to protect customers’ health, kost of which are not needed while in this case such warnings are critically needed.It is very clear that most travelers do not know the information I have researched and learned recently, or they would not accept such procedure for themselves and their children. My reason for asking is because I have been experiencing abnormal symptoms that could only have been caused by the 4-in-a-raw exposure to scanning at 3 airports -- DFW, Heathrow, and CDG within 7 days: strange headache on left side of head, abnormal intestinal bleeding, an unusual swelling on my left forearm, burning feeling in neck spots, no appetite (I already lost 4 pounds) Expecting medical investigation next week. I have had no health issues -- have medical records going back 20 years prove so. I am a teacher, no criminal record, US citizen. I travelled to Europe for business between 2/16-2/27, from Dallas to London, London to Paris, Paris to Venice, Venice to London, London to Dallas. I started to feel sickness symptoms while in Paris and discovered the lump on my arm on 2/25; I had little travel experience and no knowledge of the scanner controversy and trusted the airport authorities by complying with all their requests. At CDG in Paris it became apparent that what had triggered the alarm there and at DFW and Heathrow had been a hair pin whose large bead covered a metallic portion (it triggered the alarm when placed in the luggage tray, too). By then I had been asked to go in the glass booth 4 times – twice at DFW -- and only the othewise obnoxious pat-down revealed the hairpin issue. I did not know that my head was being xrayed/"microwaved" too, or I would have categorically given up the trip. There was no sign at DFW instructing travelers in detail so that those concerned could take necessary measures to protect our health by avoiding that booth. Based on my research of this topic and the frightening reliable information I have learned these days, I WOULD HAVE CANCELLED THE FLIGHT/TRIP RATHER THAN GO THROUGH THAT BOOTH.
AbusedInnocentTravel - 3-Mar-17 @ 2:55 PM
FrequentFlyer - Your Question:
I fly every week for work and each time I depart from Belfast Aldegrove (Belfast International), security insists on sending me through the scanner. They told me it was random, but given that it has been every time every week during January and February so far, it hardly seems random. Rather, I think I am being targeted because I don't look like the average pale skinned Irish person.However, my main concern is the health effects of this. I've noticed recently that after one of the scans, my eyes are blurred and unable to focus for a day or two afterwards. I'm concerned this may be the start of the cumulative effects of being made to go through the scanner every week.I asked for a pat down last week as I said I was concerned about the health effects of these scanners. I was told I would need to submit to full body search in a private room (I said ok, as I'd prefer that than be constantly subjected to the scanner machines), but because they didn't have any such facilities, this was not possible.Has anyone else tried this? Is anyone else a frequent flyer and been scanned on every occasion and started to notice any physical effects?

Our Response:
Speak to your GP, they may be able to tell you whether there is any evidence that this could be harmful. Ask the airport for information about the numbers of people sent through the scanner each day and how they make the choice etc. We can't really help with any evidence of the effects of a scanner as it's not something we've researched ourselves.
CivilRightsMovement - 16-Feb-17 @ 11:43 AM
I fly every week for work and each time I depart from Belfast Aldegrove (Belfast International), security insists on sending me through the scanner. They told me it was random, but given that it has been every time every week during January and February so far, it hardly seems random. Rather, I think I am being targeted because I don't look like the average pale skinned Irish person. However, my main concern is the health effects of this. I've noticed recently that after one of the scans, my eyes are blurred and unable to focus for a day or two afterwards. I'm concerned this may be the start of the cumulative effects of being made to go through the scanner every week. I asked fora pat down last week as I said I was concerned about the health effects of these scanners. I was told I would need to submit to full body search in a private room (I said ok, as I'd prefer that than be constantly subjected to the scanner machines), but because they didn't have any such facilities, this was not possible. Has anyone else tried this? Is anyone else a frequent flyer and been scanned on every occasion and started to notice any physical effects?
FrequentFlyer - 15-Feb-17 @ 3:18 PM
Having used Gatwick airport recently, I was railroaded into passing through 1 of these body scanners.But when I asked the security guard what happens if I don't comply with this demand, the response I got was "Well you will get through security a lot quicker if you comply".I felt extremely intimidated by this man in a Uniform.I know they are just doing their jobs but at least they could explain the procedure better.I felt they didn't want me asking any more questions then as there was a queue of passengers waiting.So basically I was bullied into going through this intrusive Frankensteins monster of a machine and that is all it is.
HappyClappy1989 - 2-Feb-17 @ 2:38 AM
My mates worried about going through the scanners in Liverpool airport he's paranoid it will show his insides he has chromes and is embarrassed that he will see his insides it's making him insecure what do the scanners show ?
Smokeyjoe - 8-Dec-16 @ 12:29 PM
No they just profile people.I know this, because everytime I go through security, alarm goes off. Always at a pommy airport. I am coloured and to me it is blatant profiling. W*****s, not how to build relations pom. Some advice, stop pissing everyone off with your wars, then you will not have as many enemies.Do not say you do not profile as well. You do and it is racist, you b******s.
pommytwat - 1-Nov-16 @ 2:45 PM
Hey admin for this site!! ..about 8000 years go there was an invention that makes blogs much more intelligible.It is called 'the paragraph' - it is too bad you stripped them all out of my last post.
A Laboratory Animal - 23-Oct-16 @ 1:51 PM
Early in the morning, at Terminal D in Berlin, I was asked to step in this booth while entering the departure area. I didn't know what it was, perhaps a metal detector I thought.Half awake I stepped in while explaining I did not want to x-rayed.They just told me to stop moving and zapped me a second (third?)time. My eyes started burning and siliva came up in my mouth, I got a headache.I've been physically wiped out.Three days later my eyes were pink.Five days later they still burn.I wrote the airline and the airport contact to ask what I was exposed to, so I can tell a doctor, and have not been given even the decency of a reply. I've done some research on it, there are two machines being used.Both have very flawed rationalizations for safety. For example, they use probabilities for something occurring to an individual when they are using the devices on a population.Say the probability is p that something bad might happen.Where bad is skin cancer, affecting female eggs or sperm to leading to infertility or birth defects,causing developmental deffects in a fetus (perhaps one the woman is not even aware of). So now the probability for an individual is p,then for a population it is 1 - (1 -p)^n,where n is the number of people.When you plot that function you will find that it rises very steeply, gaining over a magnitude in just 20 people. At a population of millions we find that it is a virtual certainty that all the bad things are happening, and happen to many many people. The scientists who wrote these reports certainly know that the technology was destined to be used on populations.They need to be punished, defrocked, and criminally charged. In addition, they are clearly lying about dose rates.The symptoms I have experienced require much more intensity than they are letting on to. They are sweeping with a bar, what if the bar stops?It looks like they can manual stop it.This means they can purposely kill people if they desire. Furthermore, there are no long term studies.How can you release a technology on a population without long term studies?? I'll bet you that our politicians are not going through these things. This has to be stopped.Where can it be reported?
A Laboratory Animal - 23-Oct-16 @ 1:48 PM
It is the ignorant passengers who are to blame for these intrusions & threats to our health. For every passenger that refuses, (for good reasons), there are a thousand who will allow themselves to be exposed to the obvious dangers of being scanned. ALL passengers should find alternative airports, say "Thanks, but no thanks!", tell their usual airport that they are not going to use their facilities again, until the full body scans are removed. This is all about big money being made by a handful of already wealthy people. Our health is not important to them. Passengers should start to use their clout!
lenadjutor - 17-Oct-16 @ 10:22 PM
My M.P. informs me that at Bristol airport, passengers can opt for a strip search, if they do not want to expose their good health to the risks of a full body scan.
lenadjutor - 17-Oct-16 @ 10:15 PM
Please take a look at this website type into Google 'The Truth About Cancer'. They have information which you can search for abut body scanners at airports. They are NOT safe. I have heard - you are exposed to more radiation out there in the world than in one of those - but this is wrong!!! The 'amount' is not important it's the concentration of the radiation. Same as putting a cup of coffee in the microwave and nuking it!!If I'm travelling alone I just say I'm unable to raise my arm. I don't give a reason or explanation just that I can't lift it above a certain point as this seems to be one of the criteria. I am happy with a pat down. If I'm travelling with my family I just tell them it has been showed to CAUSE cancer and I screen shot the link and ask them to take a look. They will bully you into going through but I politely and firmly refuse. They have already taken one of the machines out of circulation because they could prove a link with cancer and this is a new breed. Basically they have already produced the machines and so they've got to use them or admit that they've wasted millions on machines that are going to cost them in millions for compensation for causing cancer to passengers. We are just the little minions they don't care about. Don't even get me started on mammograms (when there is an alternative!). Do some research then tell me they're machines are safe and you want you're KIDS to go through them????
Louise C - 28-Aug-16 @ 9:00 PM
Incorrect information or out of date information included in this article regarding UK airports having no alternative. Of course if you refuse a full body scan in the UK you will have a full body pat down in a private room and most UK airport websites state this. Dont be worried that if you refuse the scanner that you cant go on with your travel.
Jess2087 - 2-Jul-16 @ 9:39 AM
I have recently had a pacemaker fitted. My consultant gave me a card with all the details of this little lifesaver. I show at airports and they pat me down. Supposedly!!This does not happen. They put me to the side and make me wait. When they are ready they make me go through the full body Scanner. I the ask them is it safe for me ?Of course, they say.. Very rude and abrupt. Its unnerving enough for me not knowing if it's safe or not, without being singled out with everyone staring at me. I know they have a job to do and safety is priority but where has decency and a little respect gone?
Lyn - 26-May-16 @ 4:24 PM
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