I will soon be travelling and will be taking my 2 external hard disks with me. I am concerned about travelling with these hard disks because of the airport's metal detectors and magnetic detectors they may have to pass through.

Is it safe to carry such 'fragile' devices through airports? Can the machinery they use to check for bombs and whatnot harm my data?

  • This question is not really computer related, it's more related to what happens in airports, and as such I will vote to close as off-topic. I will however answer quickly here that you should keep all these things with you, in a backpack (at least you control how this one is handled). On security check, you will put them through the xray machine like your bag, and retrieve them just after. – Gnoupi Jun 25 '10 at 14:49
  • I have carried external disks thru the airport without damage. But I always keep backups, just in case. – harrymc Jun 25 '10 at 14:51
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    @Gnoupi - I'm sorry but I have to disagree. Can your data on discs be corrupted during an airport "inspection" (whatever that may presume), seems like a perfectly on topic question to me. Hardware related too. – Rook Jun 25 '10 at 15:44
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    @Idigas - ok then, it was my opinion only, I wasn't fully sure about it. – Gnoupi Jun 25 '10 at 15:54
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    People take laptops through airport security all the time, and these contain hard disks. As with everything though, you should always have backups. – Paul R Jun 25 '10 at 16:26

External disks are no different that internal disks, in terms of media and components. Laptops have been going through X-Ray machines for decades without incident, so I see no issue with external drives doing the same safely.

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  • X-ray machines ok, but what about metal detectors? – Gnoupi Jun 25 '10 at 15:55
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    @Gnoupi: you already know there's metal in the hard drive, so why would you carry it with you through the metal detector? ;) In any case, the platters which contain your data are adequately shielded to prevent your data from being damaged by any minor magnetic fields such as those used by metal detectors. – rob Jun 25 '10 at 16:09
  • @rob - I know, but those harddrives are getting smaller, easy to forget one in a pocket :-] But good to know that metal detectors are not harmful for them, thank you for details. Because more probable than forgetting a harddrive in a pocket, I can picture clumsy myself tripping inside, with my backpack :-] – Gnoupi Jun 25 '10 at 16:29

If you're in the US, most airports let you send carry-ons through X-ray machine only - you won't have to worry about the damaging effects of metal detectors. Keep them in a carry-on bag, as Gnoupi suggested, and you should be OK!

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  • The bigger issue is that the TSA might decide to confiscate them for some reason. Make sure you have backups elsewhere just in case that happens and you're unable to get the drives back! – Brian Knoblauch Jun 25 '10 at 16:56
  • @Brian: jeez, can that really happen? – Andreas Grech Jun 25 '10 at 17:09
  • It's not real likely, but not unheard of either. Best to be prepared for all eventualities. – Brian Knoblauch Jun 25 '10 at 17:26

The platters which contain your data are adequately shielded to prevent your data from being damaged by any minor magnetic fields such as those used by metal detectors. In fact, the magnets inside the hard drives are probably stronger than any magnetic field the hard drive will be exposed to in the real world.

As for X-ray machines: as Kevin pointed out, hard drives have gone through X-ray machines for decades without incident.

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  • Good to know, +1 – Gnoupi Jun 25 '10 at 16:29

This is no different than sending your laptop through the x-ray machine. I have done this on numerous occasions in many countries and never had any ill effects. You will be perfectly fine. Just remember if you are truly concerned you can confirm what we say with the people at the airport, just be polite and don't try and take hard drives though the metal detector.

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