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Insta-CoGo: Secure Your Shoes

Cindy Loose

Knowing my shoes and my sandals have no metal in them, I'm irritated every time I have to take them off to go through security. What is the point? Yeah, I know about that nutcase Richard Reid, who put plastic explosives in his shoes and tried to set them off. But what does that have to do with taking off my shoes?

That's not my only question.

The X-ray machines I pass the shoes through aren't equipped with explosives detectors, so what's the point?
I'm walking through an X-ray machine already, so why do I have to put my shoes through a different X-ray machine?

The amount of explosives I could fit into my shoes would also fit into my pocket. Or my underwear, to think of an even less attractive option. Given I don't have to strip naked, thank goodness, what is the point of taking off my shoes?

I called private security types figuring they'll tell me I'm right, and it's just a stupid governent policy designed to make people think security is improved.

But that's not what happened. They say there is a method to the seeming madness. Thing is, those metal detectors you walk through are the least effective at the bottom, where your feet pass through. Explosives hidden in a shoe would not likely show up as anything. A similar amount of explosives hidden in your pocket or underwear should be detected as a mysterious bulge.

Moreover, says Richard Roth of CTI Consulting, a security consulting firm, the machines we walk through have been tuned to be so sensitive that the metal contained in most shoes would set the machines off. The delays that would then result by thousands of shoes setting off alarm bells would create more inconvenience than is caused by forcing everyone to take off their shoes.

Okay. I concede.

Your thoughts on shoes and conveyor belts?

By Cindy Loose |  February 5, 2008; 7:42 AM ET  | Category:  Air Travel , Cindy Loose , Travel Logistics
Previous: Monday Rant, Part 2: United's New $25 Checked Bag Policy | Next: Baggage Check: More on United's New Rules

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I couldn't agree more with you Cindy! Unfortunately, with each airport episode, I feel the whole TSA/security thing has (unfortunately) degenerated into nothing but a very sad but aggravating hassle. To add to the frustration is the knowledge that to question any action by TSA agents only invites further scrutiny/delay as they ensure you become aware of who is in charge throughout this process. Of course, this assumes that the private conversations among agents regarding after work plans, etc., can be interrupted for this purpose.

It all seems so purpose-less, yet petty. But the options are limited if you want to get on the plane.

So far, it's just shoes, jackets, and belts. The thought of passengers having to strip down further is not a pretty one.

Posted by: Cathy in NVa | February 5, 2008 8:05 AM

Cathy's rant is right.

But you're wrong in some of your writing. We walk through metal detectors. Not x-ray machines (you may be thinking of that Schwarzenegger movie).

The idea is that explosives are a different density than your shoes, and that'll show up in an x-ray scan.

I actually don't mind the German method, where they've given up on the walk through detectors entirely, and they just use the handheld wands. They know what they're doing, and well, being German, are very efficient at it.

Posted by: Kim | February 5, 2008 8:54 AM

You may think that the metal detectors are sensitive, but I have learned that they most definitely are not. I had surgery on my back a couple months ago that required a metal rod and 10 screws being attached to my spine. I took 2 trips in the past month (the first since my surgery) and I never set of a metal detector. I was prepared to set off the alarms and told each TSA agent before walking through that I had a metal rod in my back, but not once did the detector go off. The same thing happened all 4 times (going and returning) in 3 different airports. But, I have set off the metal detector going into the Reagan Building. So, what does that say about our airport security?

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 9:47 AM

Wait a minute... Your experts' stories don't add up. The metal detectors are weak at the ground so they'd miss things, AND they're too sensitive and they'd go off all the time? Are they weak or strong? This sounds like a song and dance to back up a stupid policy.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 10:08 AM

On a slight side note, to address a commenter's rant from yesterday's chat about putting both purses and shoes inside bins to go through the X-ray machine, I have been told numerous times by TSA to put both my (smaller-sized) purse and shoes into a bin instead of directly on the belt. You can only do what you're told to do, and we all know rules are not that consistent across each airport/TSA screener.

Posted by: Kate | February 5, 2008 10:11 AM

I've given up on the metal detectors - I think some are ramped up higher than others. My underwire bras and watch used to set some off, but not others. My late grandmother had some screws and pins in her knee - again, some picked them up, some not.

I also don't understand the detection concept the article describes. As someone else pointed out - we walk through metal detectors, not X-ray machines. How does a metal detector pick up a bulge in your underwear?

For air travel, I have a slip-on pair of Merrells for winter travel, and some ankle socks to wear under Crocs for summer travel. Not attractive, but my bare feet don't have to touch the floor, and I'm not holding up the line with complicated laced up shoes. I will put nicer shoes in my carry-on (if necessary) to wear after I get through the checkpoint.

Though I'm curious why bigger airports can't have the same machinery used by my small regional airport (one gate and you go through security only when they are ready to board the plane). They have a machine that allows you - while wearing your shoes - to put your foot on some sort of sensor for detection purposes. No removing of shoes at all, it's great. Why can't TSA use those near the metal detectors?

Posted by: Chasmosaur1 | February 5, 2008 10:15 AM

I'm really glad that Richared Reid din't hide his explosives in his underwear. It is bad enough looking at people's feet while waiting in line at the airport.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 5, 2008 10:26 AM

A thought experiment: what if Richard Reid had successfully blown up the plane, killing everyone aboard, but no one had been able to determine from the wreckage that he had used his shoes to conceal explosives.

(1) How many person-years of life would have been lost to the explosion?

(2) How does this compare to the aggregate person-years of life wasted complying with the shoe-inspection that were instituted after his attempt?

My guess is that the latter would be by far the larger number.

Posted by: Dirty Davey | February 5, 2008 10:22 PM

Taking off shoes to go through "security" is one more example of our country's ad hoc and reactionary take on securing the airport. There is no rhyme or reason for it but it does cost traveler's time and aggravation. Like the poster before said, people-hours.

Posted by: Anonymous | February 6, 2008 8:09 AM

I drive when ever possible and think twice before flying. It is not worth the hassle!!!!

Posted by: Missileman | February 6, 2008 11:34 AM

I do object to the inconvenience of removing the shoes and then they hurry you to put them on while standing. I am a senior citizen now and not as agile as I once was. The thing that REALLY BOTHERS me is walking in my stocking feet through the germs left by thousands of others. Our local TV station did a report that it is possible to pick up plantar's warts and other skin germs through nylon hose or thin socks from those dirty floors. Some are dirty carpets that never get sanitized. Sometimes I put plastic shower caps or plastic bags on my feet and shuffle through the metal detector. The whole thing just seems so difficult. The bad guys have won, no doubt.

Posted by: Emmy Bea | February 6, 2008 12:51 PM

Emmy--Security officials are obviously enamored with those quart-sized ziplock bags, so you might endear yourselves to them by strapping some of those on your feet. But then again plastic bags on your feet seem a bit much. I'd go with thicker socks, or if you really don't want something staying on your feet to hit the floor, how about a cheap pair of extra hose over your socks you could throw away--those cheap footies they give away for trying on shoes would look much less pathetic. In fact, I wonder that plastic bags tied to your feet wouldn't raise suspicions.

Posted by: Cindy Loose | February 6, 2008 1:15 PM

Try the hassle with a first grader and an infant in tow! Not a pretty sight!

Posted by: Toya | February 6, 2008 4:03 PM

I'm fine with taking off my shoes, but can you tell me why I have to take off THIN PLASTIC FLIP FLOPS?
One screener even questioned the sock-type slippers I once wore to protect my bare feet.

Posted by: 1shot | February 7, 2008 11:03 AM

You must take off your thin flip flops because we have rules. If exceptions are made to rules civilization will collapse. And who knows what you may have hidden inside that thong thing between your toes.

Posted by: cindy loose | February 7, 2008 12:51 PM

As others have stated, the machine you walk through is a metal detector not an X-ray machine. This means it does make more sense to put your shoes "on the belt." However, as far as the sensitivity at lower levels...that's just stupid since explosives wouldn't set off a metal detector anyhow. Also, to address the person with pins and screws in their back; the pins and screws are made of surgical stainless steel. Metal detectors only detect items made of regular steel and/or iron based items. They won't detect stainless steel, carbon fiber, gold, silver, titanium, organic materials, so on and so on. You could walk through that thing with a titanium suit of armor on. Until we all walk through an X-ray machine the security is mostly dubious at best. Sorry to remove your delusions of safety provided as a facade by the TSA.

Posted by: Zipperhead | February 12, 2008 5:21 PM

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