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Thursday, January 31, 2008

It’s not all about Richard Reid when it comes to the screening of shoes. Post all of your thoughts about shoes in this blog post. To learn more about how the shoe fits in with the TSA, check out our web page on "why we screen shoes". Then come back here and let's talk.

01.31.08, 6:00pm
Christopher says:

Great first question on the ability to pick up foot fungus at the checkpoint and a very common one at that.

Believe it or not, TSA actually commissioned a study in 2003 with the Department of Health and Human Services to look at just that issue. I'm paraphrasing here and will have the actual letter posted tomorrow but they found that if the floor isn't moist then the possibility is, "extremely small to remote" to contract athlete's foot. If there are checkpoint floors that are moist, we generally have bigger issues on our hands than foot fungus.

Also interesting from that study, 15 percent of the public may be affected with athlete's foot at any given time. Think about that next time you're trying on clothes at the mall, looking for a new pair of shoes or going off the high dive at the local pool.

02.01.08, 2:00pm
Christopher says:



Great and lively debate here on shoes. As added fodders, here are two pictures of an altered pair of shoes our officers discovered last year in Alaska.

Yes, we find stuff like this all the time and yes our intel folks tell us terrorists are still interested in using shoes as (improvised explosive devices) IEDs or to hide components.

We've also posted an x-ray image so that you can see exactly what we are talking about.

02.05.08; 9:30am
Christopher says:

There have been several posts asking about the pictures above. Just to be perfectly clear, the first two pictures are of a pair of shoes we discovered during screening in Alaska last year. The wire and other small metal item were positioned under the insole just as they are shown.

The third picture is of an x-ray image of a pair of altered shoes we use to train our officers on x-ray displays in airports. As you can see, it doesn’t take an x-ray tech to tell these shoes have been altered.

Our officers literally see 4 Million shoes per day and they’re very, very good at telling the bad from the good.


Submitted by Anonymous on

My concern is germs!!! Not everybody has clean feet. I do not want a foot fungus because some other passenger didn't take care of their feet. It's bad enough to hear about the misfortunes of people from nail salons; we have to worry about the airports too???

Submitted by ICUDoc on

I have no problem with you asking us to remove our shoes if it truly will increase our security while flying - and only you can determine that.

However - if you do ask us to remove shoes - then I ask that you do the following:

1) Be consistent - either always ask us to remove shoes or never - not on a case by case basis.
2) Always have a dry, clean, carpeted area for you to walk on after you take your shoes off - nothing is worse than taking your shoes off and ending up with soggy socks after wards.
3) Provide somewhere to sit down to put your shoes back on
4) Don't have agents yelling at you to "move along" while you are trying to get your shoes back on.

The "D" gates at the Central Terminal at LaGuardia are the worst - no carpets - frequently we floors - noplace to sit down afterwards to put on shoes - agents that yell at you to move along while you are trying to get out.


Submitted by Anonymous on

It's not all about Richard Reid? There's nothing in your "explanatory" article except about how good you are at detecting explosives on shoes and improvised explosive devices. Do you guys even read your own promotional material?

Submitted by Tucson Traveller on

So shoes need to be screened. I can do that. But why are the security screening areas not accommodating, for people without shoes? Most people need to lace up, or tie their shoes when putting them back on. Then why is it that no one thought to supply ample seating for people to put their shoes back on?

Submitted by Anonymous on

One problem I see out there as a TSO is that passengers remove there shoes and place them in the bin or on the belt. Problem then becomes they fill them with phones, change, keys and this now defeats the purpose of even having passengers remove their shoes.

Submitted by Anonymous on

After looking at the picture it seems like it would be a lot easier to hide the explosives on your groin or arm pit. Someone could also hide it on many different parts of their bodies if their clothes are baggy enough. Doesn't it seem like many explosives would be too unstable to walk on or touch statically charged surfaces with. I think the shoes would be the last place someone would hide explosives. Also, two barely filled balloons was all they could get in the large high top mens shoes. Often times people will walk around with a hand gun under their clothes a go completely unnoticed. I personally carry alot of stuff in my pockets when I am at the air port and I can access it much more easily than if it was in my shoes.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why don't you have the same thing at all airports that you have at the Rochester, MN airport where you can place your feet WITH YOUR SHOES ON! on a scanner? Or at least, if cost is an issue, have that available in the "wand" area where often handicapped are made to remove their shoes and it is difficult to put them back on. A lot of people cannot bend over to do this and the screeners don't take the time to really help you put them on correctly/comfortably.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I remember when John Gilbert Graham blew up an airplane with his mother on it back in the '50s. So what was the fallout from this crime? Airports took out the dumb flight insurance machines that provoked John Gilbert Graham's sick plot.

Now, because foreigners blew up four planes in a cult massacre, we spend countless billions of dollars searching every single person that flies. What is wrong with this insane expense?

Submitted by Barry on

I notice, and speaking with security, that Airline personnel DO NOT need to remove their shoes, however, us frequent flyers, need to do so. Why the Double standards.
Is TSA now telling us that Terrorists cannot fly planes..... This is kind of Ironic, since it was exactly this issue that sparked off all the security issues.

Submitted by Joe D on

Of course it's about Richard Reid. Before he tried to set his shoes on fire, I never had my shoes checked. The first time I flew after that, I had my shoes checked at every single checkpoint. Now I wear sandals when flying specifically to avoid that particular hassle.

If someone were to try smuggling explosives onto a plane, there are many far more effective ways to do it than shoes. But shoes got the publicity, so shoes are what get searched.

Submitted by A Kleon on

The comment about germs reminds me of an actual Odor Eaters ad I once saw in the Cleveland Airport...

Submitted by Brody on

Explosives could be formed into a shape that would appear just as ordinary shoes.

X-rays do not detect explosives. If you're serious about detecting a non-amateur shoe bomb, the TSA will need to use actual explosive detection technology.

The TSA's constant failure at "Red Team" tests (see ) indicate that x-raying shoes is not the right approach.

The TSA is doing nothing to catch bombs carried on someone's person? What about people who want to smuggle in explosives in their pants?

The shoe policy is reactionary and cowardly and does not make any of us safer. It's a huge misallocation of resources and a waste of time for everyone involved. Real explosive detection technology should be used and people should be allowed to keep their shoes on.

Submitted by Lindsay on

I would like to know more about the TSA's policy on flip flops. In the past, a person wearing flip flops would not have to take them off, but for the past year we have been required to place them in a bucket for x-ray screening and walk barefoot around the security area. At first, I thought it was just a DCA thing, but then I was required to remove my flip-flops even at airports in California and Hawaii, two states in which flip flops play a dominant role in local footwear culture (I dunno, maybe you guys replaced all the west coast screeners with imported east coasters?)

I mean, I can understand why people who wear Crocs should have to take their footwear off because Crocs are hideous and anyone wearing them should be subjected to extra screening regardless, but there is no way that flip flops pose any sort of threat to national security. So please explain why I have to remove my flip flops during the screening process.

Submitted by Anonymous on

It's ridiculous. You have managed to turn flying into a completely degrading experience.

Start profiling and stop asking grandmothers to take off their shoes. It's idiotic.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The pictures to which you refer in your blog don't justify the removal of shoes. They only show that you MIGHT be able to detect something that looks like your particular mock-up of an explosive device. They don't show that it's practical or even feasible for a terrorist to blow up a plane by doing this. Just like the ban on liquids.... It has never been demonstrated that anyone could actually make a working liquid explosive aboard a plane! It's all wasteful, inconvenient, intrusive, unconstitutional "security theater" which doesn't make us a bit safer.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I'd like to chime in with the other complaints of not having adequate seating areas to put shoes and belts, etc back on. I travel through different airports every week, and very few have adequate areas.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The shoe thing is ridiculous and just a little humiliating.

Not to mention the floors in your typical airport are filthy.

Not to mention unsanitary ... the last thing anyone needs is to smell my feet after they've been incubating for 18 hours.

I still remember going through LAX back in 1999 with a six inch combat knife in my hand luggage. Nobody at the gate. I put my own bags through the X-ray machine (there was no attendant). There was nobody at the arch way. No attendant. No wanding. Nothing. Absolutely no indication that anyone cared at all about who got into the airport or on a plane.

In that kind of lax security context, I'm surprised you didn't see tourists on planes with semi-automatic rifles.

The shoe thing is simply a waste of my time, especially since the quality of TSA screening personnel hasn't improved to any noticeable extent since 9/11 or any other security "panic" that's set people off in the last five years.

Submitted by Anonymous on


Submitted by Anonymous on

It's all about cost/benefit isn't it?

How many pairs of shoes have you screened? How many explosives have you found?

What is the average delay caused by screening shoes? Please multiply those 30-60 seconds by the average number of air travelers in a month. Multiply that by the 18 months of screening everyone's shoes. How many days have we lost?

Now divide by the number of explosives found. What is an acceptable loss to the American economy while looking for a minimal threat?

Assuming each person loses 45 seconds per screening and 140 people per flight with 30 flights per day from five airports per state (modest numbers, I think) you can see that in 18 months we've lost something like 7,000,000 hours of Productivity in a year and a half.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Personally I avoid all this nonsense ( and the issues with liquids ) by not visiting the US anymore. I'd rather spend my holiday somewhere where they don't treat you like a criminal when you enter.

Give me a call when you come to your senses and I'll start visiting again.

Submitted by Chris on

Why do the screeners and signs say "we recommend you take off your shoes", when in fact you REQUIRE us to take off our shoes? It makes no sense and is silly. Just say we have to take off our shoes, period, please.

Submitted by Anonymous on

I agree with many other posters, if we are required to take off our shoes, then create sanitary conditions, and give us time and courtesy to put our shoes back on.

There MUST be a better way to examine shoes. What is TSA doing to look into alternative methods? Where is this "evolution" that is being talked about?

Submitted by StinkFoot on

If Reid had stuffed his explosives into his underwear, the "experience" of flying today would be completely different!

Safety is important, but the TSA should actually take steps to make flying safer, rather than the current policy to make it appear safer!

Submitted by Itsumishi on


How many shoe bombs have you found?

It’s an absurd waste of time, money and resources. The entire security checking system is a degrading load and too many of your TSA workers are just power hungry
“Why yes, I would like to. Just without all the …”

Submitted by Anonymous on

I totally fail to see why those pictures justify removing and checking shoes - those balloons would have fit perfectly well in underwear. They really appear to be a knee-jerk reaction to make the non-frequently flying public feel that things are more secure - security theater, rather than real security. All I can say is that I am very glad Richard Reid was the shoe bomber, rather than the underwear bomber.

From a cost/benefit factor a number of the TSA's reactions are letting the terrorists win - terror and fear get promoted, people waste time, the economy gets hurt from people travelling less, or having to allocate more time for every trip, or carrying more stuff (airport clothes and regular clothes), wasting jet fuel.

If the air puffer technology gets reasonable in terms of throughput, that I can believe would help (although I still think a terrorist could jam the entire airport's worth of them by simply spilling some gunpowder (or whatever) outside the terminal for everyone to track in).

If you want me to step on a platform that uses the terrahertz scanners to scan below my knees, fine.

Just don't delay things, don't have huge lines, and don't waste our time. Taking shoes off is a pain, putting them on again is a pain, the in-between part is frequently gross (especially when connecting from international to domestic), and making people bring extra footwear (one set for the airport, and another for real work) is even worse.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why are there not carpeted areas, and multiple rows of chairs behind the screening areas to allow people to put their shoes back on? Most people , including myself, need to sit down and put our shoes on.

Instead, I usually have to lean up against a wall.

Don't you people (the tsa) THINK ? Do you people (the tsa) put your shoes on at home sitting down?

Submitted by Nico on

Germs aren't an issue. We had Health and Human Services study this issue for us back in 2003 and their findings were there are no more germs on airport floors than there are in the gym or any average locker room. HHS specifically said in their August 12, 2003 letter, the chances of disease spreading are "extremely small to remote."

TSA blogger

Submitted by Nancy Toby on

So just identify to the general public ONE SINGLE INSTANCE where you have correctly identified via a scanner *in advance* of boarding a plane a security threat to the general public smuggled in someone's shoes.

If you have ANY actual instances to share, this might improve your credibility on this issue.

Conveniently, your "why we screen shoes" page neglects to address this issue.

Submitted by Jack on

I wear steel toed shoes and they come off every time I fly. Sometimes I grab socks that have holes in the toes. Been given dirty looks for that one. As a 54 yr old man my balance is beginning to fail when I stand on one foot so I can tie my shoes. Might be nice to have a shoe tying area or rail.

Submitted by Linda on

I travel almost every week for business and I think that if you are wearing flat shoes with THIN soles there is no need to take off your shoes and walk on a dirty floor, use some common sense.

Submitted by Anonymous on

If you want to screen shoes, go ahead. Four conditions:

1. You should have paper set down("butcher paper" like in the doctor's office) for people to walk across. I don't want my often-bare feet to touch the ground where thousands have already been earlier in the day.

2. Don't screen flip-flops, sneakers or stiletto heels. Why could I possibly be hiding in my plastic flip flops? If your answer is “anything,” than that means you should ban all carry-on luggage because bringing anything is too dangerous.

3. Be consistent! Cincinnati doesn’t require me to take off my shoes. Most everywhere else does.

4. I am also fine with TSA workers doing additional screening in my bag or running a metal detector over my body if that means I don’t have to take off my shoes; but only to the extent that it is not punishment. Turning on my laptop and typing a test word document is something I consider punishment. So is taking my Wii and all of the wires out of a box.

Submitted by Dragonchild on

Actually, the article doesn't explain it at all. In addition to the lack of dignity, why do something that does nothing to improve security?

Someone planted a bomb in a laptop. Now all laptops are scanned -- as if TSA employees can discern the thousands of different component patterns in laptops with a glance.

Someone tried to light a shoe bomb on a plane UNSUCCESSFULLY and was STOPPED. Now all shoes are scanned -- as if looking at their shape reveals the presence of explosives anyway.

Someone WROTE AN E-MAIL about hiding a bomb in a water bottle. Now all liquids are BANNED.

This is a very embarrassing combination of draconian knee-jerk reaction and lack of real security. In addition to being consistently one step behind the terrorists that guarantees the next serious attack will both be successful AND get something else banned or independently screened, what happens if someone hides a bomb in his/her rectum??

This isn't sarcasm here. I'm sick of security measures that waste time, strip away our dignity, waste money and -- above all else -- do absolutely nothing to protect us. TSA isn't fooling anyone, so there are no political benefits to reap by scanning shoes.

Submitted by Dr Foot on

I respect what you are trying to do, but I as a scientist, I can tell you that you are spreading fungus and bacteria between passengers, regardless of your "study". (Also, can you please post a citation reference to your study?)

You need to be responsible and disinfect the area at regular intervals, otherwise you are violating our personal hygiene rights.

Submitted by Anonymous on

originally posted in the "first version of the blog" but this needs to be in the "shoes section". i'd like to see what some of the front line screener shave to say about the policy regarding those pax who cannot remove their shoes and specifically-to my reasons as noted below

as a passenger (and particularly one who flies over 100,000 miles a year, i have some questions directed to the "shoes off policy". i wear (and have to wear) orthopedic shoes and custom fitted orthotics as a result of ankle surgery and my question is simple....

why do the tsa's own policies differ from airport to airport? there are tsa procedures in place as to how to deal with pax who cannot take off their shoes but repeatedly they are ignored, misconstrued, or made up by the tsa employees on duty with the addition that more than 50% of the screeners i come in contact with do not know the definition of the word "orthotics". i have been threatened with "do i want to fly today" to "do you want me to call a cop"(both at JFK UA) yet to also go to other extreme, the screeners at my home airport (SFO-United terminal) have it down pat.

simply put, you need to have ALL airports follow THE SAME rules (including the ADA and FRPA and HIPPA) and screener s and supes need to know what they can and cannot ask. if you want to see record clearance times (and trust me, i know what i'm talking about as operational efficiency has been my career for 30 years, the whole key to line mgmnt is to have it done the SAME ACROSS THE BOARD with all TSA employees not only having a complete understanding of privacy laws but also a basic grasp of customer service techniques and the english language (case in point: lax t-7 ua terminal footbridge on sunday, january 20, 2007 approx 9pm. i told the screener i was wearing orthopedic shoes and orthotics and i was presented with "what?, your shoes have to come off". this was followed by my repeating that i was wearing orthopedic shoes and orthotics which was met with the response of" "supervisor, he be wearing ortho something or others and don't want to take his shoes off". as you can see, this is not a grammatically correct comment and n.b. i wne thru the very same terminal and checkpoint just over 36 hours before and did not have a problem.

Submitted by OmegaWolf747 on

People shouldn't have to submit to any kind of screening before flying, so you can imagine what I think of the shoe rule.

I want to see a return of rights and dignity to the traveling American.

Submitted by Anonymous on

The person in front of me was wearing tennis shoes and passed through. Wearing the same type of shoe I was stopped. When asking for a chair on which to remove them because of a bad back, the agent had me wait a considerable amount of time for a complete check. Experienced a lot of pain and a great deal of time lost. I was over 75 years of age.

Submitted by Anonymous on

There is no reason in your explanatory article why shoes are special compared to all other articles of clothing. It seems like a feel-good waste of our time because of this.

Then you also need to explain the policy I experienced where I did not have to take off my shoes but if I refused (I did) I was subjected to a more rigorous examination and "wanding"... that still didn't go near my shoes! It was purely punative.

Submitted by Anonymous on

Why do I have to remove my thin-soled flip flops? I am on prednisone which decreases my ability to fight infection. My neighbor's mother ended up with a fungal infection that her doctor said was directly related to removing her shoes and walking barefoot through airport security. "Wear a pair of socks." While that sounds good, then you have a contaminated pair of socks. Why doesn't TSA provide some kind of disposable slipper?

Submitted by Anonymous on

Knew this blog was a PR scam. No answers, just government pap.
The shoe issue is a phony, but you won't find an honest discussion here - not with TSA in charge.

Submitted by PeeWee on

I plan to fall and break my hip the next time I try to put my shoes on while standing, and I will sue the TSA! Please provide seating if you want to avoid such lawsuits! My heart goes out to our senior citizens who have arthritic knees or other maladies.

Submitted by Andrea on

Many of you have commented on the shoe removal policy. Since the liquid limitations went into effect in August of 06, TSA has required all passengers to remove their shoes. This makes it much more consistant for all travelers and gives us an opportunity to inspect every shoe. The threat is still real when it comes to IEDs hidden in shoes. While some may wear flip flops or other shoes that make it nearly impossible to hide an explosive device, it is a straight forward rule that has no room for interpretation- therefore you wont find "inconsistencies" from one airport to the other.

Submitted by Anonymous on

X-Ray Machines CAN detect explosives by looking at the density of the items being examined thus removing shoes are a necessary safety precaution!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Israeli airport security does not require passengers to remove shoes. Do they know something that we don't? Do we know something they don't?

Submitted by Doc Think on

This shoe thing is something that drives me absolutely crazy!!! I have two sons who wear either basketball shoes or boots. So when they go through screening, its bin after bin of shoes and belts and bags and jackets and then they have to redress themselves. What a waste!

But, not as dumb as my friend having to take the shoes off of her toddler. I mean really, people. Have you ever tried to get shoes and a winter coat on a baby? Then take them off and put them back on. The baby isn't a risk! And her shoes are too small to hide a frickin' explosive.

Let's bring some sanity to this picture and stop treating everyone like criminals. Common sense folks!

Submitted by Anonymous on

Though one could argue for screening large shoes, it is useless and a waste of time and resources to requite women with sandals or children to remove their shoes. This sort of blanket dictum illustrates the the shortcomings of this sort of security effort.

Not withstanding large, built-up shoe heels, there would have to be a new type of explosive that could be effective, yet require such a small amount that could be fit inside the heels of most street shoes. Seriously, a person could pack more explosives in their anal cavity than their shoes.

IMHO, this idea is mostly ineffectual and a cause of much waste and delay.

Submitted by Topachic25 on

Here's one for you. Recently a TSA agent "scanned" my bare feet as if I was hiding a bomb IN my feet. Come on, enough is enough! There is no consistency at any airport. All the TSA seems to do is further perpetuate some kind of government ordained fear they think we should have. And whats with all the yelling ex military jack offs who think yelling me to move along is going to get me to gather my stuff any quicker! It's all just a bunch of BS. Go back to the way things were before. We were probably safer in the past than we are now with "Big Brother TSA" and Homeland Security. Give me a break with all the nonsense!

Submitted by Ypover on

I am involved in public health. A few years back I got a nasty plantar wart from walking barefoot in my upscale health club. Very painful to have treated. The idea of getting another from the barfoot thing at the airport--well, it boggles the mind. I cannot believe we have to place our bare feet down where all manner of vermin have been before. Mind you I am a health care professional. I want security, but if the liquids have to be in plastic bags, then bloody well so should our feet be covered.

Submitted by Eric on

As a diabetic, the last thing in the world I intend to do is subject myself to ANY increase in risk to damage to my feet. Removal of shoes, especially when you (TSA) are not capable of properly screening them to begin with, is simply not acceptable. Your bland assertion that "Germs aren't an issue. We had Health and Human Services study this issue for us back in 2003 and their findings were there are no more germs on airport floors than there are in the gym or any average locker room. HHS specifically said in their August 12, 2003 letter, the chances of disease spreading are "extremely small to remote."" just doesn't wash. I'm supposed to keep my shoes on IN MY HOME to safeguard my feet - and you expect me to take them off and walk on a filthy floor in an airport?

No thanks. Things like this are the reason I refuse to fly - that, and TSA's well-documented history of sexual and other physical assault, and of abuse of power and imagined authority, and the War On Liquids, and mission creep (since when do ID checks contribute *ANYTHING* to aircraft safety?!?)... the list goes on and on (and on, and on, and on, and on...).

Submitted by Anonymous on

I understand the whole shoe thing - don't like it one bit, but understand. BUT... please, oh please, can some one explain to me why I see pilots and flight attendants just breeze on through the security screening?!?

Submitted by Never Flying Again on

Your page on "why we screen shoes" boils down to "we screen shoes because we screen shoes." You don't provide any evidence, or even a coherent argument, that this screening increases anoyone's safety. In fact, all the materials used in shoes are also used in clothing; there is nothing special about the structure or composition of shoes, considering the full range of footwear vs. other items of clothing.

This is what is so frustrating about ALL of the supposed "security" procedures we are put through - every single one of them is something that any intelligent person can easily determine is not in fact adequate to prevent what we are told it is supposed to prevent. Therefore, we are being put through these paces for no good reason.

The fact that in addition even these inadequate policies are not consistently or effectively enforced just makes it all the more frustrating. Honestly, I feel more unsafe every time I fly, because the only reason I can come up with for putting together such an elaborate hodgepodge of inadequate procedures is that you have internally acknowledged that it is in fact impossible to provide any real security at all, so you're just doing as much make-travelers-uncomfortable hand-waving as possible in order to distract us from that fact.