The Impossible Dream of Keeping Your Shoes on at the Airport


Remember when Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano promised that new technology would soon allow travelers to keep their shoes on at the airport? Well, forget about that:

After spending millions of dollars testing four different scanning devices that would allow airline passengers to keep their shoes on at security checkpoints, the United States government has decided for now that travelers must continue to remove their footwear, by far the leading source of frustration and delays at the airport.

The Transportation Security Administration said it had rejected all four devices because they failed to adequately detect explosives and metal weapons during tests at various airports. One of the scanners is now used in airports in 18 countries.

You might conclude that the U.S. government simply has higher standards, if it weren't for the fact that its full-body scanners cannot reliably detect the sort of explosives they supposedly are designed to detect, the fact that its edicts about what may or may not be carried into the cabin are ludicrously arbitrary, the fact that there is little rhyme or reason to its policies regarding electronic devices, and the fact that the humans it hires to screen passengers routinely miss knives, guns, and bombs during clandestine tests, possibly because they are so busy making sure everyone takes off his shoes, removes his tiny toiletry bottles, and discards his beverages, not to mention breaking bladder cancer survivors' urostomy bags, forcing incontinent old ladies in wheelchairs to remove their diapers, and making little girls cry. In fact, the rationale for rejecting the shoe scanners becomes more mysterious the more The New York Times explains it:

"The machines we tested didn't detect all the materials we were looking for," [TSA spokeswoman Lisa Farbstein] said….

In 2007, the agency tested a General Electric shoe scanner at Orlando International Airport. The next year, it tested two scanning machines made by L3 Communications at Los Angeles International Airport. But none of them passed agency muster.

It also tested a device called Magshoe, which is intended to detect metal and is made by IDO Security, an Israeli firm, that deploys the scanner in hundreds of airports and cruise ships around the world, including in China, Italy and Israel.

Michael Goldberg, the company's president, said the machine can detect explosives containing metal, but not plastic explosives.

Mr. Goldberg said the machine performed flawlessly in tests with the T.S.A. But the agency did not think so.

He said no current technology can detect all of the various chemical compounds used as explosives. Current X-ray machines used to scan shoes can detect metal but are not much help in finding liquids or gels that can be used as explosives.

So the shoe scanners detect metal but not explosive liquids or gels, and the same is true of the X-ray machines the TSA currently uses to scan the shoes removed by passengers. But the shoe scanners let people keep their footwear, removal of which, according to the U.S. Travel Association, ranks as the most annoying aspect of airport screening. Nope, no advantage there.

My priorities are somewhat different from those of the passengers surveyed by the U.S. Travel Association. Although I hate taking off my shoes, especially since the U.S. seems to be the only country on Earth that imposes this requirement, removing my laptop from my carry-on bag and sticking it in a separate plastic bin for a ride through the X-ray machine takes considerably more effort and is therefore more irksome. And when I go through a full-body scanner and hold up my arms in surrender (which I prefer to being groped by a stranger), I hear Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) asking, "Is this the posture of a free man?" Taking your shoes off may be undignified and annoying, but it is not quite as humiliating.

According to the Times, the government claims that "the growing use of full-body scanners…allows travelers to go through security lines faster." How can that possibly be the case when it means you have to take off your belt as well as your shoes and pause inside the scanner for several seconds before a TSA agent allows you to proceed, as opposed to simply walking through the metal detector? In any case, I would prefer to wait a little longer if it meant I could avoid exposing my naked body to an agent of the state. But maybe I'm just old-fashioned.

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  1. I’ve often wondered if I would get in trouble if I just went to the airport barefoot. I imagine so. I should do it.

    1. Are you a Hobbit?

      1. More or less.

    2. Ive done flip flops before.

      1. so have i they wont let any more

    3. I wear a pair of 15 year old Nikes with no shoestrings. If I feel like it, I switch them out with a pair in my carry-on once I get to the gate.

    4. i think you would get in trouble

  2. Look, there’s only one solution, which I’ve proposed here before. Strip everyone down so that they are completely nude, then load them on in pods. Each pod will be ejectable (with a parachute) in the event of any terror events. Baggage will be flown on separate drones. Also, each passenger will be rendered unconscious for the duration of the flight. Which is actually a nice bonus to oppression.

    1. I wonder how the NAACP feels about your plan.

      1. Naked, like the rest of us?

  3. Keeping your shoes on means the terrorists have won, right?

    Warty- before I became an air travel refusenik (which was prior to the great shoebomb panic), I almost always wore flipflops. I can see that being a great benefit, nowadays.

    1. And if the plane crashed, your flip-flops likely would have likely contributed to your death – since the people who die in the survivable crash are the ones who are slow getting out of the AC.

      1. In the immortal words of George Carlin:

        I locate my nearest emergency exit, and then I plan my route. You have to plan your route. It’s not always a straight line, is it? Sometimes there’s a really big fat fuck sitting right in front of you. Well, you know you’ll never get over him. I look around for women and children, midgets and dwarves, cripples, war widows, paralyzed veterans, people with broken legs, anybody who looks like they can’t move too well; the emotionally disturbed come in VERY handy at a time like this. You might have to go out of your way to find these people, but you’ll get out of the plane a lot God damn quicker, believe me. I say, “Let’s see… I’ll go around the fat fuck… step on the widow’s head… push those children out of the way… knock down the paralyzed midget, and get out of the plane where I can help others.”

  4. A friend worked for about a year as a research scientist for a company making bomb detecting “sniffers” that people would walk through as they went through the security line.

    He told me the entire industry is a colossal waste of money. None of the gear works at all well, and it’s all theater.

    The TSA was exactly what Osama Bin Laden envisaged when he hatched his plan to disable the U.S. government so he an his followers could overthrow the Saudi Monarchy.

  5. I also disagree that the porno scanners are faster. Twice it’s led to “additional screening” patdowns for me due to contraband identified by the scanner.

    The first offending item? A dime that I didn’t notice while emptying my pant pockets.

    The second? A foil wrapper from a piece of gum.

    Go TSA!

    1. Remember that episode where MacGyver opened a window with nothing but a dime and a gum wrapper?

      Imagine that at 30,000 feet.

    2. Every time I go through that thing, they pat down my left arm. This has happened dozens of times, without fail. I have no idea why. Never had surgery there or anything, but that machine must be detecting something.

      1. They are on to you, Mr. Cyborg!

    3. How do you not notice a dime and a piece of gum in your pockets?

      1. Sir, we think you have what it takes to be a TSA screener.

        1. I think the TSA procedures are worse than useless, but am continually amazed at how people miss stuff like that. Unless you’re wearing tactical pants with 57 pockets, I don’t see how you can not confirm that they’re empty.

          And don’t get me started on Reason bellyaching over people getting in trouble for trying to pack loaded guns in their carry-ons and claiming they forgot it was in there. Seriously?

          1. Some fucking pockets have a deep crevice that small shit seems to get tucked in to sometimes. It may not be felt when hastily pulling out the main items. You are a god damned wiener.

    4. You retards don’t actually consent to go through those rapi-scanners, do you?
      This is why nobody takes libertarians seriously.

      1. Right, because volunteering to have a hand shoved into your crack is so much more libertarian.

        1. Hey look Tulpa’s back felating authoritah.

  6. I like to go for the pat down because of the discomfort it causes TSA agents and other travelers meekly submitting to the scanners. Makes it much harder for people to pretend there isn’t a huge invasion of privacy going on every time they go through screening.

    1. The last time I went through the rapi-scan, they patted me down as well. Only my wife’s telepathy and glare kept me from asking the obvious question.

    2. Yep. I’ve always gone for the pat down.

      The one-liner answer if the TSA agent needs to put it on a form: “I know what you are doing to me. I don’t know what that machine or someone in some booth is doing to me.”

      1. Yeah that’s another good reason to do it. Do you really trust a TSA agent to safely operate a machine emitting radiation? And why take any of the risk associated with additional radiation exposure simply for the purpose of reassuring some government bureaucracy that you’re not a terrorist?

        1. You realize that the TV screens and fluorescent lights also emit radiation?

          1. … and that you can look up how much radiation they emit and know that it falls within acceptable guidelines, as opposed to the rapiscan.

            1. What/whose acceptable guidelines does the rapiscan fall outside of?

              1. Nobody knows! They won’t allow them to be tested!

          2. There’s radiation and there’s radiation. The point is that there is zero benefit to me, personally, from accepting the added risk that comes with Rapiscan exposure. When I get my teeth x-rayed, or take a high altitude flight, the slightly higher odds of cancer are offset by the potential to catch a major dental problem, or to get from point A to point B quickly. There’s no similar compensation for submitting to a TSA scan, it’s just playing a part in meaningless security theater.

            1. Never thought I’d see libertarians embracing the Precautionary Principle.

              There’s no evidence that terahertz radiation is harmful.

              1. Never thought I’d see libertarians embracing the Precautionary Principle.

                And you still haven’t. Nothing I’ve written can be remotely compared to the Precautionary Principle. Although I certainly wouldn’t mind if more stringent testing and safety requirements were applied to mandatory government procedures than to products and services voluntarily purchased in the marketplace.

          3. The last time I checked tv’s and fluorescent lights don’t allow people to take x-ray photos of me.

      2. The one-liner answer if the TSA agent needs to put it on a form:

        Fuck off, slaver.

        (Although this does sometimes result in needing to take a later flight.)

    3. My dad likes to ask the agents if they’re proud of what they’re doing. It’s brutally effective.

      1. It’s brutally effective… at causing you to miss your flight, I would imagine.

  7. Last year my wife and I flew to Germany and had a layover at Heathrow. For some reason we had to re-go through security at Heathrow before continuing on to Germany. Ordinarily I would consider that a pain in the ass, but it was totally worth it to go through security WITH YOUR SHOES ON.

  8. So, General Electric, L3, and IDO aren’t donating enough to the Obama campaign this time around, is that what I should be taking away from this story?

  9. I remember traveling shortly after the shoebomber incident having to see TSA or whatever they were then, making a 6 year old with JELLIE sandals, (ie. see-through sandals) being forced to take them off and, rightly, screaming at the top of her lungs, at the Ft. Lauderdale airport…what TSA has done, thankfully for someone who travels with children is kids under 12 don’t have to take their shoes off anymore. It’s sad that I am grateful for even this small measure of commonsense.

    1. Except it undermines the entire shoe-removal policy, since terrorists could plant explosives in kids’ shoes.

      1. You’ll let me know the first time this happens right?

  10. Is it just me, or does that picture look like a screencap from Japanese foot fetish porn?

    1. Anyone see Rex Ryan lurking about?

  11. “And when I go through a full-body scanner and hold up my arms in surrender …”
    Whenever I get the porno-scan, I’m always sure to flip the bird to whoever (whatever?) is reading the scan. I’ve even heard a few under-the-breath, sarcastic comments from the TSA monkeys.

    I’m not proud that that American protest has come down to that.

    1. I do the exact same. Dual one-finger salutes to the TSA.

      They’ve never even put me through added security or a pat-down for it…

      1. You’d have to have balls of steel to do that if you were carrying an explosive. And that would show up on the scanner.

  12. I must admit I always take the rape-scanners, not because I don’t worry about radiation, or because I worship my masters, but rather because they have the ultimate power, and I really don’t want to miss my flight. I always seethe inwardly, but I suspect this doesn’t show up, despite the internal temperature generated in my brain.

  13. Oh and the first time I’ve even come upon the “porn scanner” was in Cleveland where the line was crazy long of course, but since I was traveling with two kids and a baby, they thankfully let me go through the old fashioned one. And as long as you DON’T give them the finger, and speak evenly and with respect (very hard to do I know) you CAN get on an airplane without a driver’s license (or passport) Not that I recommend traveling in this way…

  14. I actually don’t mind removing my shoes at the airport. In fact, I wonder if you can just show up at the airport in your socks and get on the plane that way.

    What makes me feel violated is having to remove my belt.

    1. Yep, especially when you can’t hold on to your pants to keep them up while posing for the nudie scanner.

      1. Mental note: buy oversized pants that won’t stay up without a belt before next flight.

        1. Please promise you’ll wear boxers embroidered “FUCK TSA” on the day of your flight.

        2. There was some district court that recently ruled that going through the checkpoint nude as a protest is protected speech under the First Amendment.

          1. Yep, they even had pix.

  15. The TSA guy went to pains to explain to me that the Rapiscan doesn’t have an operator looking at the nudie image, it’s all analyzed by a computer. I hadn’t complained or hesitated or anything, so I don’t know why he would lie about it out of the blue.

    1. Were you wearing your fourth amendment t-shirt? It’s either that, or you’re a really hot woman.

      1. Or the operators all took their lunch break when they saw me coming in line.

  16. I mean, seriously folks, if your commitment to liberty doesn’t even extend to a small, largely meaningless gesture such as opting out of the rapi-scanners, then you got what’s coming’ to ya.
    I, for one, pledge to opt out today, opt out tomorrow, opt out forever, despite, nay, because of the fact that it’s a small, largely meaningless gesture. Indeed, I revel in the sheer futility of it, because I’m kind of an asshole. But I am an asshole on the side of Right.
    Do I come out on the good side of any cost-benefit analysis? Probably not. But at least I am, in some small way, fucking with the idiots.

    1. Great. Now let’s talk about whether liberty lovers should stand idly by and let the most anti-liberty president in history get reelected.

      1. It’s a little soon for Romney 2016, but ok we can talk about that if you want.

  17. Before the scanners I flew 50K+/year. In 2011, I flew one round-trip, using miles, and I wrote to airline execs, hotel customer service, and Congressional so-called representatives to make sure they knew why the airlines lost my business.

    This year I’ve flown a bit more (3 RT), and have only had to opt out twice, using them as an opportunity for vocal civil disobedience.

    But here’s my question about civil disobedience: what could they do to us if we go through the scanner and, while in it, riff off of Jacob/Rand Paul and say loudly “is this the position of a free person?” It’s protected speech. You might get a punishment search and swab, but even if you get a post-scan punitive grope, would the combination of asking the question and then getting the punishment grope sink more deeply into the minds of the “anything for security” crowd?

    Or am I too optimistic? Probably.

    1. You are way too optimistic. Depends entirely on whether it matters if you miss your plane. I spent about six months as a ‘selectee’ a few years ago and it stunk. Especially since the TSA denied I was on any kind of list after I submitted a formal protest, but at the same time (couple months later) the harassment stopped.
      They have the power, and, as someone said upthread, resistence is futile and will make you miss your flight, which will cost you a ticket plus penalties.
      I don’t have that kind of money to throw around, but I’m damned if I’m going to let the jerks who run TSA (and Congress, who actually make the stupid rules) determine where I can go to conferences or vacations.

  18. lol, the TSA is a joke. Bigget WASTE of an agency there is. Period lol.


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