Show removal at airports?
March 19, 2005 7:26 PM   Subscribe

I am ready to Fight The Man and refuse to remove my shoes at airport security *unless and until* they set off the metal detector. Help my defense.

I can't slog through the morass of info online about whether or not this is actually legal to do (refuse) or if it varies from airport to airport (it seems to).

The TSA site states "Avoid wearing shoes that contain metal or have thick soles or heels. Many types of footwear will require additional screening even if the metal detector does not alarm." Vague at best, eh?

At every airport I've been to, I've had no option but remove them preemptively 100% of the time: they don't care if I'm wearing flip-flops or boots, and I've even fought it verbally and gotten beat down. What can I site to the agents that wil allow me to keep them on *unless and until* they set off the detector, or will bolster my claims of "friendliness" until such time? I am ready to be detained for questioning if necessary to prove that this is not THE LAW (unless it is, then I'll just be pissed and suck it up). Am I just screwed?
posted by tristeza to Travel & Transportation (48 answers total)
You have no rights. They can do whatever you like. Stand up if you like but there is no way you're making your flights if you demand ANYTHING, and I bet you're put on a list so that you and your family are unable to fly anywhere if you're really forceful about it. Besides, there's no way to know what is the law and what isn't; it's my understanding that many of the TSA guidelines are not available for public review anyway.
posted by luriete at 7:34 PM on March 19, 2005

(sorry, they can do whatever they like.)
posted by luriete at 7:35 PM on March 19, 2005

It's only anecdotal... but I've refused to take off my shoes each and every time I've travelled since 9.11 and, except for requiring that I go through a second go-round with the wand, I've not had any problems.
posted by silusGROK at 7:41 PM on March 19, 2005

Of course, I'm a short, doughy, balding, white guy — who dresses well, especially for flying.

* sigh *

It's at least good for something.
posted by silusGROK at 7:42 PM on March 19, 2005

I applaud your valiant struggle against tyranny. But I find it odd, since at every airport I go to, and I go to a lot, removing shoes is recommended-but-optional, and in practice it works just as you wish it to, except possibly if you're wearing boots or other shoes with obvious metal.

Is it possible that you're -- how shall I put this -- interacting with the agents in such a way that they wish to inconvenience and annoy you, and so they're using their considerable discretion to do so?
posted by bac at 7:44 PM on March 19, 2005

I had the same thought on a recent trip to LAX. I asked the security guy if I had to take my shoes off. He told me no, but that they might need to do additional screening if I set off the detector. I went through the gate and DIDN'T set off the detector, but he still sent me over to the extra special security monitor. I objected to the additional screening because nobody could explain to me why I needed the extra screening, and I feel that these searches are a violation of my bodily integrity. The cop who was standing around reiterated over and over that 'flying is a privilege, not a right.' I was told to shut up or leave the airport.
posted by picklebird at 7:49 PM on March 19, 2005

Regardless of the LAW, keep in mind that the airlines are also private companies and if they demand "You must do X in order to fly with us" where X is: have a valid ticket, wear clothes, take off your shoes, not annoy other passengers etc.. then they can do so within reason.

Just trying to address the implicit assumption in your question which implies that, as long as you are not breaking the law, you should be allowed to do whatever you want.
posted by vacapinta at 7:54 PM on March 19, 2005

I've never had it be mandatory, it's always been suggested, because they know it slows down a lot of people's travel times. A lot of people don't know (or forget) that the pair of shoes they're wearing has metal in them, so they have to go BACK through the line, get the full wand search, send their shoes through the detector, etc, and it can make people late for flights.
posted by gramcracker at 8:14 PM on March 19, 2005

For me it's always been optional, but at some of the smaller airports and at JFK they insist you remove them.

What I say is "I've gone through before - they don't set off the alarm", which really doesn't have anything to do with why they would want to scan them but it's worked for me.
posted by xammerboy at 8:36 PM on March 19, 2005

Oh and I don't think this is a legal issue. I think this is airport policy.
posted by xammerboy at 8:37 PM on March 19, 2005

Response by poster: Regardless of the LAW, keep in mind that the airlines are also private companies and if they demand "You must do X in order to fly with us" where X is: have a valid ticket, wear clothes, take off your shoes, not annoy other passengers etc.. then they can do so within reason.

Yes, but I'm not going thru a line for an AIRLINE, everyone is going thru the same AIRPORT line, i.e. the TSA. All airline passengers might go thru the same line. (previous comments read and ingested)
posted by tristeza at 8:51 PM on March 19, 2005

Funny when I recently flew into New Orleans the guy says, "take your shoes off, dog," and I begin to take them off, and then the security guy laughs and say, "no, I'm just kidding playboy," and I'm like ," Hell yeah, I love this place."
posted by Mean Mr. Bucket at 8:57 PM on March 19, 2005

Don't fly through the USA and you'll save yourself the trouble.
posted by furtive at 9:07 PM on March 19, 2005

Response by poster: thanks, furtive, that's exactly what isn't for. (p.s. it happend to me in nholland, too)
posted by tristeza at 9:21 PM on March 19, 2005

Yep, removing shoes is optional. It just saves you time not having to be gone over with the wand. This may have changed since the TSA recently decided to make more futile changes to it's policy. If you want to protest something you can always refuse to show your ID at the airport (ah, I see there's already a link about Gilmore, well here's another one).
posted by scazza at 9:24 PM on March 19, 2005

(The "lala" bugmenot password works for the WaPo links in my post.)
posted by scazza at 9:29 PM on March 19, 2005

Well, if you're bound and determined to challenge the situation from a position that's so clearly weak (i.e., they have all the best cards here), then I'd suggest the least you do is print out copies of scazza's "removing shoes is optional" articles and keep them with you. At least you'll be able to point to quotes from TSA spokespeople that the screeners will have to cheerfully ignore while they force you to submit to a more aggressive search.

Alternatively, you could choose an airport screening battle you have a better chance of actually winning, but it looks like you've already made that call.
posted by mediareport at 9:53 PM on March 19, 2005

I'm not sure that mandatory shoe removal is actually the man getting you down, I think it's probably to make the lines move faster. Each time someone doesn't remove their shoes and sets of the alarm, the shoes have to be looked at closely (it seems you have no objections to this), and they have to go back, take them off, and put them through the machine. If some reasonable percentage of shoes set off the walk-through alarm, it probably saves a fair amount of time for everyone involved to just have people pre-remove their shoes. I've only ever had to do this at big airports (SFO, logan) where the lines can get quite long, which seems to confirm the theory.
posted by advil at 10:13 PM on March 19, 2005

it probably saves a fair amount of time for everyone involved to just have people pre-remove their shoes.

I think you have it precisely backwards, advil. Check the second page of scazza's "optional" link; it quotes TSA's chief operating officer:

Fleming said requiring all passengers to remove their shoes before passing through security checkpoints would create a bottleneck of passengers. Imagine crowds of airline passengers hopping around as if in a game of hopscotch as they try to unlace or unbuckle their shoes. Also, the TSA would have to provide chairs so that passengers could safely remove their shoes.

So Fleming said TSA officers have been trained to identify which types of shoes are more likely to set off alarms. Often, when an agent tells a traveler to remove their shoes, he said, it's likely that the shoe will either set off alarms or is on a TSA list of shoes that fit a certain profile.

"It's a tightrope for the screeners to walk," Fleming said. "We educate our screeners of the profile of what we're looking for. There are some shoes that are borderline where a screener at one airport may say 'better safe than sorry' and suggest they be removed, where at another airport, the screener may not." Also, the TSA official said, some airports may be under heightened security at various times.

posted by mediareport at 10:29 PM on March 19, 2005

I say, get yourself some heinous form of footrot, perhaps with the additional bouquet of fish fertilizer, and cooperate when they tell you to remove your shoes.

Once they woof their cookies -- not to mention sterilize the floor -- they'll be a little less eager to screw the customer.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:43 PM on March 19, 2005

Also, wtf is with this whole shoes thing? Is there something special about shoes that one would never find lodged up, for instance, someone's arsehole? I just can't imagine that a shoe is a better hiding spot than a rectum.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:44 PM on March 19, 2005

five fresh fish - it's from the would-be shoe bomber a few years ago.
posted by fionab at 10:55 PM on March 19, 2005

On airport screening, I pick my battles. I'll gladly do the Charleston barefoot through the entire airport if it means that just ONCE they'll hand-check my camera bag without giving me crap about it. (My film is precious to me and I know I'm within my rights to expect a hand-check if I ask for one.)

advil, I'd agree with the speed issue, but I'm not sure that it speeds things up for anyone other than the screeners. Inevitably there's a knot of people on the other side of the metal detectors, clogging up the passway as they put belts and shoes back on.

I've noticed that security increases the smaller the airport is. I was allowed to freely sashay through Newark with my whomper-stomper boots on and an Army compass in my backpack, and in Tampa International the guards didn't care that I'd forgotten to remove my pocket watch, but at a little six-gate airport in Madison, my bra set off the detector and as a result my purse was emptied onto a table.
posted by cmyk at 11:12 PM on March 19, 2005

I live in DC and fly every few months - at Reagan and Dulles (and I assume BWI, but I haven't flown from there in years), it is most certainly not optional. I wouldn't want to mess with security personnel anywhere in this city. The only person I've ever seen question the shoe thing was pulled aside and waved down with THE WAND OF DOOM. It has seemed more optional in other airports I've been in recently, but I think you have to pick your battles when it comes to security nonsense. Of all the ridiculous shit the TSA pulls on American citizens, this is relatively minor and not really worth fighting over unless you've got a couple kilos of coke in your shoes.
posted by borkingchikapa at 11:29 PM on March 19, 2005

The ID thing and all the superfluous groping seems to be a much larger issue than the shoes, IMO.

When I fly or travel, I'm almost always wearing medium weight Vasquez hiking boots that have a steel shank in the sole. I don't even bother trying to pass through screening without taking them off. And I'm sure as heck not travelling without them or similar sensible and functional footwear. God only knows when I might have to scramble over the burning, jagged edge of a broken wing or other sharp wreckage. And yeah, like any good pair of boots, they're riper than a cave full of aging cheese, which makes them a joy to take off for screening.

Most travel (and survival) experts strongly recommend proper clothing and footwear for airtravel. (IE, no synthetics, no tights or pantyhose, no heels, no flipflops, no sandals. Wear pants. Wear clothes that won't melt, catch fire or easily cut or tear. Etc.)

Anyways. Pick your battles. At least we can still fly with clothes on. There seems to be other areas to stand up for your rights, like refusing hand searches on camera bags or sensitive tech gear. Spurious ID checks. Groping. Etc.
posted by loquacious at 3:05 AM on March 20, 2005

Err, make that "...having security staff refuse to hand-search camera bags or tech gear"
posted by loquacious at 3:06 AM on March 20, 2005

FWIW, in London Gatwick airport in the UK, they have shoe scanners that don't require you to take off your shoes - just stand still for a few seconds.
posted by Mwongozi at 5:16 AM on March 20, 2005

If you really feel the need to voice protest about the process, before you leave for the airport, make some calls and find out who your city's federal security director is. The people at the checkpoint hear complaints all day and can't do a damn thing about it. It's the equivalent of your going to McDonald's and telling the girl who presses the buttons to enter your order that you think they're preparing unhealthy food, and they should revamp their menu to include only nutritious choices. She might agrees with you, but what can she really do?

The people from TSA who are screening you just want to do their job as quickly as possible. Running shoes through the x-ray instead of potentially having to do additional screening for a variety of reasons (not just metal shanks), makes lines move faster, and therefore more people happier. Every time someone feels like making a point, it slows down the process for everyone behind them as well. You don't have to like it, but at least pick your fight where someone who has some authority can hear it and you don't inconvenience a lot of people who just want to get on a plane.
posted by ferociouskitty at 6:33 AM on March 20, 2005 [1 favorite]

Security measures are obviously required, and unless you have hobbit feet and are embarrased of them you should just do as you are asked.

I assume you appreciate the presence of security measures but it seems to me that as soon as they appear to you cross the what you deem absolutely necessary line you start to want to fight the man. If you really want to fight the man sneak something on in your shoe!
posted by kenaman at 6:42 AM on March 20, 2005

Didn't work for me. The TSA guy at Dulles suggested I remove my shoes. The floor was absolutely gross - I was wearing socks, but it was still nasty - and I (politely) declined. I went through the metal detector without incident, but then was waved over for a personal inspection that required me to remove my shoes. They then passed the shoes THREE TIMES through the metal detector, and body-patted me, until they finally let me go, saying that I could have avoided this by taking off my shoes when asked.
posted by aberrant at 7:00 AM on March 20, 2005

Many times, I just walk on through. It's obvious that I'm a veteran traveller -- I hit the line, notebook out, show boarding pass -- hell, a couple of the TSA screeners at STL recognize me on site.

A couple of times, they've "strongly suggested" that I take off the shoes, which seems to be the magic phrase that really says "We're wanding everyone who doesn't today."

In short, I almost never take off my shoes, unless I'm wearing my NB 964 hikers, in which case, there's enough metal to trigger several detectors, including the ones at ORD T-3. My normal flying shoes are Black NB 573s, there isn't a spec of metal in them, and unless they're explicitly being picky, I don't bother.
posted by eriko at 8:30 AM on March 20, 2005

five fresh fish - it's from the would-be shoe bomber a few years ago.

Well fersure. But if that guy had been smart enough to wedge his C4 up his ass, would they be doing body cavity searches on everyone?

Is there any other business in the world that treats its customers so shabbily?
posted by five fresh fish at 9:48 AM on March 20, 2005

Is there any other business in the world that treats its customers so shabbily?

The prison system and the cable monopolies come to mind :)
posted by aberrant at 11:59 AM on March 20, 2005

Well fersure. But if that guy had been smart enough to wedge his C4 up his ass, would they be doing body cavity searches on everyone?

Well, no, but only because they'd have to purchase a latex-glove company to support their new habit. But seriously - nobody said this was a logical game. I used to play the role of "my shoes don't beep, I promise" and would inevitably feel my blood boiling when they'd make me take them off anyway. And it doesn't seem to matter which size of airport you're at -- they all have different supervisors, different attitudes and a resulting confusion of rules. I've found it easiest to just blend into the scenery: use the time in the line to loosen shoelaces, take the laptop from my bag, take off my coat and scarf, and be ready to throw it all in a bin, slip off the shoes and be as invisible as possible. Any scenes that I've tried to make have just made the experience that much more annoying, and they certainly didn't pave the way for future rebellion at that, or any other, airport in the US.
posted by fionab at 1:13 PM on March 20, 2005

Maybe you could think about all the people in line behind you who just want to get through security as quickly as possible before you start arguing, complaining and holding everyone else up...
posted by littleme at 2:57 PM on March 20, 2005

A TSA agent in Minneapolis implied that I would be strip searched if I didn't take mine off (I'm a wimp from the PNW, my feet were cold). I grumbled quietly enough to not get strip searched anyway and took them off. You're fucked, we're all fucked, get used to it.

I do love five fresh fish's foot rot idea though.
posted by togdon at 3:08 PM on March 20, 2005

My mum recently returned from Las Vegas. Whilst in line to go through security at the Vegas airport, everyone started to take their shoes off. The security people started waving hands and telling everyone to put their shoes back on. She said no one had to have their shoes checked.

Wee bit of trivia: I have an uncle named Richard Reid.
posted by deborah at 3:30 PM on March 20, 2005

Another datapoint: At SFO this past November, I watched as they made a woman with a prosthetic leg take it off and HOP THROUGH the metal detector while they X-rayed it.
posted by aberrant at 4:23 PM on March 20, 2005

I absolutely love how security likes to take people's cameras, look through the viewfinder, and take a photo to prove it's not a bomb. I really think that summarizes the intelligence of the people who work security, and the people who invent the rules.
posted by five fresh fish at 5:54 PM on March 20, 2005

Data point: in recent times flights from both Incheon International here in Korea and Narita International in Japan required me to remove my shoes. It's not just Amerka. *shrug* was my response.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 6:53 PM on March 20, 2005

Heheheh, this is a completely hypothetical story because I don't know anyone who would do something dangerous and illegal like this, even if it was unintentional, but it might be possible that someone might go through Dulles and be required to remove their clearly bombless sandles, go through security without a hitch, arrive at their destination, and realize they had accidentally left an M60 and a few other small fireworks in a film canister labeled "EXPLODEY" in the backpack they had carried on the plane with them. But like I said, I definitely have not ever been in that situation nor know anyone who has done something like that.
posted by schroedinger at 7:23 PM on March 20, 2005

Schroedinger: A similar event occurred a year or so ago when some dude got all the way through security and at the actual gate, he realized he left a gun in his bag. He handed it over to authorities when he realized what had happened and was subsequently arrested. I don't know the outcome of his ordeal and I want to say it was at Hartsfield International Airport (Atlanta), but that might be because it's where I'm from.
posted by jmd82 at 7:56 PM on March 20, 2005

Flying in and out of Las Vegas this past week I was asked to remove my shoes, but I think that's the first two times it's been requested.

As an aside, it was easier for my girlfriend to get onto an airplane this weekend without her ID than into our hotel room.

RE: jmd's comment: It was a woman with a .357 in her purse... The charges were subsequently dropped.
posted by esch at 8:05 PM on March 20, 2005

But I find it odd, since at every airport I go to, and I go to a lot, removing shoes is recommended-but-optional

The question-asker is from Seattle, as am I, and I can assure you that shoe removal was MANDATORY when I flew (in January, and again in February), at least at the times and gates I went through. Something about non-metallic items (incendiary?) in shoes that could be detected in the x-ray machines, I believe, and definitely a recent change.

[Put me in the "It's best to pick your battles, and this isn't a good place to fight the man" camp.]
posted by WestCoaster at 9:02 PM on March 20, 2005

The day will come when some pissed-off would-be traveller goes postal. And instead of recognizing that the security measures caused the problems, it'll be blamed on terrorism, and yet more senseless faux-security measures will be dreamed up.

posted by five fresh fish at 9:22 PM on March 20, 2005

A friend of mine flew through two stops with a ceremonial eight-inch knife in a book, in a carry-on bag.

My calculator's faceplate is metal and for some reason they didn't grind down the sides -- they're razor sharp. No one asks me about my calculator when I fly.

I went out of my way one time to ask if I could carry-on a spray bottle of insecticide on the plane and the TSA agent said "as long as it didn't say 'insecticide' on the bottle" and it did and then, of course, he cleared me.

Perhaps the best thing to do is remove your shoes and then walk through the metal detector while holding them.
posted by user92371 at 10:03 PM on March 20, 2005

The brand of shoes that I always wear when flying (Rockport Pro Walkers) has steel shanks in its soles, which pretty much means I have to take the shoes off anyway.
posted by Prospero at 5:24 AM on March 21, 2005

I've only flown twice (London to Jersey in 2002 and Paris in 2003). No problems with shoes, but no one batted an eyelid at Gatwick when I went through the metal detector wearing a shirt with maybe 10 safety pins all down one side. I found this a tad worrying. On the way back (Jersey) they found a tiny pair of nail scissors in my carry-on bag and confiscated them, but the needle in the sewing kit with the scissors was fine..

Maybe safety pins and needles don't make effective enough weapons. I'm sure you could take out eyes with them.
posted by corvine at 8:32 AM on March 21, 2005

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