October 01, 2005

Shoes & Airport Security
Posted by Gordon Smith

When I am traveling, I try to wear my slip-on Timberlines because they can make it through airport security without difficulty. And if I am required to remove my shoes, they do not pose a big hassle.

Sometimes, however, I am dressing up and packing light and take only one pair of dress shoes for the whole trip. In the past on such occasions, I wore a pair of Johnston & Murphy shoes, which have metal in the sole. One day, a helpful security official told me that Allen Edmonds manufactures shoes with a plastic insert precisely to facilitate getting through airport security. I was quite pleased, therefore, to stumble upon an Allen Edmonds tent sale a few weeks back, and I snatched up a pair of black dress shoes.

On the way to Kansas City, my shoes performed beautifully, passing through security in Madison without a hitch. Unfortunately, today in Kansas City, one of the TSA officials decided to make all of us remove our shoes. I mentioned that my shoes did not contain metal, and he responded, "We are looking at the width of the sole." Arrgh!

This is from the TSA website:

        TSA Shoe Screening Policy    

You are not required to remove your shoes before you enter the walk-through metal detector.

        HOWEVER, TSA screeners may encourage you to remove them before entering the metal detector as many types of footwear will require additional screening even if the metal detector DOES NOT alarm.       

Screeners will encourage you to remove the following footwear that is likely to require additional screening:

  • Boots 
  • Platform shoes (including platform flip-flops)
  • Footwear with a thick sole or heel (including athletic shoes)
  • Footwear containing metal (including many dress shoes)

Footwear that screeners are less likely to suggest you remove includes:

  • "Beach" flip-flops
  • Thin-soled sandals (without metal)

So it seems that the TSA has given screeners some discretion to request removal on the ground that my soles are too thick.

Notice that I am not required to remove my shoes. The screener may encourage me or suggest that I remove them ... but I can refuse?  So I wonder what would happen if my response were, "I would rather not take my shoes off, but thanks for your concern. Excuse me, may I pass now?" (Of course, I would never do that because I appreciate that the screeners are just trying to do a job, but I really hate the hassle of removing and replacing dress shoes.)

UPDATE: This should be classified under "things you don't realize you are revealing." After reading this post, one of our readers wrote, "I wonder, do we both have wide feet?" He made the inference from the brands that I wear.


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Comments (23)

1. Posted by KipEsquire on October 1, 2005 @ 6:14 | Permalink

I can name at least three airports with screeners who require shoe removal except flip-flops.

2. Posted by Christine Hurt on October 1, 2005 @ 10:35 | Permalink

I always wear non-slip-on shoes on airplanes, even though it creates a hassle now. About 10 years ago, I saw a special on television about surviving plane crashes. Flight attendants gave 2 tips: (1) wear lace-up shoes and (2) don't wear pantyhose. In a crash, slip-on shoes fly off, and some passengers don't exit the plane fast enough because they would have to walk barefoot over burning materials. Also, in high temperatures, pantyhose combust. So, I'm a jeans and tennis shoes traveller.

3. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 12:52 | Permalink

Christine: do you wear pantyhose in a car? Because it's a lot more likely that you will get into a car crash involving a fire and high temperatures than into a plane crash involving a fire...

4. Posted by Matthew Goeden on October 1, 2005 @ 15:13 | Permalink

I, too, hate taking my shoes off for the airport screens. I never take off my shoes unless told so by TSA screeners.

The last time I walked through the metal detector without taking my shoes off, the screener asked that I take them off. I asked, "Do I have to?" The screener replied, "No, but then you get the wand." [referring to the hand held metal detector]

I am lazy; I opted for the wand.

5. Posted by Scott Moss on October 1, 2005 @ 15:36 | Permalink

Kate: we all know that one's odds of a car accident are higher than one's odds of a plane accident; but are you sure the odds of a car accident involving a fire are higher than the odds of a plane accident invilving a fire?

6. Posted by Christine Hurt on October 1, 2005 @ 16:20 | Permalink

I've been in three car accidents that resulted in three ambulances and one "jaws of life," but none involved fire. I would guess that if the temperature in the car gets higher than the flashpoint of pantyhose, then either the car has exploded or is going to explode, or something really, really bad has happened. The TV show that I saw interviewed flight attendant with third-degree burns on their legs, but I have yet to meet any car accident survivor (including myself) with pantyhose stories. I will keep my ears open, though, and adjust my wardrobe accordingly.

7. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 16:40 | Permalink

Scott: the risk of a car crash is *so much* higher than the risk of a plane crash that I have no doubt that the fire factor won't reverse the odds. Besides, as I recall, all car crashes involve some risk of fire, and some common types of car crashes involve a pretty high risk (rollovers, rear-end collisions, and every crash involving fuel tank damage or fuel leak). I remember this from the traffic school, where they were showing some very impressive numbers on burns in car crashes (though they might have inflated the numbers a bit to scare the audience).

8. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 16:54 | Permalink

Christine: if it were wise to make probabilistic risk assessment based on the number of victims we personally met (as you do with car crashes), I’d ask you whether you’ve personally met any plane crash survivor who got burns because of a pantyhose.

But hey, we’re all entitled to our little phobias. I once spent two hours stuck alone in an elevator, so I ended up refusing to ride an elevator for more than a year.

9. Posted by Jamie Prenkert on October 1, 2005 @ 19:00 | Permalink

Kate: I can't figure out why the probability of accidents is even relevant to the conversation. It seems to me that you've (as you often do) foisted upon Christine a position she never took -- or at least not until you baited her into it. Regardless of the probability of being involved in an airplane accident (or the relative probability of an airplane accident to an automobile accident, with or without fire involved), if the information to which Christine refers is accurate, then it would be "safer" to dress sans panty hose and slip-on shoes in a fiery airplane accident. I don't have any idea whether or not that's accurate information, but I'm pretty sure you don't either. Whether or not Christine has decided to ban panty hose from her car is wholly irrelevant to the airplane issue, unless you want to hold her to some sort of consistency (or coherence) requirement for travel attire, which seems odd even despite your penchant for demanding coherence in other, more acacdemic, discussions. Moreover, is it entirely inconsistent or incoherent to decide never to wear panty hose on a plane if one does wear them in a car? Only if you completely discount the differences in situations and arrangements under which most people travel by car as opposed to by plane. It may be that the issue of inconvenience outweighs the safety issue, when it comes to refusing to wear panty hose in the car. But the practicality of wearing jeans on the plane and then changing into skirt and panty hose after the plane lands allows the safety issue -- despite the relatively lower incidence of accidents -- to trump any sense of inconvenience.

Actually, it makes me wonder why you even made the initial comment. Perhaps to pick at Christine. That seems to be a favorite pasttime of yours.

10. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 19:36 | Permalink

Jamie, lighten up, and you might notice the humor of the conversation. My no-elevator rule is equally irrational, but completely trivial; Christine’s no-pantyhose-on-a-plane rule is unique and funny.

11. Posted by Scott Moss on October 1, 2005 @ 19:57 | Permalink

Except that you haven't shown that Christine's "no-pantyhose-on-a-plane rule" is "irrational," Kate. That there are more car accidents than plane accidents does not at all mean that there are as many car fires as plane fires. Most car accidents don't seem to involve a fire. I'm considering not only the four car accidents I've caused -- er, I mean, "been involved in" -- but hundreds I've seen by the side of the road over the years (I commuted in New York City for many years, so believe me, I saw a lot -- I probably could be qualified as an expert witness on highway accidents).

So there's just no support for your initial point that it is "a lot more likely that you will get into a car crash involving a fire and high temperatures than into a plane crash involving a fire." You were extrapolating farther than was justified from your initial "more car than plane accidents" observation. I also disagree with you as to whether Jamie needs to lighten up;

12. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 20:44 | Permalink

Scott, this is getting tiresome. Why don't we both put our money where mouths are. How about the following: I'll bet you $100 against $10 that a person is more likely to be involved in a car crash with a fire than in a commercial-airline plane crash with a fire.

The plane-to-car accident ratio makes the conclusion completely obvious to me. If it’s not obvious to you, why don’t you show us otherwise, and I’ll send you a check. Or else stop bugging me with demands to prove that the sky is blue.

13. Posted by Christine Hurt on October 1, 2005 @ 20:51 | Permalink

I think that comments/emails/etc. can make witty banter seem like unfunny baiting. Said on a couch at Starbucks, "Hey, Christine -- do you wear pantyhose in the car?" would be funny. I probably would have said the same thing.

But, in the case anyone seriously doubts the logic of my illogical reasoning, I think Jamie recognizes that under the Learned Hand Formula (by which I live my life), the burden of not wearing pantyhose on infrequent airplane flights is much less than the burden of not ever wearing pantyhose in the car.

I also try not to drink soda out of the can after reading that case in Contracts where the mouse was in the Coke can. Ick.

14. Posted by Kaimi on October 1, 2005 @ 21:00 | Permalink


Your policy isn't so unique -- I don't wear pantyhose on a plane or in a car, and I suspect that Gordon follows the same policy.

15. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 21:18 | Permalink

Christine: I should have asked whether you wear pantyhose at home (or at other people's homes). Turns out, 80% of all fire deaths happen at home...

I'll keep that as a pickup line for my next trip to Starbucks.

16. Posted by Christine on October 1, 2005 @ 21:56 | Permalink

This is Saturday night, and we're the lamest people in the world.

17. Posted by Scott Moss on October 1, 2005 @ 23:08 | Permalink

Kate, I don't think I'm being "tiresome" for the following reason. Whenever someone else makes an empirical assertion (on this blog or any other), you tenaciously insist on empirical support. But when someone points out that your off-the-cuff assertion is at best uncertain, you respond not by saying, "hm, good point, I was referencing the plane-to-car accident ratio without considering that the fewer plane accidents may be vastly more likely to involve fire." Instead, you say "stop bugging me with demands to prove that the sky is blue," insisting that the burden of proof is on others to disprove your unsupported assertions.

On the bright side, your "sky is blue" comment is a witty one; I'll have to remember it the next time someone on a blog goes overboard in demanding empirical evidence.

[ Christine: I think we lost any "I do cool things on Saturday nights" presumption when we became (a) professor and (b) parents. ]

18. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 1, 2005 @ 23:55 | Permalink

Scott: when someone makes a statement that is either controversial or counterintuitive or contradicts existing theory or contradicts other empirical evidence, the right response is to demand evidence. Which is what I do in those cases.

When someone makes a statement that is completely uncontroversial and fully within common sense and does not contradict any existing theories or studies, the demand to “prove” such statement is just an attempt to kill the conversation. Which is what I do *not* do in those cases.

In case you decide to debate whether it is “fully within common sense” that motor vehicle fires are very common as compared to other types of fires: government stats – every *fifth* fire in the US is a motor vehicle fire. Here: http://www.usfa.fema.gov/statistics/national/ Pretty impressive, no? I am surprised if you are honestly surprised.

As a side note: in case your recent tendency to take, hmm, unusual interest in every comment I make anywhere on any subject is not random, I should warn you that I am not nearly as attractive as the photo on my website might suggest.

Christine: Scott, Kaimi, and I are all in Tokyo. Not only is it an undeniably cool place, but it’s also not Saturday night out here.

19. Posted by Matt Bodie on October 2, 2005 @ 9:05 | Permalink

I'm jealous of the Tokyo folks. Otoro . . . mmmmmmm.

Is it possible that airplane fires are different that car fires? I'm thinking here that airplane fires might generate more intense heat for longer distances, such that nylon hose might melt even if you are not that close to the fire itself. In a car fire, on the other hand, the heat generated will probably not be as intense.

There's an interesting discussion of airplane fires and clothing, with flammability studies and proposed (and withdrawn) regulations at http://www.aviationtoday.com/reports/aircrew_uniforms.htm. It reports that "if a flight attendant must evacuate down a slide, hosiery can interact with the slide material and provide a friction burn."

20. Posted by Scott Moss on October 2, 2005 @ 9:56 | Permalink

Kate: somehow you found your way to responding to my comment on one of Gordon's "I like cheese" postings, so please spare us the "why do you respond to everything I say?" Project much?

And thanks for clarifying that while others' empirical assertions are "counterintuitive" and therefore therefore are met with your demands for evidence, your empirical assertions are "uncontroversial and fully within common sense." Your prior demands that everyone back up their assertions with neutral, consistent principles (your drumbeat against Kaimi on Prawfsblawg) are starting to ring hollow.

And "every *fifth* fire in the US is a motor vehicle fire" does not in the slightest mean that a high percentage of car accidents yield fires. I'd estimate that maybe one out of 100 car accdents I've seen entailed any amount of smoke or fire (my fuller empirical study is coming soon in the Marquette Journal of Law & Vehicular Conflagrations -- as soon as I can convince the dean, perhaps based on this blog exchange, to fund this journal in an exciting new field of academic debate).

My point isn't "I am sure there are more plane than car fires." My point is that I don't have any earthly idea, Kate -- and neither do you. Fine, you have a hunch -- does that really justify all the certainty you're asserting?

21. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 2, 2005 @ 11:36 | Permalink

Scott: this is getting bizarre. My discussion with Kaimi involved internal consistency of an argument, which is something completely different from the demand to show empirical evidence in support of the argument’s assumptions and premises. I never asked Kaimi to back up any of his empirical claims (e.g., that there are lots of wrongful convictions, or that isn’t there yet to resolve every case dispositively) because they seemed intuitively right to me. Contrary to your claims, I *do not* find other people’s uncontroversial assertions to be controversial, nor do I pretend to find ambiguities that aren’t there.

Back to our sheep: Motor vehicle fires are very very common. This is completely intuitive to me, and, per government stats, is completely correct. If you end up encountering a fire anywhere, there is a pretty good chance it will be a motor vehicle fire. Fires on board of commercial airliners are very very rare. You have a negligible chance of encountering that one. We’ve all seen stats of commercial aircraft accidents that support of this intuition.

The obviousness of my fire-chance assertions isn’t even close to the “obviousness” of claims for which I want empirical support. E.g., Dave’s claim that by capping gas prices at below the market price, we will reduce short-term consumption, prevent panic, and increase consumer confidence in the markets. Most people with any common sense would nod at my fire-chance claim. Most people with basic economics training would laugh at Dave’s price-cap claim. That’s why I asked for evidence for the latter. That’s why I find it bizarre that you keep demanding evidence for the former.

22. Posted by Kate Litvak on October 2, 2005 @ 12:49 | Permalink

Scott: and by the way, I only responded to you in the "I like cheese" thread because your comment there contained a rather transparent hint to my "need-Ph.D." argument from a prior discussion -- and plainly continued that prior conversation.

In contrast, I don't recall any prior conversations on the subject of fire statistics. So, why don't *you* spare us.

23. Posted by Gordon Smith on October 2, 2005 @ 14:52 | Permalink

As much as I love a good fight, I am calling an end to this. I am closing comments on this post, and I deleted the last comment, which was nothing more than name-calling. (Not by Kate or Scott, by the way.)

I will post something more on cheese later in the week to get everyone riled again, but until then, we can occupy ourselves with less weighty topics, like the next Supreme Court nominee.

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