TSA rules on taking off your shoes at security checkpoints

When we were flying back from Maui to LA, the screener asked me to take off my tennis shoes. I asked why, and he said “because they fit the profile”; when I asked what the profile was, he responded “shoes like those.”

I went ahead and took them off and put them through the machine even though just five days earlier no one at LAX had asked me to take them off. On the other side of the screening device, I asked a different screener why I had needed to take off my shoes. She said they fit the profile of a heel taller than 1” (which they didn’t). I mentioned I had not been asked to take them off at LAX and her response was that LAX should have made me take them off. I told her that I thought the most recent TSA directive on shoes was that passengers got to decide whether to take them off or not, and she told me I was wrong. She mentioned that I could refuse to take off my shoes if I wanted, but then I would be automatically sent to the special frisking area where they would make me take them off anyway.

Hmmm. Problem is, the TSA’s official site says that I was right: passengers are allowed to decide whether to take off their shoes. The 1” rule is apparently only a guideline concerning when TSA personnel should recommend that people take off their shoes. Granted, this policy is very hard to parse.

Rhetorical question: If the TSA cannot get its policies on shoe removal right, and train its people properly, how well do you think really important policies on detecting terrorists at checkpoints are being defined and implemented?

21 Responses to “TSA rules on taking off your shoes at security checkpoints”

  1. brian Says:

    i had the same thing happen to me.
    i left rochester ny to go to manchester
    nh with now problem. when i came
    back the tsa person asked me to take off
    my size 9 adidas white. i politely told
    her they were sneekers with no metal.
    after a back and forth i was sent to the
    extra screening area where i was searched. my shoes were given the chemical sniff test. i asked the person
    what this was all about and he said a new
    policy was in effect and my shoes fit the
    profile of the shoe bomber. a size 9 white
    adidas the most common sneeker in america. i will shop for new shoes next
    time i fly.

  2. julian Says:

    I travel often and have had the same experiences. My approach is that, since I get to the airport early anyway, I do not take my shoes off. If they want to do the extra work, fine with me. I think it would be great if tons of people would begin to refuse to take off their shoes, as I heard one TSA person remark \”What, another one?!\” when the person behind me refused to take theirs off also.

  3. michael Says:

    The same thing happened to me. I have flown 24 times this year. It is hit or miss when the ask me to take my shoes off. I wear the same pair of shoes and they have never set a detector off, but ammzingly enough each time I chosse not to take my shoes off the TSA has done a full search of not only my persons, and my shoes, but also all of my carry-on. One TSA screener commented that “that is what you get if you don’t remove your shoes.” You figure they would have a better way of screening frequent flyers. It has gotten to the point that I will not fly for work anymore. The hassles are too great…….

  4. D.Tellmann Says:

    I am a flight crew member with the same problem as everyone else. Even with a badge that says CREW in big letters seem to encourage harassment from these people who obviously do not understand there job. What else can we do because complaning doesn’t help

  5. C. Lara Says:

    I have shoes that I wear often when I fly. They have never caused me any problems and I have used them to easily fly thru NY Kennedy, Orlando, Dallas Int’l, LAX often and both the Hong Kong Int’l and Heathrow airports. In just the past week I left with these shoes from LAX to Heathrow with NO issues. I then left Heathrow back to LAX thru San Francisco.
    I had no issues at Heathrow and when asked at San Fran to remove my shoes, knowing the TDS rules and the Law – I said there OK – they are my flying shoes and there is never any issues. With that I went thru the metal detector with no issues. Of course the agent then sent me for a full press core search because I had so blatently denied him his request. I complained and ask to speak to a TSA manager who said that all the other airports were wrong and these were the rules. I then took down the phone number on a sign about the TSA. Once I got to my gate I called and explained what had happened to me. A woman called Mae told me that the TSA can “randomly” search anyone they want for no reason at all. I am writing to my State Senators and Congressmen, because I think if the rules are you do A, B and C then if you follow the rules you should be deemed OK. Can you imagine if we were told if you go 55 miles an hour or whatever the posted speed limit is BUT the police could pull you over anyway how that would go over in America, the Land of the Free and the Brave? I travel extensively for my job and this is undue and unfair harrassment of a American tax payer.

  6. C Hunt Says:

    Just take your shoes off – yes inconvenient but let them do their petty little jobs and save your civil-disobedience for those meaningful and time-saving things like jaywalking. Personally I waer my Birkenstocks to thwe airport and change after the show and tell session.

  7. B. Ragon Says:

    I travel frequently on business from Atlanta and always wear my Rockport Dressport Wingtips, probably a 1/2” sponge rubber sole and a 1” heel. Never had a problem until about 2 weeks ago in Kansas City where I was subjected to the full body prod, including a personal inspection of the zipper area of my trousers, all because I left my shoes on. Last week in St. Louis, no problem with the shoes, so I thought, hmm, overly zealous inspector in MCI. This week, on my return from Salt Lake City, the inspector insisted I remove my shoes or I would be subjected to a secondary inspection. Hey, at least he warned me. I agree with Julian. Everyone should leave their shoes on for a few weeks. The resulting delays would create such an outcry from the Airlines and the Public that the TSA would have to rethink its stupid policies on inspections

  8. M. Rees Says:

    Oh, for peat sake! Yes, it is a pain in the a__, but I have to agree with C. Hunt…just take your shoes off and let the little people think they are empowered over you for a few minutes and go ON! It’ll be a lot less time consuming than some kind of adolescent, cry baby civil disobedience thing.

  9. Wanda Lott Says:

    Yes, the shoe policy is very confusing.

    “Ma’am, your shoes appear to meet the crieria for additional screening. You may either remove them and send them through the x-ray machine, or be subject to additional screening after you enter.”

    Of course, nobody has the faintest idea of what that means, so the TSA person has to add:

    “It is probably easier and quicker to send them through the x-ray.”

    Which most people do.

    Those who leave their shoes on do so for a variety of reasons: fear of fungus, embarrassment about foor odor, problems with authority figures, hatred of rules and regulations, etc.

    Most of the passengers who choose additional screening get irritated about it. Many of them insist, as you maintain, that their shoes don’t meet the crieria. This is usually incorrect.

    The correct solution would be to require all shoes to be removed unless there is a medical reason or physical disablity involved. Of course, the government would have to provide paper foot covers of similar sanitary measures.

    Another solution would be to allow everyone to leave their shoes on. This would be the popular solution, since the public feels it’s more important that they not be inconvenienced than it is that they not be blown out of the sky by a shoe bomber.

  10. n.v.y Says:

    First of all, removing shoes is a poor hygiene.
    a) Passengers are forced to take their shoes off and walk barefoot on a cold cement floor picking up and/or spreading foot infectious diseases around.
    b) There are no separate trays for footwear and personal belongings, meaning that passengers have to put their belongings and electronics (laptops) in the same trays where somebody’s dirty shoes have been.
    In most civilized countries, there are separate trays for footwear and for personal belongings.
    Also, passengers are being offered special one-time-use plastic bags with elastic cuffs to put on feet.

    Secondly, forcing passengers, usually in quite a rude manner, to take their shoes off and walk on a dirty floor is simply humiliating.

  11. Use Your Head Says:

    A point of information, to all of those above: How unbelievably immature. It’s not your job to make sure the TSA people are following what you think “the rules” are. In their job to ensure security, they have every right to ask you to remove your shoes without a critique from you. You are legally required to comply, whether or not you deem it correct according to some rules that you think you understand. It might surprise you, but the rule is that they are not accountable to you. Given your level of understanding, this is fortunate.

    Once again, the overriding rule that YOU should be concerned with is the rule that requires you to cooperate with them to allow them to do their job.

    I cede the point that if enough people all agreed to act stupid it would make their job more difficult. Is that your point here? Why do you want to do that? Does it make you feel important or intelligent?

    If you gave up flying, that would be okay. No wonder the enemy thinks we’re an attractive, easy target. Remember what’s really at stake here. Don’t forget 9/11. Taking your shoes off is humiliating?
    For Pete’s sake think about what’s important here? Come on. Get real! And grow up, please.

  12. J Steele Says:

    Shoes off no problem. But TSA made me take off my flip-flop thongs. You could see my whole foot. Talk about arrogance.

  13. SophieP Says:

    There is no legitimate security purpose to requiring each of the 2 million travellers who pass through airline security each day in the U.S. to remove their shoes. In every test of TSA screening procedures, bombs, knives, anything else dangerous has sailed through the carry on bag xray. No need for shoe x-ray—just put it in the carry on.

    So now that we have dispensed for the ”
    need” for 2 million people each day to remove their shoes and walk through airline security—what of the infirm people for whom this is a great challenge? What of the elderly and disabled people who now contemplate not travelling at all because the TSA has decided—against all logic—to mandate the removal of shoes?

    And what of the rest of the 2 million people? It shocks me that those millions of people do not realize that the security checkpoints are distinctly unhygienic. Thousands of people walk through that particular area with sweaty bare / sock clad feet. People then take the bare / sock clad feet that have picked up who knows what from the thousands before them and jam their feet into their own shoes. This from a country that has popularized anti-bacterial spray???

    Which leads me to the final point… What is wrong with the country when U.S. citizens are willing to give up any and all rights if it means additional “security”—when no one is looking at whether the additional measures actually deliver more “security”?

  14. Phil Says:

    It is our place as US citizens to keep the government in check. I believe a lot of the policies in place are good, but if they are unclear, unwarranted, or poorly executed then it is are duty to complain, protest, and write the officials. I think we are getting to sloppy as US citizens and allowing the government to get away with policies and no checks and balances by the citizens. I know this ‘shoe thing’ is small and annoying, but add it up with the lighters, nail clippers, and what ever they add to list this week. Yes if the rules state that you are not required to remove your shoes, then don’t. If they make a hassle about it, let them do their thing. Get names, badge numbers, and screening locations. As you wait for your plane write it all down. Gather a list of e-mail addresses from the airports management, airline management, TSA management, senate / congress person, and anyone else you can think of, and start sending e-mails. If enough people start doing this, they will start looking at their airports, people, and policies.

  15. joyce emmons Says:

    how mant pounds per bag can be carried on the cargo part.
    each bag weighs 55 lbs each

  16. Pat Says:

    I have a difficult time taking my walking shoes on and off. Someone has to help me tie and untie my shoes and put them back on my feet. But the bigger problem is that I am diabetic. The first rule I learned from the diabetes educator was never to go barefoot. Diabetic neuropathy causes numbness in the feet. I may not know it if I were to step on a pin or foreign object. Those with diabetes are prone to infection and loss of limbs. My diabetic father lost his toe to a pin prick that became infected and surgeons were preparing to amputate his foot at the time of his death. So it is very scary for me to remove my shoes. Bacteria thrives on sugar. If I step barefoot where somebody with a foot infection walked, it could end my life.

  17. tom Says:

    I work in a medical lab and see flesh eating bacteria reports from specimens that are resistant, they are quite common now and the floor of an airport is a good environment for them to spread.

    I was stopped / pulled aside and searched when I would not take off my flip-flops going through the check I asked for a seat and a clean serfice to keep my feet of the floor and the agent in Hawaii refused to provide this between SFO and Hawaii SFO was better about this. The TSA Agent in Hawaii was rude as he could be and his supervisior allowed him to continue.

    I have traveled the world and feel my country is falling into third world status in this situation.

    I bet our elected officials are not taking off there shoes!

  18. PS Says:

    It should be mandatory that airports protect their passengers, providing disposible foot ware. I would pay $1.00 more on my air fare tax to see the foot ware available. Or maybe I should open a foot ware stand at the airport!!!

  19. Joe Says:

    I want to thank TSA for a job well done. I feel safer when I fly and prefer to take my shoes off than fall from 30 thousand feet or be part of a kamikaze airplane. I take my shoes off and thank them. Any behavior less than that one would be irresponsible and selfish.

  20. GJ Says:

    I’m a Flight Attendant and the TSA are almost always more rude to us and use extra scrutiny. There is no need to conduct such scrutiny and certainly no excuse for being rude when our backgrounds have already been thoroughly screened through a federal process and when we are the only line of defense if a terrorist DOES get onboard. Post 9/11 we are trained to never let anyone in the cockpit no matter what. This means we will likely be killed first for not cooperating with them, putting our lives at risk. Yet, over-zealous security screeners with a badge smile from ear-to-ear at the opportunity to “give it” to crews. Even going through so-called crew lines is a joke. The TSA has no specific rules regarding crews, allowing them to be flexible. We have taken this security screening to the extreme. 99% of the Average-Americans should not need this additional screening that is being conducted, and certainly not crews. It isn’t about conveinience, it is about personal rights and civil liberties. If shoes can’t be screened while people are wearing them, then the equipment needs to be updated to do so. You can get a viral foot fungus from other people’s shoes that go in the same bins as personal affects and walking barefoot or even in your socks on the dirty airport floors. TSA is a flat out joke and ever since they got their new blue shirts, they think they have power to humiliate and order people around. As a crew member, I have no respect for TSA workers at all, whatsoever. They are over-zealous for all the wrong reasons and still let knives and other items get by because their lack of training on common sense or otherwise. We need our airport security laws reformed to match 2009, not 2001.

  21. Sidney Schaffer Says:

    If you knew how much danger there is out there that we have avoided you woul all grow up and shut up and take your shoes off!
    Anyone whoo writes statements to the contrary, and there are a lot here,is ignorant of the whole intent of the TSA!!!

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