TSA Can't Get Fancy Footwear Scanners To Work So We'll Keep Shuffling Around Barefoot

If there’s nothing you hate more than doffing your shoes to walk barefooted or shuffle in your socks through security screenings at the airport, well, we hate to be the ones to tell you, but that’s going to be your reality for awhile. The Transportation Security Administration has been shelling out millions to test not one but four different scanners that would let us keep our shoes on at security checkpoints, and none of them are doing well enough to be used.

According to the New York Times, the TSA has rejected each device because none of them were able to detect all kinds of explosives and metal weapons during tests at actual airports. As those are the very things one might be suspected of hiding in one’s shoes, that’s not a promising sign.

There were high hopes when the Homeland Security Department said last year that research was being developed to let us stay clad in footwear, but now the TSA says things have barely progressed. The agency wouldn’t explain how these devices had failed, exactly, “But over all, the machines we tested didn’t detect all the materials we were looking for,” said a TSA spokeswoman.

Some things have changed to make things easier on certain travelers — a prescreening program to allow certain passengers to keep on shoes, belts and jackets and special dispensation for elderly and kids to stay fully intact. But if there’s one thing we all hate, it’s having our bare feet touch that floor or sliding through on socks. Yick.

The U.S. Travel Association says we even hate being barefoot more than getting full body scans or pat-downs.

“It’s had enough of an impact that it has pushed people toward other forms of transportation,” said a spokesman for the association.

The TSA says it gets it, and is trying to streamline this whole shoe thing as it results in longer lines. We’ve all been in line behind that woman with the impossibly complicated high-heeled boots with laces and tassles flying every which way, or the dad with three kids hanging off of him and interfering with his ability to unlace his oxfords.

“The removal of footwear takes time, reduces the efficiency of the checkpoint, creates safety concerns with footwear removal and contributes to passenger dissatisfaction,” the agency said in a blog post last year.

Part of the problem with the tested machines could be because some of them can detect metal explosives, but not those containing plastic. Other times, it seems the TSA just didn’t think the scanners were up to snuff, even if the companies who make them were of a different view.

Experts say maybe the problem isn’t in trying to detect all the various things that could be smuggled onboard, and instead, should be looking at how it screens people. For example, at Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, screeners are trained to make a quick decision as to whether a traveler is a threat, after asking a series of questions and judging their reactions. That might not work to well in the U.S., with our already epically long lines and no time for a chat.

A TSA spokeswoman paints a somewhat bleak picture on the topic of removing our shoes, just to drive the point home.

“It’s going to be a part of air travel for the foreseeable future,” she said.

It’s all about the slip-on shoes, people. Streamline yourself and do everyone else a favor.

*Thanks for the tip, Lenny! 

With Footwear Scanners Failing in Airport Tests, the Shoes Still Have to Come Off [New York Times]