Airport Security:

Having just endured another flight through America's airports, I swallowed the bitter irony of reading this article on plane, "How one airport keeps its security lines short." The answer seems to be that San Francisco's airport security has remained in private hands, which has generated more workforce flexibility and technology innovations:

San Francisco is one of five U.S. airports where security is not provided by the federal agency created after the Sept. 11 attacks. As the debate continues over whether the nation's airports should use a private or government security force, San Francisco is an example of how private security can make a difference — if implemented well.

Security waits at San Francisco were longer than 10 minutes only 2% of the time from June 2004 to mid-May, a USA TODAY analysis of federal records shows. At other large airports, lines exceeded 10 minutes nearly four times as often.

"It's an efficient airport," says passenger Luke Alexander of San Jose, Calif., who regularly takes international flights from San Francisco.

After Sept. 11, the Transportation Security Administration took over passenger screening from airlines, which had security companies plagued by high turnover. The law creating TSA let five airports have private security with TSA oversight to provide a comparison.

Despite San Francisco's experience, TSA says there's no clear evidence that private management shortens lines. (TZ: A shocking conclusion by TSA).

A TSA-commissioned study in April 2004 found that passengers "experienced shorter wait times" at San Francisco's checkpoints and that security there was no more or less effective than at other large airports.

Also, personally, one of my least favorite things in the world is having to take my shoes off when walking through the metal detector, especially because I had understood that removing shoes is not required by law. (If you need another reason other than inconvenience and the feeling of being treated even more like cattle, read this article "Airport shoe inspection raises risk of foot fungi". Blech.) I even wore sneakers on the flight to try to avoid having to take them off. No luck.

So, since I arrived early for my flight, I decided I would find out what would happen if I didn't remove my shoes. Then I entered the strange world of modern airport security. I was confronted by a TSA officer who told me, "If you don't remove your shoes, you will be pulled aside for a special check." I said "ok." They then led me to another cattle pen where--and I swear I am not making this up--a TSA official stood directly in front of me, ignoring me and staring at the work schedule grid for almost five minutes (mind you, all it was was a matrix of the 10 or so security officials and what time they would be working this week, so I'm not sure what was so complicated). Meanwhile, 4 other employees stood around seemingly doing nothing (compare that to San Francisco airport). Then after five minutes of ignoring me, the person in front of me finally noticed me and said, "We need to get a male screener over here." I'm not sure why she didn't mention that while she was figuring out the scheduling grid.

I was confused, because I thought that all they would need to do was screen my shoes in some way. Nope, they then did a full-body wand and patdown, ran my boarding pass through a computer, and then finally took a dust swab off my shoes to run through a computer. (Whew, I passed!!).

Why they need to do a full-body patdown, as opposed to just a scan of your shoes when you decide not to remove your shoes when you go through the metal detector is not clear to me. The only explanation that I can think of is to raise the cost and inconvenience to those don't want to remove their shoes so as to deter people from refusing to remove their shoes.

Cheburashka (mail):
I'm glad people are starting to take the absurdity of what's happened to airport security seriously.

Have you considered turning this into an op-ed?
7.28.2005 12:10pm
Universal Acid (mail) (www):
It's hard to argue that SFO's better performance is due to the fact that a private company runs security, because, as stated later in the article, the other 4 airports whose security is run by private companies have a mixed record.

Kansas City and Tupelo, Miss., had short lines... Lines were about average at Jackson Hole (Wyo.) Airport and longer at Rochester (N.Y.) International Airport.

Seems to me that SFO simply has better screening policies, which other airports should adopt.
7.28.2005 12:41pm
Richard Reid was wearing sneakers. The explosives that can be hidden in them cannot necessarily be detected by an airport metal detector, which is why TSA is supposed to do an X-ray inspection or other, more detailed check.
7.28.2005 12:42pm
Nobody (mail):
Maybe they did the extra check on you because someone who resists a reasonable request (please put your shoes through the scanner) raises red flags. Maybe you shouldn't be a pain in the neck just for the heck of it.
7.28.2005 12:53pm
Larry (mail) (www):
Isn't the real issue whether the Professor should have been on the flight in the first place ?
7.28.2005 12:54pm
Mike Maddox (mail):
You're confused? You are deliberately uncooperative with people who are trying to save lives, just to see "what would happen", and you are surprised that they decided to pay more attention to you? Would you want them to NOT be alert to such things?
We can't afford to have screeners assume that everyone who refuses searches are testing the limits of airport security.
7.28.2005 12:57pm
Gene Vilensky (www):
The whole shoe thing is the most idiotic thing I have ever heard.

First, it seems bizarre that only after Richard Reid, for the first time, it was discovered that people can hide explosives in their shoes. Why only after Reid, did they deem it necessary to take shoes off? I would assume the threat of shoe bombs always existed and no one thought it important enough to make us take our shoes off because the chance was 1 in a billion. But now that that rare event occurred (and probably will not occur again), they make us take our shoes off, even though the probability of shoe bomb attacks has probably not changed at all. Yeah, that makes sense.

Second, what if the next airplane terrorist attack is by someone who stuffs a wad of explosives down his pants. Are we going to require men to take their pants off? Presumably, people who don't care about taking their own life in the pursuit of mass murder would presumably have no limit as to which body parts to shove explosives into. It is well-known, for example, for drug smugglers to stash their wares in all sorts of interesting places. So if Colombian drug lords have the will to sitting uncomfortably on a flight for five hours why wouldn't al Qaeda? What's next, full cavity searches before boarding airplanes?
7.28.2005 12:59pm
Cheburashka (mail):
And why only shoes? If you can hide undetectable explosives there, why not sow them into a jacket? But one guy hid them in shoes, so now for all time we will be de-shoed while other hiding places go unsearched.

The issue here is extraordinary incompetence by the airport security people.
7.28.2005 1:18pm
Just take your shoes off. It's really not that big an outrage.
7.28.2005 1:19pm
Zywicki (mail):
Nobody--My wife often wishes the same thing.

Mike Maddox--If this truly saves lives, why don't we change the law and require it, rather than the TSA constantly denying that there is any requirement to do it, and then effectively requiring it anyway? Or they could announce an official rule-making and justify the policy in a public forum as being related to the security goals they are supposedly furthering.

Reasonableness is often in the eye of the beholder, but I personally don't see the reasonableness of doing a full-body patdown for someone who does not remove his shoes, which is not required by law in the first place and which TSA consistently denies is required by law. Of course, reasonable minds can disagree. "Deliberately uncooperative" could cover most any request that TSA might make of anyone, no matter how arbitrary or extralegal (as Gene Vilensky notes).

If they want to swab my shoes, that's fine, but I haven't seen any evidence to justify a greater intrusion and delay than that.
7.28.2005 1:24pm
Ryan J. Cooper:
First, at SF waits were longer than 10 minutes only 2% of the time; at other airports wait times over 10 minutes occured with four times the frequency. Oh, four times two is 8%, that's a huge difference? Do we know whether waits over ten minutes were 11 minutes, or 20 minutes, or 45 minutes? Also, as Universal points out, other airports with private screening are seeing mixed results.

Most importantly, you cannot seriously be measuring success, effectiveness, or efficiency by wait times alone? Is there any evidence, even ancedotal, that private screeners are screening effectively?

Sure its a pain, and maybe private companies are better. But the article in question and this post don't shed any real light on the question.
7.28.2005 1:25pm
Mark (www):
The strange thing about the shoes is when they claim "it's not required to take off your shoes". Well, why not? They require you to take off your jacket. They require you to take off all metal jewelry. They require you to remove your laptop from its bag. Why can't they just say "taking off shoes is REQUIRED". That's what's unusual...they phrase it as a request or a suggestion.

What prevents them from saying it's required? Not the law, surely. The screeners have the ability to give other orders to travelers.

I wonder, just thinking out loud here, if it doesn't stem from a desire not to offend people by requiring them to remove garments and make their feet visible....
7.28.2005 1:25pm
I just wish they would provide a seating area immediately after the security checkpoint for me to put my shoes back on. I find it rather difficult to put shoes back on while standing.
7.28.2005 1:30pm
B. B. (mail):
A lot of wait times has to do with how many people are coming through versus how many lines are available. At O'Hare and DTW, I've rarely waited a long time because they had a lot of lines for the number of people coming through. At Midway, everyone who is flying goes through a set of about 6 screening stations. When it's not a busy time, it's quick. However, during heavy flying times (i.e. around the holidays) there are far more people than they can handle and it can take up to an hour. The people are very efficient, there's just only so much they can do about it.

The shoe thing is annoying, but it's far far worse when you're wearing sandals or flipflops though; anything you could do is visible seeing as they're open shoes, and you have to walk on the floor in bare feet -- eww.
7.28.2005 1:32pm
Mr. X (www):
-----Original Message-----
From: Mr. X
Sent: Tuesday, December 28, 2004 2:05 PM
To: TSA-ContactCenter
Subject: Complaint regarding security at BWI

Dear Sirs,
On December 21, at approximately 6:20 am, I entered the security line at Baltimore-Washington International Airport's D Pier. After a significant delay as eight crew members were sent through my line ahead of me, I got to the front of the leftmost aisle at approximately 6:40 am. The delay left me with only 15 minutes to get the other end of the terminal in time to board my 7:06 am flight to Phoenix.

I had removed my jacket and all metal objects from my pocket and placed them on the belt, along with my laptop computer (in a bin) and my laptop case. As I prepared to walk through the metal detector, the screener, a woman named Towanda, suggested that I might want to take my shoes off.

Having been through security in many airports with these same shoes, I replied, "No thank you." I then walked through the detector without setting it off. At this point, Towanda snidely told me that I needed to step over to the side for
special screening. It was clear from her tone of voice and demeanor that I was being singled out because I had taken the option not to remove my shoes.

After stepping off to the side, I asked her what her name was. She hastily turned her ID badge over so I could not read it and refused to tell me her name. When the male screener came over to lead me to the screening area, he asked
her, "What are you doing now, Towanda?" She angrily replied, "Don't tell him my name."

After a protracted and invasive search, including a screener sticking his hand inside the waistband of my pants, I left, feeling even more angry and disgusted. Looking at the clock, it was 6:53 am. Faced with the choice of staying to
complain to the on-duty supervisor and running to make my flight so I could arrive in time for the business meeting, I chose the latter. I was the very last person on the plane, getting on at 6:58 am, out of breath and exhausted.

I would like to know what you plan to do about the rude behavior and inconsistent and hostile policies of your screeners.

Yours truly,

Mr. X

cc: Congressman Albert Wynn, 4th District of Maryland
Keith L. Alexander, Washington Post Columnist
7.28.2005 1:39pm
The treatment you received is the same treatment you should expect any law enforcement officer. If you try to be lawyerly, they can and often will make life hell for you. In contrast to what I've seen in some of my cases, you got off easy.

Treat cops (TSA screeners included) with respect. Generally speaking, you should accede to their lawful "requests," even when they're quirky or annoying. Otherwise, the best you can hope for is the minimum rights given you by statute and by the constitution. In an airport, the minimum is pretty darned minimal.

As to the shoes, the screeners have to fight the last war. If someone else pulled a Richard Reid, people would mercilessly attack the screeners. But if a terrorist came up with something new, the criticism would be far less scathing.
7.28.2005 1:43pm
lucia (mail) (www):
I wore sneakers when I flew from Chicago to Tampa. It was inconvenient. I decided to make a pair of elegant flip flops for travel.

When I boarded to return home from Tampa, the air port security guys laughed out loud and suggested I needed a matching hat.

I'm sure you could make yourself similar footwear in colors to coordinate with the rest of your travel wardrobe.
7.28.2005 1:55pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"If this truly saves lives, why don't we change the law and require it, rather than the TSA constantly denying that there is any requirement to do it, and then effectively requiring it anyway?"


And yes, you've nailed it. They act as if it is required, generally fooling most people. Anyone who calls their bluff must be made to regret it. Hey, they're petty little people who can't get better jobs. It's the only power they have.
7.28.2005 2:04pm
A. Friend:
In addition to all the damage that people could do with explosives concealed in other areas on their person that are not checked (as a poster above noted), imagine what kind of damange one could do on a plane with a simple set of matches and flammable material (or a cigarette lighter and the fluid within it). But not only are matches/lighters virtually impossible to detect; they are permitted (or at least condoned) in "secure" areas. . . . Compare the idiocy of airport searches with the subway searches just instituted in New York City: a terrorist who is summoned to a search has the right to refuse to submit to it, and can walk away, unquestioned and undeterred, to the next subway stop, to try again (and again after that, need be). Alternatively, even if the the terrorist, if a suicide bomber (whom the policy seems designed to deter), is required by some future erosion of personal liberties to submit to a seach, he can simply detonate then and there, taking with him a few of "New York's Finest" as a consolation prize.
7.28.2005 2:08pm
Blithering Idiot (mail) (www):
About 2 years ago, this went from a minor inconvenience to a major problem for me. In the Missoula, MT airport, I got tagged twice for intensive security screening. The first was for my luggage -- which took forever -- and I had to stay there while they did something like spectroscopic analysis. After I was allowed to check my luggage, time was getting tight and at the checkpoint to get to the gates I got tagged again -- this time I had to remove my shoes and do the (semi-private) strip search. By now, it was take-off time, but TSA didn't care -- a colleague who was on a later flight to BWI (I was going to Reagan) ran up to say they were holding the door for me, but if I didn't run, I'd miss the flight.* I put my tennis shoes on, but didn't tie them and ran for the plane -- badly twisting my ankle in the process. Since that time, I've had a severely aggrevated sprain that won't go away and I just went in for x-rays to determine why it's not healing.

Now I have to wear high top shoes or boots to keep my ankle in line and keep the pain down.

Since I travel by air 1-2 times a month (meaning 2-6 security clearances a month), that means a request to take off the shoes, every time. With high tops this gets difficult, so after about a year I started refusing. While most TSA screeners get really irritated with this, a few have been decent. Generally while they are doing this, I give them my explanation as to why I don't take off my shoes. The decent ones will do a swab of my shoes -- which I have no problem with. The others just seem to want to hassle me.

Basically, I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more.

I don't have a problem with increased security, but so much of this -- like the shoe thing -- is not rational.

*I should note that I was at the Missoula airport 90 minutes ahead of my flight departure -- it was TSA incompetence that made this a problem.
7.28.2005 2:22pm
The answer is profiling.

Virtually ALL terrorists are of middle eastern appearance and are between 20 and 40 years old. But, we've become so scared of OURSELVES we screen every 6 year old and 96 year old in sight. Absolutely ridiculous.

If we profiled, and screened only those who undeniably fit the terrorist profile, ALL of us, including those screened, would get through much faster.
7.28.2005 2:23pm
This same thing has happened to me at LAX and ATL. We have the unthinking "this saves lives, just comply" drones to thank for this system. I am always curious as to exactly how many terrorists have been caught in the screenings since 2001. It seems to me that bribing the typical unethical, unintelligent DMV types that have to settle for jobs as screeners would be the easiest way to get explosives on board. Not that this is necessary, given that one could simply detonate a bomb in the TSA line, killing more people than blowing up a plane would.

I'm just tired of the fraud - don't tell me something is 'recommended' and then treat it as mandatory and enforce it via a system of intentional harassment.

Once, I asked a screener for her name, because she was so amazingly rude, and some other idiot told me that I was violating federal law that prohibited "threatening screeners" because of the implication that I might communicate my dissastisfaction to her employer once I obtained her name.

So much for government for the people...
7.28.2005 2:24pm
Jacob Lister (mail):
I wonder if they tagged you as a troublemaker for future screeners when they scanned your boarding pass.
7.28.2005 2:40pm
Since no one else has raised this point I suppose I should: Airport security that is too invasive is more than an inconvenience, it causes people to die. Why? Because exceedingly strict airport security discourages people from flying, and encourages other means of transportation. This leads people to drive places instead of flying and, as we all know, driving is a considerably more dangerous means of transportation. Certainly there is an optimal level of security, but I fear we have passed that point.
7.28.2005 2:51pm
Humble Law Student:
Well, I can't say my opinion of private screeners is too great. I had the last of my cash (a single $50 bill meant to pay for my car parking at my home airport) stolen from my wallet on my way back from NYC. At JFK (I believe it was that airport), TSA had to hire a private company to help with the screenings because of the number of travelers. Well, as I approached the line, I purposefully checked my wallet to ensure I still had the money and rememebered making a comment to my then ex-girlfriend about how we only had $50 to pay for everything on the way back. As I went through the line, I emptied my wallet into the tray along with my keys and other items, one of the screeners took the tray and I stupidly assumed that he put it immediately on the conveyor belt. I stepped through the metal detector and grabbed my wallet the second it came through the conveyor belt metal detector. I opened my wallet, and alas, my money was gone. I immediately contacted security and they conducted an investigation on the spot. However, the money was never found and unfortunately for me, the spot where the theft occured was the only blind spot for the security cameras in the entire area. Just my luck. I found out afterwards that one doesn't have to remove their wallet, which I don't do anymore when I travel, much to the annoyance of the screeners. They hastle me everytime when I refuse to do so, but at least I get to keep my money!

On the profiling side, I am a frequent subject of these "extra" security measures. I've had some 12 flights in the past year, and out of the 24 screenings that I had to go through, I was pulled aside for probably 20 of them. I guess a tall 6'4" red-headed caucasion young male is high on their watch list. God knows those red-heads are trouble!!! On the other hand, maybe my immense size intimidates them or something. I'm an amateur body builder and I often fantasize about just grabbing one of them by the neck and squeezing... Is that just me?
7.28.2005 2:56pm
James of England:
You can't physically stop people from being able to get on planes with explosives. All my life I've been reading articles by journalists who showed how easy it was to sneak "bombs" past security, since the PLO and IRA made this a perpetually interesting topic. Clearly, like Gene suggests, hiding bombs in your anal cavity should be pretty secure against any "reasonable" search. Still, the measures seem to have an effect, if only through intimidation. Perhaps Columbian Drug Lords are willing to fill themselves up, but I suspect that they leave that to mules somewhat junior to their position in the hierarchy. Most of the people who engage in these attacks seem to be more like the lords than the mules: middle class; educated; easily scared; and deeply interested in their own comfort.

With regard to why they physically search people who don't wish to remove their shoes, they have 2 ways of getting people through lines. They have the fast track system and their secondary search system. If you're not going to go through one, you go through the other. The secondary line has to cover all the reasons why people might not be travelling through the primary line, from a refusal to remove shoes to an alert on your record. The reason that you're not required to take off your shoes is that for some people that would be an exceptionally irksome requirement (Blithering Idiot gives us an example of why this might be). Still, it's helpful to everyone when you go through the standard system, and they rightly strongly encourage you to do so. Allowing the TSA to be intimidating may feel obnoxious, but intimidation is really all we have.
7.28.2005 2:58pm
Jay Kominek (mail) (www):
These days, I wear sandals, without socks when flying. I refuse to have them x-rayed. (I tell the screener "I'll take my chances".) They run me through everytime.
It doesn't really change much for me, anyways. Since 9/11, I havn't flown without being pulled over for the wanding, regardless of my mode of dress, footwear, etc. (Except in Canada.)

I'm sure some here will think poorly of me for it, but I encourage others to not remove their footwear beforehand. If the TSA is going to do this, they ought to give everyone nice benches to sit on, and little disposable paper slippers or something to wear while they go through. And have the decency not to lie to us about it being required. Until they show me some consideration, I'll be as disobedient as possible.
7.28.2005 2:59pm
Trenchard Gordon:
I'm astonished at the posters who want to chide Zwicki for insisting on his legal right to keep his shoes on.

It would be one thing if the screeners were actually deeply concerned about preventing terrorism; but they're not. The mathematical probabilities of any single passenger (especially non-Arabic-speaking) committing a terrorist act are infinitesimally small, and Towanda knows it. Even if one were to slip past her, she is likely to lose her job, but nothing more. Accordingly, her incentives to prevent terrorism are much more diffuse than those of the passengers and airline shareholders who would suffer more directly. Rather than crediting her with being more moral or hardworking than the rest of us, we ought to see her as driven by the same base desires that motivate people generally. She wants maximize rewards for minimum work. Most of this pay comes in the form of dollars, but some also likely comes from the rush of exercising authority over complaining passengers, many of whom are wealthier and better educated than she.
7.28.2005 3:03pm
Bob (mail):
A while back I was flying to Dulles Airport and discovered that my name (a fairly common one) appeared on a "no-fly" list. Once I was cleared at RDU, I had little problem getting through security going or returning.

On my most recent trip with my wife and six-year-old son, however, no one mentioned that my name was on the "no-fly" list. Instead, the three of us were seemingly randomly selected for full searches (even after removing our shoes) and having our luggage screened before we would be given our boarding passes both going and returning. It was quite a sight to see my six-year-old standing with legs spread and arms outsearched while he was wanded and patted down. Of course, he thought it was pretty neat (he didn't know any better -- it was his first flight), and the screener said, "These little guys are pretty easy to do." But I believe my wife has decided to fly separately from me in the future.
7.28.2005 3:05pm
It's amazing to listen to how middle and upper class people complain when they get the same treatment that law enforcement regular doles out to others.

Some people want a White privilege to avoid screening. If we did that, we would leave an opening in the system that terrorists could exploit--terrorists would concentrate on recruiting fair skinned people. It wouldn't even exclude all Arabs, many of whom are very fair-skinned.

There is another benefit to forcing all of us to endure similar treatment--it encourages people to demand more courteous and thoughtful treatment by the screeners. If we only subjected a small minority to the screening, who would lobby for better treatment?
7.28.2005 3:09pm
I am agreeing with Public Defender on this one. NO BIG DEAL. Geeze.

"I'm astonished at the posters who want to chide Zwicki for insisting on his legal right to keep his shoes on."
Legal right to keep his shoes on? Give me a break. This is getting pathetic, fast.

We've got terrorist murderers carrying explosives in their shoes, so now we have to watch for that. Zywicki complaining about the minor inconvenience seems pretty pathetic in light of the alternative.

Really, what is a matter with you?
7.28.2005 3:20pm
If we excluded six-year-olds from screening, do you think the terrorists would think twice about strapping a bomb to one?
7.28.2005 3:21pm
TZ's unintentional humor continues to amuse. First, he argues that private screeners are better than TSA screeners based on an article which doesn't support that proposition at all (as others have noted, the other private screening airports had mixed speed results and, in any event, the speed says nothing about efficacy.) Then, in the comments, TZ temporarily seems to forget his libertarian hatred of regulation by arguing that the TSA should "announce an official rule-making and justify the policy in a public forum as being related to the security goals they are supposedly furthering." TZ should spend more time thinking before he posts: if he believes that TSA screeners are less efficient because of government bureaucracy, new government regulations are probably not the best solution.
7.28.2005 3:21pm
So what's the best way to irk an annoying TSA drone? Often government type bureaucracies and their paperwork requirements allow a limited amount of "pay-back". For example, in my state, if you call in a report of a state-trooper exceeding the speed limit, you'll get the option of filing an unofficial complaint (which basically means it will be reported to the trooper's supervisor) or you can file and "official" complaint which triggers an Internal Affairs investigation and results in much paperwork that travels up and down the chain of command and a mark on their "permanent record" (all irrespective of whether or not the complaint had merit). Of course, the troopers absolutely hate this. I wonder if the TSA doesn't have something similar. The next time someone hassles you, you might drop hints about how you're thinking about filing an official complaint.
7.28.2005 3:22pm
I'm curious. Do most people here consider themselves citizens or subjects?
7.28.2005 3:25pm
Just A. Citizen:
Here's another view of airport security and other aspects of the state of affairs:

The site gives the background and current status of Gilmore v Ashcroft and presents the Constitutional questions raised by requiring papers to prove identification in the US.
7.28.2005 3:34pm
Hiram Hover (www):
Anyone interested in a more hands off--but also more revealing--alternative should check out the x-ray technology that the British are already using:

AN X-RAY machine that sees through air passengers' clothes has been deployed by security staff at London's Heathrow airport for the first time.

The device at Terminal 4 produces a "naked" image of passengers by bouncing X-rays off their skin, enabling staff instantly to spot any hidden weapons or explosives.

But the graphic nature of the black and white images it generates — including revealing outlines of men and women — has raised concerns about privacy both among travellers and aviation authorities.

American authorities say they won't adopt the techonology until they can find some way to obscure "sensitive body parts"--which sort of suggests a place that someone might try to hide a weapon, no?
7.28.2005 3:37pm
"Having been through security in many airports with these same shoes, I replied, "No thank you." I then walked through the detector without setting it off. At this point, Towanda snidely told me that I needed to step over to the side for special screening. It was clear from her tone of voice and demeanor that I was being singled out because I had taken the option not to remove my shoes."

Good. I hope she does it again.

Nobody has even begun to address why this is unreasonable. Hey, maybe we should all give you special treatment. Why even x-ray your bags or check our identification? Why have security at all?
7.28.2005 3:38pm
Zywicki won't even take off his shoes, what makes you think he's going to let Twanada check out his package?
7.28.2005 3:39pm

Nobody has even begun to address why this is unreasonable.

Of course, we could also ask the opposite question. Why should we put up with this government mandated cowardice? If you're so deathly afraid of ending up on a hijacked plane, maybe you should exercise you right to not fly. Maybe we need the option to have a "Men's Airline" where women and children are not allowed and everyone is required to carry a side-arm. You can sign me up as a charter member.
7.28.2005 3:47pm
What I don't get is the variation among airports. Last week, I took several flights, and never once took off my shoes or was even asked to take off my shoes at any of the several airports where I went through security. Why not? They were trail-running sneakers, and probably could have hidden explsoives. Who makes these decisions about whether to ask all, some or none of the people in line to take off shoes?
7.28.2005 3:50pm
Citizen, thanks for the curtious and non-evasive answer. The merits of your position are now clear to all.

People should be free to stuff their shoes with explosives and waltz right by security personel, citing their non-existent "right" not to remove their shoes before boarding a plane with hundreds of other people.
7.28.2005 3:51pm
Freddy Hill (mail):
In Tokyo they give you nice bathroom slippers to walk through security. In other places in the Far East they have a supply of surgical overshoes.

Perhaps their culture values politeness more than ours.
7.28.2005 3:59pm

What I don't get is the variation among airports. . . . Who makes these decisions about whether to ask all, some or none of the people in line to take off shoes?

Some prisons and jails (where I frequently have to go to visit clients) change security rules arbitrarily to avoid being predictable. I suspect airports do the same. The more predicable the security is, the easier it is for would-be terrorists to exploit weak spots.

I admit, though, that incompetence is another perfectly plausible explanation.
7.28.2005 4:08pm
Dick King:
I occasionally say, with my tongue only slightly in my cheek, that now that everyone realizes that the rules of the game have changed, the airline could undeniably prevent all hijackings by placing a dagger in each seatback pouch next to the aur sickness bag. You would have to pass through the metal detectors on your way out of the plane because the airline wouldn't want their [expensive -- made of exotic aerospace alloys -- every ounce counts aboard an aircraft] daggers to get stolen. The five minute lecture at the start of the flight would include some elementry knife fighting techniques. No terrorist would get anywhere with a box cutters and he would be outnumbered and very dead if he tried to use the supplied daggers.

It's kind of unreasonable to have a men's airline. Women can handle themselves and hijackers equally well.

Of course none of this has anything to do with shoe explosives.

7.28.2005 4:15pm
Gene Vilensky (www):

Why is taking off shoes unreasonable?

1) There is no evidence that post-Richard Reid, there is an increased risk of shoe-bombing. Not a single shred of evidence. The risk now, is, as it was before December 2001, tiny. Unless you can provide evidence that at some point, there was an operational al Qaeda directive to target US flights by setting off shoe bombs, there is no evidence that the risk is higher. Imagine that the first time you bought a lotter ticket, you won the jackpot. That does not mean that the probability of winning the lottery has now increased and you should now buy a lottery ticket every day.

2) From the standpoint of security, taking off shoes is no different in kind from taking off your pants or your underwear or your bra, or your jockstrap, etc. One can hide explosives in any number of articles of clothing, not just shoes. If you require people to take off shoes, I see no reason not to require people to take off their underwear.

3) Every time terrorists come up with new ways to implant bombs on their persons does not mean that we have to take up a security measure to check in case a passanger is going to use that method. If we do, terrorists will just switch to different methods.

The unreasonableness comes form the fact that the risk of a shoe-bombing attack is so low but the inconvenience and cost is so high.
7.28.2005 4:25pm
Trenchard Gordon:
Legal right to keep his shoes on? Give me a break. This is getting pathetic, fast

This is ad hominem, not argument. Moreover, it leaves your point ambiguous. Do you dispute that such a legal right exists, or do you merely claim it is nitpicky to assert it? Either assertion is bound to run into problems.

We've got terrorist murderers carrying explosives in their shoes, so now we have to watch for that

Watching is one thing; subjecting unwilling passengers to involuntary searches and delays is another -- something that needs to be justified by more than visceral reaction to the appearance of enhanced safety. What evidence suggests the costs of delay, annoyance, and higher taxes are delivering any significant benefits? Economists Gary Becker and Kevin Murphy have tried to do some work on this, but the bottom line is that any claim of benefit in prohibiting infrequent, catastrophic acts remains highly speculative. In a constitutional republic of limited federal powers, surely the burden of justification ought to rest with the government.

Yesterday the terrorists used airplanes. Today it's subways. Tomorrow it will likely be something else, perhaps water supplies or truck bombs. And whatever form it takes, we can be certain it will result in additional searches and further restrictions on movement and contractual freedoms, with equally dubious justification.

Robert Higgs's book, >Crisis and Leviathan documents the chilling history of crises in American history, and makes a compelling case that each real or metaphorical war (e.g. "War on Poverty: "War on Terror")-- triggers an expansion in government spending and a reduction in civil liberties to meet the crisis. Unfortunately, once the problem du jour is licked, things never fully return to pre-crisis levels. Taxes remain higher than before and civil liberties fewer. Thus we see a rachet effect that guarantees sporadic expansions of government power. I fear the current spasm of airport security will be with us long after Al Qaida is dead and buried.
7.28.2005 4:30pm
1) Just because we did not think of a particular risk decades ago does not mean we cannot take steps to protect against it now.

2) Taking off shoes is obviously less intrusive than taking off your underwear. Just because we do not take every conceivable precaution against terrorism does not mean we cannot take any.

3) I agree with you that there is a desperate failure of imagination when it comes to responding against terrorism. It reminds me of the time I went to federal court the week after the Oklahoma City bombing and found that they no longer let you park a vehicle in the lane outside the courthouse. After 9/11, now you can't take a box cutter on a plane. The problem is that if you take a precaution that doesn't relate to a generally recognized threat, you get even more complaints than what you see in this comment thread.

It's ironic that the same people who complain about security lines taking too long are coming up with all these clever ideas to harass the security personnel and waste their time, which may feel good but also delays fellow travelers.
7.28.2005 4:33pm
Cheburashka (mail):
It seems to me that the shoe risk isn't tiny. The marginal additional risk caused by not inspecting shoes is zero.

This is so because common shoe inspections simply result in attackers sowing the tiny explosives into some other article of clothing that isn't generally ordered removed.

Shoe inspections do, however, give airport security personnel more opportunities to inflict their life frustrations on hapless travellers.
7.28.2005 4:33pm
mike (mail):
I traveled this past weekend from Denver to Philadephia. Security was literally laughable - no less than 6 TSA people at the screening area literally standing around staring off into space. I was told not only did I have to remove my FLIP FLOPS but I could not *hold* my sunglasses - I had to have them in a pocket or on my head.

needless to say I had no trouble with the small amount of marijuana in my pants.
7.28.2005 4:51pm
David M. Nieporent (www):
As long as we're on the topic, can anybody explain why we have to take laptops out of their cases? I could understand them wanting to scrutinize the laptops, I guess. In the old days, they used to make you turn it on to prove it really was a laptop. But they don't do that. What exactly is the point?

1) Just because we did not think of a particular risk decades ago does not mean we cannot take steps to protect against it now.

The fact that we did not think of a particular risk decades ago and didn't protect against it and nothing happened in all those decades means we should probably find higher risks to deal with than that one, now.
7.28.2005 5:41pm
DL (mail):
a link from boing-boing about a passenger who got herself a possible year in prison over an inspection after trying to do unto the security groper what had been done to her.

Here's a possible threat from it: terrorist bio-lab develops a killer strain of foot fungus. Plants it on a suicide air traveler who walks through the security clearing lines barefoot of multiple airports before they die. Everyone who stepped where they did... dies too.
7.28.2005 5:49pm
Guest from SFO:

Interesting. At San Francisco, I was required to take my shoes off, though I wasn't in L.A. When I did not do so, the S.F. screening people threatened me with a "full secondary," which is what I take it you got. Unlike you, I promptly took my shoes off. So I think there's a randomness element here, making it difficult to generalize about public/private.
7.28.2005 6:49pm
Jack Diederich (mail) (www):
Want silly? I was given a pack of matches by the TSA. Why? because they confiscated my bic lighter . Lighters are illegal, matches are not, and I'm assuming the TSA staffers were just trying to minimize the passenger complaints.
7.28.2005 6:49pm
A reader:
Re the shoes: I never remove my shoes unless asked. Interestingly, I am only very rarely asked to do so (not more than twice in the last five years), at which point I look dumb and say, "oh, OK" and remove them. Typically, though, I just walk right through the metal detector. I think it's a Jedi mind trick of sorts. Smile, nod, don't think about your shoes, and walk on through.
7.28.2005 6:58pm
Cal Lanier (mail) (www):
"Why is taking off shoes unreasonable? "

It's not legally required, which means that no one has to care whether or not you think it's reasonable.

Incidentally, if everyone refused to take off their shoes, the petty revenges would end. Congress would either require it by law or the demand would disappear.
7.28.2005 7:08pm
Buck Turgidson (mail):
I went through an unusually high number of flights in the last four months along two routes--one major (major airport to major airport) and one minor (both with one end of the flight at the same airport). I have refused to take my shoes off either overtly or silently every time. The reactions could not have been more different. There was no correlation between the reactions and the airports, time of day, airline, length of line or any other variable that I can think of.

The first two times, I was told, "We also recommend that you put your shoes through the X-ray." Both times I asked, "What happens if I don't?" And the answer, point blank, was that they go through a special screening. Both times the agents were polite and efficient, swiping the shoes, wadding the sides of the body, then patting down shoulder to knee and checking the waist band on the pants.

Since then, I have only been asked to remove my shoes once. In that instance, I was sent to the glass-wall area about 10 feet away, where the agent took my shoes off, swiping them on the outside and on the inside, then following the same procedure as in the other two cases. He clearly had no interest in the search, as the procedure was completely routine.

In all other instances (at least 5 other flights), I simply walked through without any questions, comments or searches. At one point, the agents were actually asking everyone in line--a general request, not personal to each traveler--to take the shoes off. There was no reaction from any of them when I walked through the scanner, even though at least two agents clearly saw that I was wearing shoes. On the other hand, I watched as one agent asked a teenage girl to take off her flip-flops (!) and put them through the scanner.

The situation is really odd. About half the time I traveled with a laptop, which generally complicates the pass-through procedure. However, the laptop never caused any difficulty. The only time my bags were hand-inspected (no shoe inspection on that trip) was when they were suspicious of a pickle jar (we don't get this brand around here). But, as soon as they opened the bag and saw what it was, the doubts ended.

My reason for refusing the shoe inspection is not simply defiance in the face of authority. Three years ago, I watched as one of my aged relatives from Israel was forced to take his shoes off without so much as being offered a chair. This was an international flight (to Israel, no less), so he had to pass through several levels of security. He was singled out at every stop and was asked to take his shoes off each time. Finally, at the pre-boarding inspection, it actually dawned on one of the agents that it would make sense if an elderly man would take his shoes off while sitting down. It was rather obvious that this was not a random set of inspections, but why they would sinlge out a somewhat frail 72-year-old Jew was not clear.

Since then, however, a couple of things changed. First, multiple inspections have been eliminated. The number of random inspections has been reduced. The shoe policy has become nearly universal, but inconsistently enforced and still not a requirement, unlike, say, hats and jackets being required to be sent through the scanner.

Meanwhile, I have gone through security scans with awls, 2mm mechanical pencils and screwdrivers in my carry-on. Some were deliberate (I wanted to see how they would react to a mechanical pencil), some inadvertent (once I had a pocket knife in the bag that went through undetected). The one item that caused the most confusion--to the point that several agents actually ran to the area to see what the comotion was about--was an electronic tire gauge that has a grip that resembles that of a saw or, with somewhat stretched imagination, a pistol. You can get one of these at Sears for $10, for example. But the agents had no idea what to make of it, even though the item was in its case, complete with instructions and the store receipt. Finally, they decided that the object was harmless, but that I should check it in as "luggage". They even gave me a box for it!

It's a crazy enterprize. But I have noticed that in the last two years the screeners are paying closer attention to what they see on the scanner. This is an improvement.
7.28.2005 7:30pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I am not sure right now if lighters are legal or illegal. My memory is that they went legal-illegal-legal in the space of a couple of weeks. So, maybe illegal again.

Girlfriend since Nov. when she had a neuro-stimulator put in her back for pain control always gets hand patted, etc. She claims that she gets through faster than before when she went through normal screening, and, traveling with her, that is my experience. And, interestingly, she rarely has to take her shoes off, even when I do. When they suggest it, she asks if they can help her get them on afterwords, as she has a hard time bending over. That usually stops that.

I think though that the difference is that they feel sorry for her. It is one thing for someone elderly, or even in bad shape to have to be hand patted due to a pacemaker. But she is only 48 and in prime shape. But she shows them her medalert bracelet and the paperwork for the neurostimulator, and that is that.
7.28.2005 7:46pm
The original reason for taking off your shoes was because a metal shank would set off the metal detector, requiring a more comprehensive search for metal objects on your person -- delaying your passage through security, and possibly slowing the whole queue. Polymer and ceramic weapons objects breeze right through.
7.28.2005 8:09pm
Bruce Hayden (mail) (www):
I think Todd's problem was precisely because he questioned the TSA screeners. This is somewhat akin to my experiences with roadside sobriety testing. You are asked if you would mind getting out of the car? Well, yes I do mind. Do I have to? Phoenix PD went through this whole thing with me that they would have to arrest me if I didn't take the roadside sobriety test. Ok, arrest me. Supervisor, same question. Ditto response. Got arrested, forced under implied consent to take a breath test, and was ultimately released 4 hours later.

Now, AZ has interesting precedent on the books that says that the purpose of a roadside sobriety test is probable cause for a DUI arrest. There are a bunch of cases that say that. The natural corrolary is that if they ask you to take a roadside sobriety test, then they probably lack probable cause, and that if given the choice of taking the test or being arrested, if you choose arrest, then it is more than likely without probable cause.

In short, they more than likely chose harrassment over getting a DUI arrest that might stick.

I did this one more time (don't learn very fast), this time when pulled over by the Colo. State Patrol, on another pretextual stop - his only real indicia of alchohol was that it was 3:30 in the morning. His justification was that I had failed to signal to turn left when in a left turn only lane. Before this, I didn't do this even when there were cars coming in the other direction. This night there were precisely two cars visible the entire time, his and mine. (And 35 years ago I got a pair of bogus tickets for just the opposite, failing to turn left in a left turn only lane).

In any case, he was a bit better trained than Phoenix PD. He kept saying that based on his experience and training I appeared DUI, and thus would have to arrest me if I didn't comply. Slick huh? He has, in essence, reversed the presumption. In any case, my BAC turned out to be somewhere around 0.015. Some experience and training he had. He ended up dumping me at the local PD, 7 miles from my car and 3 from home, below freezing. Had to walk back the next day to get it. Again, clear harassment and intimidation.

He used the excuse that regulations wouldn't allow it. But then, a year later, I got a much longer ride from a female officer in the same agency when I blew the engine in my car. (She asked if I had any weapons. I handed her my Maglight, and told her that I wasn't trained with it, but she probably was. It rode in the front, and I in the back).

Moral to my long story. Don't f*** with or play lawyer with the cops or TSA screeners. They will do it back, in spades, and there isn't anything you can do about it.
7.28.2005 8:12pm
Dexter Westbrook (mail):
So, we have someone named "Mr. X" complaining that his airport security screener turned around her name tag, so he couldn't see who she was.

Then we have someone named jdd6y saying, gee, I asked the security screener her name, and she wouldn't give it to me.

This is pathetic.

I really don't see how being asked/ordered to take off your shoes is any more intrusive than being asked to empty your pockets. It's one of the reasons I almost never fly. I think airport security was much too intrusive before 9/11.
7.28.2005 8:16pm
Presumably all you claiming some right to wear shoes through the line still care about airplane safety, right? There's probably no law forbidding you from wearing a hat through the line either, but that's not the same as suggesting that it's unreasonable for a security guard to ask you to remove your hat. Hats and shoes and pockets are pretty handy places to smuggle contraband, so its not surprising that they ask you to remove or empty them. No doubt you would be outraged at the incompetence of airport security if some ninja walked through airport security with a pair of nunchucks tucked in his sneakers. That would be pretty preventable. Since you don't know what people will think of, you have to make sure you've got the basics covered: shoes, hats, pockets, bags, jackets ....

And as a fellow passenger and citizen, I resent those prissy individuals whose indiosyncratic sensitivity levels put the upper ceiling on the thoroughness of searches of people who potentially have the intent to drop planes out of the sky.

Presumably you know that hijackings of airplanes have actually happened and led to some pretty earth-shattering consequences, right? You're confident your irritation threshold, if applied across the board, is high enough to allow us to stay reasonably safe? What if someone is marginally more sensitive than you? Should that be the new standard of safety?
7.28.2005 9:02pm
Geoff (mail):
I suspect that a lot of the comments from people who can't really understand what all the fuss is about aren't frequent travelers. I'm a consultant who travels - at a minimum - twice a week, every week, and I can attest that few things are more frustrating during one's travel experience than airport security. It's slow, it's inefficient, it's arbitrary, and worst of all, it's ineffective.

One point no one has made is that security is grossly inconsistent and bears no relation to the nature or scope of the threat faced by particular cities. I live in Chicago and so fly out of O'Hare most weeks. I have yet to be asked to remove my shoes to go through security, in one of the busiest airports in one of the largest cities in the United States. Yet the Columbus, Ohio airport requires me to remove my shoes every time I go through it, whether tennis shoes, dress shoes, or sockless sandals. Are we really to believe that Ohio faces a bigger threat than Chicago? If it's truly important, why not require it everywhere? And if it's not, why inconvenience me?

Airports also deal with this issue differently on the equipment front. Las Vegas didn't make me remove my shoes last time I was there, but I had to pass my feet over a small sensor to detect bomb residue (I believe). This took 2 seconds and was remarkably easy to do. I'd be completely fine doing this every time; it's much easier and faster than removing and replacing my shoes, and seems just as effective.

So if it's ineffective and inconvenient, why take someone's word that it's necessary? Just because the TSA is supposed to protect us doesn't mean that it's doing it well, and fair-minded, reasoned criticism can only help us.
7.28.2005 9:04pm
Bruce, in most states, refusal to take a breath test is a crime in and of itself. So they certainly have probably cause to run you in for that, if not the underlying DUI.
7.28.2005 9:13pm
David Sucher (mail) (www):
This post puzzles me.

I have travelled an unusual amount (for me) in the past year or so out of Seattle, Reno, Salt Lake City, Calgary, Oakland, St. Louis, Indianapolis and NYC. I carry a lot of electronics — a laptop of course. And I have NEVER waited more than maybe ten minutes. Admittedly, I have never actually clocked it but I am by nature very impatient and I have never felt that the line was an undue burden. Almost universally the TSA staff have been polite and even jovial — as in "Hey! I travel too and I know this is a drag but we've got to do it." With one exception — I booked the flight two days before and that signals some special treatment — I have never been pulled aside for the full treatment and in that case the staffer was especially polite and respectful.

So I am no doubting Todd's experience but it just doesn't fit with mine. One can argue that the screening is somehow not effective but it really doesn't strike me as an being done in an intrusive and offensive manner.

I particularly dispute that the TSA folks (at least in Seattle) are worse than the people who did it before. In fact I'd say that they are far more customer-friendly.
7.28.2005 9:47pm

Presumably all you claiming some right to wear shoes through the line still care about airplane safety, right?

No, in fact we're not all that overly concerned about airline safety, now that you mention it. Life is full of risks. You might be killed by lightning, or earthquake, or drown in your own bathtub. How do you know that your local deli isn't a cover for an al-Queda sleeper cell, and they're patiently waiting to spike your turkey sandwich with sarin? Maybe we should have everyone take off their shoes before they get on the subway. Maybe we should just outlaw shoes since they're so evil. You have to weigh the risks, and this monkey business with the shoe removal seems like an unnecessary waste of money. You do realize that there's opportunity costs involved here, right? Every dollar spent on worthless security gimmicks is a dollar not spent on real security, or cancer research, or alternative energy research, or any of a multitude of better uses.
7.28.2005 11:34pm
My experience is like Geoff's, some airports require is everytime, and some almost never. TSA says it isn't important enough to have it required. If we trust TSA's judgement about what is and what isn't important, then they say it isn't, and why do some airports require it? Other than general intimidation and harrassment.

I live mid-way between two regional airports, one requires it and one doesn't. I don't travel as much as Geoff, but it is time consuming when you are trying to not have extra time at the airport. Guess which I choose when I can, even though it is 15 mins farther away?

The last time I travelled from the airport that required it, I asked why? The response is that it is required. I responded that it wasn't, she responded yes it is, and I asked what is the regulation that requires it. At that point, she got very huffy and said that I would have to go through the full screening, much like Todd describes. I asked why, and she said because I asked too many questions. That isn't safety, that's intimidation. I was just trying to find out how to not take off my shoes.

Again, the TSA itself says removal of shoes isn't required.

TSA shoe policy

My shoes qualified as not requiring additional screening if I didn't trip the sensor. I should be able to follow the TSA rules, and not be required to remove my shoes.

7.28.2005 11:39pm
It fascinating to read complaints about law enforcement from conservative-leaning middle people. The ACLU, the Warren Court, and criminal defense lawyers (and liberals in general) have fought to restrict similar behavior for decades. But conservatives made it a rallying cry to give cops more power.

Well, you conservatives won. Congratulations. Now take off your shoes, shut up, and let the rest of us get through the line.
7.29.2005 6:58am
SolidState (mail):

"Other than general intimidation and harrassment." Are you saying that you think that X airport requires you to remove your shoes when passing through security because they want to harrass or intimidate you? That seems radically counter-intuitive, and yet we have several posters who's guesses for the purposes of this requirement seems to be that airport makes policy because they like to harrass people. This is because the airport doesn't want people to fly with them?

Public_Defender posed the rational explanation that it was simply CYA (Cover Your...) policy making, which seems immensely more likely. As pointed out, if another shoebomber got through, the costs to the airport (and the security chief who set the 'don't search shoes' policy) would be substantial. TSA may be evaluating risk of an attack accurately in not requiring the searching of shoes, but the management of the airport is evaluating risk in a more nuanced and personal way by including consequences (mostly for their own professional/public lives).


On a side note, Public_Defender and others have brought up a really good point about Law Enforcement, comply comply comply. Destroy them later in court if they were acting inappropriately, but do not give them a hard time when you are on the spot.

As a Law Enforcement officer myself, I would be interested to read a really good examination of why this "punishment for disobedience" behavior manifests itself the way it does. Not that I exclude myself from the behaviors, I have certainly engaged in it to one extent or another.

e.g. If while we are sorting out a bar brawl three people who may or may not have been involved are told to stand somewhere and wait until we have the opportunity to question them. The one who wants to argue about it will absolutely be questioned last; probably after we have done absolutely everything else and everybody else has left. If there are more problems, Mr. Argument will probably get a ride to the station and quite a long night - we have other important situations to deal with and questioning a suspect who is currently out of danger and poses no harm to anyone at that time is low priority.

On the other hand, there are some times (bar brawls with large drunk crowds standing around the officers are a good example) when it is critical that disruptive elements are minimized and the authority of the officers is not disputed. I am not interested in those cases, since an order for someone to do something is usually made in such a way as to sensitize them to the danger (mostly loud, direct, and accompanied by appropriate gestures but sometimes quitely and off to the side with appropriate eye contact and forceful phrasing) - and almost everyone complies unless they are in fact genuinely inciting the crowd.

I think the "take out their sorrows and hatred of their own lives on others / power-mad" is simplistic and wrong. However, I don't say this because the behavior is justifiable, most of the time it is not. The explanation lacks because the emotional content is all wrong. When you refuse a request from the LE type, do they seem happy you refused them? Are they suffused with sadistic glee that you have played into their hands and now they can torment you? Why don't they torment you whether or not you refuse the request if that is their desire, since as you rightly point out the refusal itself does not actually justify the response?

No, it isn't sadism (although clearly the extent and quality of their anger may be informed by their relative happiness with their life choices). LE folks don't want you to refuse their requests. It makes them angry and frustrated. To them, it complicates a simple situation. There is something they are reading into your refusal.

Expect a more virulent response if you directly challenge their authority (i.e. What regulation requires me to comply with you - you might as well add 'ignorant fool' since you are clearly expecting that they do not actually have a citation they can rattle off the top of their head). However, I doubt that it is love of authority which drive the response at its core. Most folks I work with are deferential to people who are compliant, particularly if they seem successful, articulate or well educated.

My suggestion is that the answer lies in the direction of "percieved respect" - and I suspect the perception is accurate. I think that we feel that if you genuinely respected us or what we do, you would accede to any semi-reasonable request even if you personnaly felt it was odd or unneccessary. I don't think this is a logical response, but an emotional one. This would be an interesting area to look into, as a psychological understanding might lead to training to help LE folks resist these emotional responses and their resultant effects.

Of course, it is hard not to think the perception is largely accurate. The people here who have the most issues with the screening are also those folks who are the quickest to label the screeners as ignorant, self-hating cyphers with pathetic lives. I'm guessing that your words and behavior accurately convey your scorn for them and for their life, which results in feelings of hostility and the taking of petty revenge.

Of course, it could be that you have been harassed into this scorn, but it doesn't seem quite a natural reaction. Why not "sadistic bullies"? Why the sad-sack, pathetic life caricature? I suspect the scorn is pre-existing. Of course, their behavior is completely inappropriate - you don't use the power of the state to punish jerks who don't respect you or your work, or who denigrate your competance at your job by parading superior education. It does, however, suggest behaviors that you might use to minimize the response even while not complying. Apologizing for non-conpliance is a good one. I'm sure you can think of others. Stroke their ego a little, show them a little respect, and they may even help you work out how you can not comply in a manner that works for everyone.

7.29.2005 8:10am
Brian's post was very helpful because it shows the other perspective. Some of the people posting here made it clear that they think the screeners are socially inferior. In addition to being rude, that's an attitude that will cause you problems.

I modify Brian's bottom line only a little:

1) Treat the screeners with respect;
2) Politely comply with their requests, even with the stupid ones;
3) Complain about law violations later;
4) Don't rely on your "rights" unless you are carrying something illegal or if telling the truth would incriminate you (but my advice as an anonymous lawyer is don't carry illegal things, and don't do things that might lead you to incriminate yourself by telling the truth).
7.29.2005 9:14am

I'm saying I semi-regularly fly from airport X and airport Y. Airport X ALWAYS requires ALL passengers to remove their shoes. Airport Y NEVER requires ANY passenger to remove their shoes. These two airports reside in the same state, within 100 miles of each other. Both are serviced by TSA.

I always politely comply with their requests. I'd prefer similar treatment at all airports, but it's always been different at different airports. I believe I understand the laptop issue, since the battery in the laptop could hide things from the Xray. All airports treat it the same.

Public_Defender: I think you're painting with a pretty broad brush. Many across the spectrum resist broader powers. However, many you hail as defenders are not accurately presenting information.
7.29.2005 9:37am

My suggestion is that the answer lies in the direction of "percieved respect" - and I suspect the perception is accurate.

Thanks for your thoughts, but it's hard to see any respect reciprocated when as passangers the operating presumption is that we're all dangerous terrorists. Where's the respect when TSA agents flat-out lie to us and tell us that the shoe-removal policy is a requirement, not a request? Where's the respect when we're made to walk barefoot across a filthy floor and then stand wobbling trying to gather out belongings and put our shoes on because there are no chairs to sit on?
7.29.2005 12:45pm
roy solomon (mail):
I strongly suggest people read the information at the link provided by "just a citizen" to the "papersplease/gilmore" site. In this case the issue is providing identification, but the underlying principle is the same. The claim made there is that a request for the authourity to demand ID was met with the response, "it's a secret".
7.29.2005 2:14pm

Thanks for your thoughts, but it's hard to see any respect reciprocated when as passangers the operating presumption is that we're all dangerous terrorists. Where's the respect when TSA agents flat-out lie to us and tell us that the shoe-removal policy is a requirement, not a request? Where's the respect when we're made to walk barefoot across a filthy floor and then stand wobbling trying to gather out belongings and put our shoes on because there are no chairs to sit on?

These are legitimate gripes. But confronting a screening officer with anything but complete respect invites trouble. Write the TSA (local or national) or your favorite politician when you get off the flight and out of the airport. It's not wise to start an argument with someone who can detain when you have a plane to catch.
7.29.2005 2:38pm
Just A. Citizen:
Challenge wrote sarcastically:
People should be free to stuff their shoes with explosives and waltz right by security personel, citing their non-existent "right" not to remove their shoes before boarding a plane with hundreds of other people.
The problem with security is not a matter of 'reasonableness', in my opinion, but the value gained. The 9/11 hijackings proved that airport security was insufficient. The London bombings proved that subway security was insufficient. When movie theaters and restaurants start being bombed (the way they have been in Israel for years), will we say security there is insufficient and you have to take your shoes off to enter?

A month after 9/11, I was not allowed to drive my car into LAX because it was closed to private vehicles. But any Pakistani or Afghan or Sudanese cab driver was waived right in! Was that 'reasonable'?

I had hoped that 9/11 would wake up the American public to the need for greater security. Instead, we have a government committed to window dressing in the name of security. Examples:

  • Entry to the US can be achieved by walking across the border without being challenged
  • Illegal immigrants are routinely cited and released O.R. to return for a deportation hearing, even though fewer than 10% actually show up
  • Resources of Homeland Security are allocated based on political power (ie, port security funding for Nebraska) rather than logical analysis
  • Multiple reports of security lapses are released in the media after political interests try to suppress them
  • People who enter the country with visas are not tracked to ensure that their business is legitimate and that they leave when their visa expires
  • Law enforcement and security agencies decry "profiling" in the name of political correctness, thereby eliminating a major tool from their arsenal

From my viewpoint, security is achieved at the border, so that within the country we don't need checkpoints at every airport, subway, train depot or theater. But the politicians have chosen to secure each potential target individually while leaving the front and back doors wide open.

This will not be corrected until the public demands real security rather than window dressing.
7.29.2005 3:29pm
Gerald Dearing (mail):
You challenged their authority. You disrespected them. They responded as all bureaucrats will: They attempted to demonstrate the extent of their power. "You will fear us!" Try this on the IRS next time.
7.29.2005 8:57pm

You challenged their authority. You disrespected them. They responded as all bureaucrats will: They attempted to demonstrate the extent of their power. "You will fear us!" Try this on the IRS next time.

Don't just attribute this type of retaliation to "bureaucrats." You'd get similar reactions from any person in a position of real power. If you think petty retaliation is limited to bureaucrats, try challenging the authority of your private-sector boss.
7.30.2005 1:31pm
Gerald Dearing (mail):
Submission to a private-sector boss is not mandatory. You can tell him/her to **** off at your pleasure. Bureaucrats have to force of Government at their whim; i.e. the power to deprive you of property, liberty and life. No slight difference.
7.30.2005 3:03pm
Kev (mail) (www):
I just don't see what the fuss is about with regard to removing your shoes. On my first post-9/11 flight, I wore Airwalks and got the extra search in two of three airports. Since then, I've flown in flip-flops and had no problem, and they can be put back on without even leaning over. Granted, I live in Texas, so flip-flop season is much longer here than in most parts of the country, but the whole thing just strikes me as no big deal. I made a small adaptation of my wardrobe in light of a stricter security policy (or request, or whatever...I've heard it listed both ways) and moved on.

(I do, however, agree with the need for chairs at the end of security, but my need for them stems from having trouble getting everything back in my pockets without getting in the way of people behind me).
7.31.2005 3:09am

Submission to a private-sector boss is not mandatory. You can tell him/her to **** off at your pleasure. Bureaucrats have to force of Government at their whim; i.e. the power to deprive you of property, liberty and life. No slight difference.

No one forces you to fly. So encountering airport security is your "voluntary" choice. No one forces you to drive, either. So encountering traffic stops is also a "voluntary" choice.

I guess you could say thay no one forces people in the private sector to earn a living, either. That's a "voluntary" choice. In reality, few private sector workers have the luxury of being economically able to tell their bosses to "**** off."
7.31.2005 3:41pm
Perhaps the reason for the wait was they wanted to monitor your behavior prior to the search for signs of nervousness.
7.31.2005 5:34pm
Gerald Dearing (mail):
In reality, few private sector workers have the luxury of being economically able to tell their bosses to "**** off."


My industry has an 80% annual turnover rate. (The grass is always greener, ect.) Competition by employers for quality employees is quite fierce. Observation tells me that this is not unusual in the US labor market at this time. Indeed, seems the Service Industry has an average employee tenure of two weeks. This aged and tired meme was really never true, and is even less so today. The only reason for a person to be trapped in a job is lack of marketable skills, which is a personal decision. And the worst any employer can do is dismiss the employee, he can never deprive the employee of property, liberty or life.

No one forces you to fly, but once you have encountered airport security you cannot withdraw. And yes, no one forces you to drive, although I don't see what that has to do with my assertion. Why are you unwilling to admit the distinction between the private sector Government?
7.31.2005 5:38pm
Mr. Dearing:

Good for you. Your employement-at-will idea is nice theory, but ungrounded from reality for many.

And you are wrong about not being able to avoid airport security--you can withdraw from airport security once you start to approach it. Nobody is forcing you on that plane. Even if withdrawing from security would raise suspicions, nobody forced you into the airport in the first place. It's all purely voluntary.

Even paying taxes is voluntary. If you don't like the IRS or the TSA, move to another country. Millions of people cross borders every year. You could be done with the US government with two more visits. One at the border, one at an embassy to renounce your citizenship.

Again, it's all voluntary. Nobody forces you to live in this country.

Of course, my definition of "voluntary" may be nice in theory, but ungrounded in reality. Where have I heard that before?
7.31.2005 8:08pm
Gerald Dearing (mail):
So.... If I think the IRS acts unjustly and arbitrarily, I should refuse to earn income or own property? If I disapprove of petty bureaucrats abusing the power of Government, I should leave the country? I'm no longer allowed to express opinions re: my Government or it's employees? We've certainly a long way from days of The Boston Tea Party and The Declaration of Independence!
7.31.2005 10:14pm
No, I'm just pointing out a reasonable extension of your use of the word "voluntary." Yes, private sector employees can say "**** off" to their employers. They can give up the income with the hope that they will find a new job and get paid (remember, they might not get paid for more than a month after they start the new job, and even in a booming economy, it may take a few weeks to start). In the mean time, they have to pay rent, put food on the table, pay full price for a doctor's visits, etc.

You have a lot more choices than you claim. Many on the lower end of the economic scale have a lot fewer choices than you claim. Employers and other people in the private sector can be at least as abusive of their authority as government employees.
7.31.2005 10:54pm
Gerald Dearing (mail):
Now you're just babbling!
8.1.2005 1:05am
If you think that's "babbling," then you have no idea how many people live. You also have no idea how much real power a private-sector employer can have over many of its employees.
8.1.2005 5:11am
Bring the thread closer to the original topic, the problems with airport security is not government in general, it's law enforcement. As I've pointed out above, the TSA is little different than any other law enforcement agency. Also as I've pointed out, it's been liberals, not conservatives, who've been fighting to restrain the power of law enforcement.

Given that conservatives made increasing the power of police a rallying cry for decades, I have to confess that I get a feeling of schadenfreude when I read stories of conservatives annoyed at ham handed treatment they receive from law enforcement.
8.1.2005 7:21am
pmp (mail):
The problem with TSA's shoe-removal fetish, along with many other of their practices, is that they waste precious time and resources. These Kabuki rituals -- remove your shoes (no matter how incapable of hiding weapons or explosives the shoe might be), remove your laptop and place it in a bag, no lighters, no nail clippers, etc. -- seem designed merely to signify "security" to the public, without providing actual security benefits. It takes time for people to remove their shoes, it takes time to ask them to do so, it takes time to remove laptops from cases and put them back in, etc., etc. And since there doesn't seem to be an endless pot of funds for airport security (and perhaps there does -- it just isn't being spent on personnel and training), all the time spent on these silly rituals distracts security personnel from doing things that might actually improve security. Many posters above make good points. The TSA folks are often rude and arbitrarily flex their authority. (But what do you expect - they are underpaid and undertrained compared to other law enforcement agencies, and they have to interact directly with, and hassle, far more people than your typical junior police officer.) Thankfully, some are nice, some are competent, and all are at least theoretically supposed to be protecting the flying public (and those on the ground). This isn't really the point or the problem. The problem is a system that -- to paraphrase an old joke -- wastes time drunkenly searching for security problems under the proverbial streetlamp, because it's easier to see there. Unlike the drunk in that old cliche, the TSA apparatus gets extra points for appearing to others as though it's seriously looking for security threats. So maybe, for them, looking for their keys under the streetlamp makes perfect sense. Unfortunately, it doesn't make sense for the public.
8.1.2005 9:50am
I Have a Headache:

No, I'm just pointing out a reasonable extension of your use of the word "voluntary."


To me, it first started to hit home how petty and abusive TSA agents were becoming on my flight out of NYC after the East Coast Blackout. NO LESS THAN 50-100,000 people must have been jammed into LGA. The amount of anger and tension in the air was extreme, well above and beyond normal NYC life.

As far as I could tell, we had done the screener no wrong other than being an exception on a day when he didn't want any. We had pre-cleared our hamsters to fly with us, even paying the $200 extra the airline decided we were costing them by having two caged hamsters under our seats. Their cages were utterly clear plastic, with only a 1/4" layer of absorbent bedding.

Despite this, he felt it necessary - when he knew we were running short on time, as was everyone else - to pull us aside and spend fifteen minutes checking the cages. And my favorite - he patted the hamsters down for weapons. Twice.

Since then, I've seen more and more evidence that backs up my decision to never fly unless it's an utter emergency. Females have been singled out by breast size for patdowns. People who get on the wrong side of an agent get their luggage blown up - AT THEIR DESTINATION. An elderly woman gets a year in prison for asking "how would you like it if I did the same?" and reciprocating a screener's breast fondle. (Thanks to the person who posted that one earlier. Priceless.)

Do I CHOOSE to fly? Absolutely not.

I just got a call today from my mother, who's extremely distraught over the death of my sister. 2700 miles separates us, and I need to get there for the funeral in 36 hours.

So perhaps you can enlighten me on how my upcoming flight is voluntary? It's my choice to go, right? And it's also my choice not to tell her she has to delay the funeral until I can drive down there. Not to mention that if I didn't have a car, it's my choice not to take the bus two days ago.

And you know how I found this page? Because I needed to know whether I could take matches on the flight to light a cigarette after working my way through an hour or two of security to/from the gate. Whether I was allowed, please Mr. Good Agent sir, to take matches.

Thanks for reminding us all that we have the right to remain deferent. If we give up the right to remain deferent, anything we say can and will be twisted into a "threat." We have the right to an attorney, though asking for one means we're terrorists and should get another hour of searches. If we cannot afford an attorney, we have the right to a court-apppointed one who will laugh at us and plea-bargain down our "crime."

I'm with Cicero, who observed the following 2000+ years ago: "Is there any creature more petty than a bureaucrat? He loves to show off the little bit of power he has, like a small boy delighting in possessing a vicious dog."
9.30.2005 12:28am