Taking Shoes Off at Airport Could Come to an End

| by Reason Foundation

By Katherine Mangu-Ward

Rejoice, Americans. As we near the 10-year-anniversary of 9/11 (and hot on its heels, the 10-year anniversary of Richard Reid's failed shoe bombing attempt) Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano says you may soon be allowed to leave your shoes on as you pass through airport security. Maybe!

Napolitano told Politico:

Research and development efforts on the shoe front are progressing...

“In terms of what we see coming in the months and years ahead, it will probably be easier and it looks like it will be to deal with the shoe issues before we can remove the restriction on liquids,” the secretary said.

It's good to hear new tech is underway, since current X-ray scanners can't actually detect the kind of explosive Reid used (a chemical test would work better). The shoe removal two-step didn't become official policy until a couple of years post-Reid. But it has now become utterly and demoralizingly routine. Because once an official act of pointless security theater gets underway, it's awfully hard to backtrack.

The Freakonomics guys report on how shoe bomber Richard Reid managed to succeed by failing:

We perform this shoe routine thanks to a bumbling British national named Richard Reid, who, even though he couldn’t ignite his shoe bomb, exacted a huge price. Let’s say it takes an average of one minute to remove and replace your shoes in the airport security line. In the United States alone, this procedure happens roughly 560 million times per year. Five hundred and sixty million minutes equals more than 1,065 years—which, divided by 77.8 years (the average U.S. life expectancy at birth), yields a total of nearly 14 person-lives. So even though Richard Reid failed to kill a single person, he levied a tax that is the time equivalent of 14 lives per year.

Fun fact: September also brings another shoe-related national security anniversary. Nathan Hale, who regretted that he had but one life to lose for his country, attempted to smuggle sketches of military fortifications on the soles of his shoes on September 12, 1776. He got caught, too.

Enjoy Reason's shoes and security archive here, and a children's garden of Transportation Security Administration bashing here. For a 9/11 roundup, check out Nick Gillespie's post earlier today. The Reason-Rupe poll found that Americans have mixed feelings about the TSA.