Now That Mask Rules Are Over, Can We Stop Taking Off Shoes Too?

Now that U.S. mask requirements on planes have generally been lifted, some people are starting to realize that not all restrictions are permanent and that at a minimum we should be doing cost-benefit analysis … and that much of the security theater we engage in wouldn’t pass critical scrutiny.

My immediate concern is the testing requirement for travel to the U.S. It’s time to end that, because there’s no public health justification for it. A Covid case on a plane isn’t that different than a Covid case somewhere else. Testing didn’t keep Omicron or other variants out of the country. Hospital ICU capacity isn’t being taxed by Covid cases the way it was during much of the pandemic.

But what benefit are we really seeing from taking shoes off at airport security, or dropping bottles of water in trash bins next to the security checkpoint? If those liquids were actually considered a risk by the TSA itself they’d have crew in hazmat suits handling the liquids, leaving the bottles piled up next to crowded security lines.

Maybe we can generate outrage against the shoe carnival by calling shoes ‘foot masks’.

With PreCheck – and indeed CLEAR – security is often less of a hassle for me. I don’t take my shoes off, take my laptop out, or remove my Freedom Baggie of liquids from my carry on bag. Sure, I have to buy an overpriced bottle of water landside (or fill up an empty bottle at a hydration station, though many of those were turned off during the pandemic) but the inconvenience on me is slight, and as an international traveler I’m more concerned about the hassle of testing to fly.

But most travel is domestic travel, and most travelers go through greater hassle at the checkpoint. There’s more life-years wasted waiting at security. In fact over 19,000 life years, equivalent to 242 full lives have been wasted taking off shoes and putting them back on for the TSA. Richard Reid may have won in the end.

We haven’t seen shoe bombings used against other targets in the U.S. that lack a shoe screening requirement. TSA accidentally filed a security assessment in court documents in 2013 revealing that “as of mid-2011, terrorist threat groups present in the Homeland are not known to be actively plotting against civil aviation targets or airports.” And the TSA found in 2013 that “there have been no attempted domestic hijackings of any kind in the 12 years since 9/11.”

Of course none of our long-standing security theater is going to change. Meanwhile Covid-19 cases are going to rise in the U.S. in the next few weeks, which they were going to do anyway (and was already starting to do before the mask mandate was lifted). Some people will blame that on the end of the transportation mask mandate, and it won’t matter to them that they’re wrong.

(HT: TheZvi)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Another dumb post. Removing one’s shoes for inspection and not allowing unknown liquids aboard airplanes are rules to help stop terrorists from blowing up planes. Like comparing apples and oranges, neither of these aforementioned rulings have nothing in common – a truly asinine posting.

  2. Also, at the time the shoe bomber was caught in 2001, the nude-o-scope wasn’t in play yet. However, now that it is, it would surely pick up on any abnormality in one’s shoes.

  3. @David Miller, the post is hardly as asinine as the idea that TSA catches anyone at anything, generally speaking. That’s been shown repeatedly to be a complete waste of time.

  4. If Richard Reid’s goal was to hurt no one, scare lots of people, and cause untold minor annoyance for travelers then you’re right that he may have won. Personally, I tend to think that his goal was to slaughter a whole bunch of civilians and any additional problems caused were simply an added bonus.

  5. @ Gary — All it would take to create outrage against shoe removal is a couple lies by Tucker Carlson. David Miller would fall right in line.

  6. @David Miller: 100% agree. Gary you must not having anything to post. Again what’s one to do with the other? Geez!

  7. Breaking news: the CDC has said that it believes the mask mandate needs to be restored which means they are asking the DOJ to appeal the federal court decision.
    They still have not asked for an expedited appeal and the CDC’s wording seems to be more about trying to preserve their right to impose mask mandates in the future. Remember that the federal judge said that the CDC didn’t have the right to impose the mask mandate in the first place. If not challenged, the CDC’s ability to impose mask mandates or even other measures could be limited in the future.
    It is highly unlikely that the current mask mandate will be restored.

  8. One idiot stuffs his shoes 20+ years ago and we’re still taking off our shoes. Once a mind virus takes hold, it creates its own scaffolding in the brain. The irrational becomes the rational. We’re still taking our laptops out too — based on a mere suggestion by a talking head.
    We need protection alright: from ourselves.

  9. @ Tim — Agree. Ultimately it is important that the authority or lack of authority be clear in the event a horrible strain or other airborne virus breaks out. The airlines probably don’t want to be put in the position of imposing a mask mandate.

  10. People get used to being abused. Then it becomes normal. Not for everyone, but for many–women’s shelters are full of people who found excuses to put up with mental or physical harm. Entering the chamber of horrors at airports would have been unimaginable to an earlier generation, yet people still sing about being “brave” and “free” while not objecting to this horror. And so is wearing a little cloth mask and thinking that it’s really going to protect one from a virus that’s everywhere. So not having the shoe fetish would make them nervous. I understand the TSA is experimenting with a floor level scanner so people won’t have to take them off, and that’s something at least.

  11. No issue with shoes and liquid. My issue is the testing requirement to get back to the US

  12. Anthrax should be legal by that criteria. After all, ICU’s have spare capacity.

    The pandemic is not gone. Now, millions are doing NO precautions except vaccination (without booster). Lunacy.

  13. @drrichard – “ Entering the chamber of horrors at airports would have been unimaginable to an earlier generation…”

    “Chamber of horrors”? You could use some perspective.

  14. The shoe thing needs to end but I just want to put bottled water on the list of authorized liquids allowed through TSA. They allow huge bottles of alcohol-based hand sanitizer. I think water is a bit safer. It’s all just theater for security or covid.

  15. Yes, the bottle of water I buy at Costco for $0.125 is way too dangerous so I have to buy the same water for $4.25 inside the airport to be safe.

  16. The TSA has been forcing most passengers at US airports to remove our masks, during the entire period when the mask mandate was applicable at US airports. The pandemic wouldn’t have been as bad as it became in the USA if the TSA would have skipped the passenger ID checking (which came with a de-masking requirement from the TSA at US airports), the dirty shoe-carnival requirement, and even that “laptop and liquids out” requirement.

    Each and everything the TSA requires that makes lines longer, slower and dirtier is something that acts as a pathogen’s best friend.

  17. The shoes rule has likely not stopped a single attack. For those of you defending it – look at all the countries around the world that don’t have such a rule, yet haven’t had problems with shoe bombers. The liquids rule is probably unnecessary too, as there’s no ban on liquids for domestic flights in Australia, and they haven’t had any terrorist attacks on planes.

  18. We were taking off our shoes at one point. I got ready to remove my shoes and my sons and was told I didn’t need to.

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