Few topics seem to rile frequent business travelers these days as much as the Transportation Security Administration's shoe policy.
During the past two weeks, dozens of e-mails and letters have come into Biz Class, many of them angry rants denouncing what their writers see as TSA's inconsistent procedures regarding whether airline passengers should remove their shoes when going through metal detectors at airports.
At first glance, TSA's policy seems straightforward: It does not require airline passengers to remove their shoes when going through airport security checkpoints. But, as many readers noted, the shoes-on or shoes-off demands at checkpoints seem to vary widely depending on the airport and the agents working the checkpoint at the time.
Well, the TSA may have heard you. Jonathan J. Fleming, TSA's chief operating officer and one of its most senior policy enforcers, said the agency's shoe policy was not as "cut and dried" as intended, and the policy is now "up for review."
"The difference between urging and suggesting and mandating a passenger to remove shoes has been difficult with our workforce," Fleming said, "and we'll continue to work on that." However, he did not give a deadline for the review or make any predictions about the outcome.
Some frequent fliers recounted occasions when agents at one airport required them to remove their shoes, while those at another did not, adding to the stress of going through airport security.
Ted Ferragut of Alexandria wrote in an e-mail that he wears the same pair of rubber and leather Ecco casual shoes whenever he travels, and they never set off a checkpoint alarm. But a few months ago, a TSA agent at Des Moines International Airport told him he had to remove his shoes.
"I gave him the normal speech that these shoes never trigger the alarm. He pressured me and I give the same speech," Ferragut wrote. "So I wear the shoes through the checkpoint and then I get randomly chosen for a full body search that took 15 minutes."
After being asked to shed his shoes by airport security several times, Thomas P. Lowry of Woodbridge wrote that any TSA official who claims the agency does not require travelers remove their shoes was "full of it."
Jeff Ludwig of Gaithersburg recounted a recent trip when a TSA agent at Baltimore-Washington International Airport ordered him to remove his shoes before he passed through security. When he flew back through Fort Lauderdale/Hollywood International Airport in Florida, he was permitted to keep his shoes on. "This was not the first inconsistency and I am sure it won't be the last," Ludwig said.