Functional Fashion Helps Some Through Airport Checkpoints

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By Sara Kehaulani Goo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 10, 2004

Rolf Reifgies always got in trouble at the airport security checkpoint because of his suspenders.

Whenever the Wisconsin businessman flew out of Minneapolis, Milwaukee or Madison, Wis., the metal in his suspenders set off the magnetometer. Then, six weeks ago, he discovered BuzzNot, a brand of suspenders with plastic clasps.

"Works like a charm," Reifgies said of the $19.99 pair he found on SuspenderStore.com. Now when he takes off on trips to sell his milking equipment, Reifgies glides right through security. "It's a nuisance if I wear regular suspenders."

In this era of tightened airport security, retailers are coming to the aid of the aggravated traveler, offering new products -- such as bras and shoes -- designed to get passengers through the checkpoints without the indignity of a pat-down.

Shoemakers Johnston & Murphy, Florsheim and Rockport sell dozens of styles without metal shanks in the soles and market them to frequent fliers. Florsheim identifies the styles with tags that look like passports labeled "airport friendly" inside the shoebox.

"We had requests, mainly from airline pilots, asking which shoes were airplane friendly," said Thomas W. Florsheim Jr., chief executive of Weyco Group Inc., the Milwaukee parent company of Florsheim. "It seemed like we were getting more inquiries from our people who sell our shoes."

Many passengers think it is worth the effort to find shoes and clothing that will help them avoid added scrutiny at the airport checkpoint. Travelers who set off the walk-through magnetometer are automatically pulled aside, and a screener waves a hand-held metal detector over their body. Then, the screener conducts a physical pat-down search to check for hidden explosives or other prohibited items. The pat-downs have become more common since September, when two Russian planes exploded after two women allegedly brought explosives on board.

More than 300 passengers have complained to the Transportation Security Administration that the pat-down procedures are embarrassing and invasive because they involve screeners touching people near sensitive body areas, often to inspect bras and belts. The agency modified its pat-down procedures yesterday, allowing women to place their arms at their sides instead of holding them out during inspection.

Even if passengers do not set off the metal detector, the TSA warns that passengers may be pulled aside for more screening. Typically, passengers who buy tickets at the last minute or buy one-way trips will automatically be selected. Screeners also may choose passengers at random for additional screening, no matter what they are wearing.

The unpredictability of the screening process has prompted many frequent travelers to wear slip-on shoes, rather than ones with laces. Rick Pyatt, director of government relations at Goodrich Corp., said he always removes his shoes even if TSA screeners do not request that he do so. "It's frustrating because [the shoe removal rules are] different airport to airport," said Pyatt, a former commercial airline pilot. "I try not to wear shoes with laces to the airport."

Many men's dress shoes and women's pumps contain steel because it adds stability, shoe retailers say. Few women's shoes with heels are free of metal. Online retailers such as Shoedini.com and Zappos.com have created sections devoted to shoes that will pass through airport security, but the selection for women is small, consisting of Ugg boots, sneakers and sandals.

"Manufacturers need to address the needs of women to get through airports," said Tom Casale, founder of AirportFriendly.com, a Web site that sells travel-related gadgets.


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© 2004 The Washington Post Company

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