Could We Have Some Standardization Please?

April 12, 2006
The TSA's screening procedures would be a lot easier to handle if they were applied the same way across the board. So would FAA regulatory interpretation.

It's a fact of life. Anyone who flies is subject to security screenings by our friendly TSA. Local policies and procedures can be confusing even for those that fly frequently. The most frustrating thing for me is the TSA’s policy on shoes.

Apparently, the general public agrees. A recent L.A. Times article by James Gilden states, "The agency's shoe policy is the most common complaint on, the website of the Consumer Travel Rights Center."

The lack of standardization is easily evident. Some airports require everyone to take off their shoes. Some require shoes that aren't athletic shoes or sandals to be removed. Some will let you keep your dress shoes on if they don't have any metal in them. Some airports even have foot pedestals you can test your shoes for metal before having to remove them.

Gilden also shares that although the removal of shoes is supposed to be voluntary, passengers who fail to do so can find themselves subjected to secondary screening, which can include a full body pat-down.

I have had such an experience. Several months ago, I was returning from a business trip to Orlando. It was a weekend travel day, and I was traveling casual with my jeans and athletic shoes. As I approached the metal detector, the screener told me to remove my shoes and put them on the conveyor. I asked him, “Am I required to remove them? They are tennis shoes.” He flexed up like a bouncer from the movie Roadhouse and said, “I would strongly suggest you remove them!” Because of my journalistic inquisitiveness (or maybe because of my stupidity) I asked him again, “Do I really need to take them off?” He grinned and said, “No sir” and proceeded to wave me through. After I passed through the metal-detecting arch of no-return (without setting it off I might add), he shouted “secondary screener please.”

Wow, what a coincidence! I had just been picked for an additional screening! I’m sure it had nothing to do with the TSA screener having a power trip.

I had to remove my tennis shoes. They were sent back through the X-ray scanner. Meanwhile, I received a body scan from a handheld metal detector and also a body pat. My bags were set aside and hand searched. They were also scanned for explosives. Five minutes later, I was on my way to the gate. I decided then and there to never again question a TSA screener, no matter how stupid what he’s saying may seem.

Have we developed the same attitude with the FAA? We all know the FAA has standardization problems. Not only do different FSDOs interpret the regulations differently, but different inspectors within the same FSDO may disagree in interpreting a regulation. Have we gotten to the point to where we don’t want to speak up for fear of retribution from some overly zealous inspector? In many cases, the answer is yes.

What are your thoughts?

Joe Escobar