It’s hard for me to suppress the laughing smile on my face whenever I walk by the huge TSA PreCheck advertisement in Chicago’s O’Hare International Airport.
The sign hangs right along the path that beckons travelers towards the TSA PreCheck line at the far end of Terminal 1. It encourages travelers to sign up for program so you don’t have to take off your shoes when you go through the security screening line.
What makes it ironic? It features one high-heeled sandal, easily three or even four inches high. And, I’ve never been able to wear high heels through TSA PreCheck. Not once.
No matter the type of shoe or the height of the heel I wear to the airport, they seem to always set off the security alarm. And, I need to go back, take off my heels, place them on the security belt and walk barefoot through the security line.
In October, I traveled to Kansas City. I traveled to Toronto. I traveled to New York City. And, each time, I had to take off my heels and place them on the security belt - even after passing that one sign, with the one high-heeled sandal, on my way to the TSA PreCheck line in Terminal One at O’Hare.
No matter the heel height. No matter the shoe brand. The high heels needed to come off. So, I now proactively take them off and place them on the belt, knowing it will save me from having to go back and do it after I set off the high-pitched beep.
Without fail, whenever I go to remove my high heels, a fellow traveler will helpfully remind me that you don’t need to take off your shoes in the TSA PreCheck line.
Without fail, a TSA agent will helpfully tell me I can keep my shoes on in the TSA PreCheck line.
And, without fail, I smile and say that I know from experience that I need to take of my high heeled-shoes - despite that one high-heeled sandal that’s shown on the sign that hangs right near the entrance to the TSA PreCheck line in Terminal One at O’Hare.
Why high-heeled shoes need to be removed in the TSA PreCheck Line
So, why do you need to take off high-heeled shoes, but not most other shoes?
It’s because most heels include a metal support rod. And, it’s that metal rod that sets of the metal detectors.
Fred Allard, creative director for Nine West, shared details on the construction of high-heeled shoes in a recent FoxNews.com story. He noted that: “In the center of the mold, a steel rod is interested for safety and solidity purposes.”
Allard went on to say that “the density of the plastic in the heel is also very important,” showing the pseudo symbiotic relationship between the combination of steel and plastic in high heeled shoes – something Manolo Blahnik also noted in a The New York Times article.
In the article, Blahnick noted that his company’s heels “have a central steel rod surrounded by ABS plastic and a polyurethane tip at the bottom.” It’s then firmly attached to the shoe with nails, and then a screw is “driving through the insole and into the heel” – adding more metal to the total shoe construction.
When I sent an email to TSA asking about the need to remove high heeled shoes during the TSA PreCheck screening process, I received what looks to be a pretty standard response. It said: “Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) are required to screen all footwear to ensure they do not contain prohibited items. Mandatory footwear screening by x-ray is an effective method of identifying any type of anomaly, including explosives.”
And, so, as my family prepares to head out for our holiday travels, I’ll be prepared to remove my high-heeled shoes (which I’ll inevitably still wear) as I go through the TSA PreCheck security line. But, only after I discretely smile as I pass the large sign that hangs in Terminal One in O’Hare.
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