Keep Your Shoes On and Carry On

A few weeks ago I noticed an ad on the Transportation Security Administration website, tsa.gov. “Want to keep your shoes on? TSA PreCheck,” it says, alongside an image a woman in red shoes (or at least her bottom half). Another ad for signups says, “Keep those shoes on. You busy traveler, you.”

Even TSA has noticed: Few luxuries these days are as, er, luxurious, as keeping your shoes on. On my recent trip through Hong Kong International Airport, I noticed everyone kept their shoes on in security. Happiness for the masses! There were even reports in 2011 that the U.S. shoe requirements might be lifted. Alas, that rumor turned out to be false, and the right to wear shoes was awarded to the least threatening demographic groups: Children 12 and under and seniors 75 and older could keep their shoes on. And, of course, those in the PreCheck line.

My fear is that the TSA will botch its only success, PreCheck. Already, heavy marketing has increased the ranks of PreCheckers so that these lines are sometimes longer than regular security lines. And if you’ve ever gone through “PreCheck lite,” you know there are permutations of PreCheck out there that are downright confusing. And pointless. So with the shoe luxury being the agency’s major marketing hook, will we ever see the general lift on the need to remove shoes? I doubt it.

Oh well. I have loved PreCheck since 2012, when I made my first pass through with shoes on. (Too bad those shoes had buckles, which sent me back to the conveyor belt.) But like any romance, the longer it continues, the greater the chance someone will screw up. Please, TSA, remain true to business travelers. And if shoes pose no threat, don’t protect your marketing efforts—let’s share with everyone. Then find another special something to give your most frequent customers.

PreCheck’s expansion: Good or bad?

The TSA announced last week that it plans to expand its successful PreCheck program so that travelers can apply for an airline-agnostic “membership” that will cost $85 for five years. The agency can be applauded for taking a program that has been universally applauded and availing it to more participants. All good, right?

Not necessarily. I’m a little distrustful about a couple of things.  First, I wonder how great the impact will be. I’m sure (well, I hope) they’ve run the numbers. But the fact is that the majority of air passengers fly only a few times a year (at most). The program does not necessarily make sense for these passengers, or for families that would pay hundreds of dollars to participate together.

Second, if the expansion is successful, I fear an onslaught of participants will negate the biggest benefit: no lines. Yes, it’s nice not to remove shoes/laptop, but this will be less of a luxury after waiting in a long line. But perhaps they will be able to pull off expanded or reallocated staffing.

I’m going to be optimistic and hope this expansion works, but I admit I’m distrustful. The TSA is a little like a bad boyfriend: I hope that “this time will be different.”