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Keep your shoes on at the airport? Maybe

By Brett Snyder, Special to CNN
September 12, 2011 -- Updated 1418 GMT (2218 HKT)
A passenger takes off his shoes at a security check-point at Dulles International Airport .
A passenger takes off his shoes at a security check-point at Dulles International Airport .
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Homeland Security secretary: Shoe rule may change "over time"
  • Government has yet to find an adequate way for scanning shoes
  • Snyder: We probably won't see any big changes for years

Editor's note: Brett Snyder writes a weekly CNN.com travel column. Snyder is the founder of air travel assistance site Cranky Concierge, and he writes the consumer air travel blog The Cranky Flier.

(CNN) -- There's been a lot of talk lately suggesting that the era of taking your shoes off when you pass through airport security may be coming to an end. That sounds great, but I wouldn't get too excited just yet.

This may be a ray of hope for those looking for a less burdensome air travel security experience, but it's really just a tiny piece of what needs to be fixed with security. If it happens, it will only have a very slight impact on the overall experience.

The buzz was started by Secretary Janet Napolitano of the Department of Homeland Security.

At an event recently, she said that when it comes to air travel screening, "one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on."

Soon: Shoes stay on at airport security

So, will this be happening soon? I doubt it. Note the part that says "over time."

You'll remember that the rule requiring people to take their shoes off when they pass through security came after Richard Reid put explosives in his shoes and tried to light them in flight.

He wasn't successful at blowing up an airplane, but he was successful at making security screening more miserable. Traditional metal detectors couldn't catch the explosives, so people were forced to put their shoes on the X-ray belt like everything else.

Homeland Security gets mixed reviews ahead of 9/11 anniversary

Why is Napolitano now suggesting that this rule will end? The government has yet to find a technology it considers adequate for scanning shoes while they're still on people's feet.

Until that happens, I simply can't imagine any change happening. Maybe this means that a new technology is on the horizon, but we've seen that song and dance before. (Remember the puffer machines?)

This sounds like a lot of talk with no real timeline in sight other than some vague promises down the line. Even if it does happen, will it improve the screening experience enough?

In the same breath, Napolitano also said, "one of the last things you will probably see is a reduction or removing the limitation on liquids."

Sigh.

So you might be able to keep your shoes on, but you'll still have to pull your laptop out of your bag, limit yourself to a quart-size bag filled with 3-ounce liquids and subject yourself to a variety of screening techniques that use multiple types of machines with seemingly arbitrary rules at every airport.

Pistole: Airport security is safer, but no guarantee

Some believe that making security more pleasant will help spur more people to travel. That might be the case if the process speeds up enough to make it worth considering air travel for shorter flights that may not be as competitive with the car today. But just allowing someone to keep his shoes on won't make much of a difference.

Until there is widespread belief that there is a convenient, non-intrusive security method that keeps our skies safe, then the number of people willing to travel won't change.

Something tells me we aren't going to see any big changes like this for years and years.

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