Travelers, shoemakers adapt to airport security

Leaving metal out of outfits, footwear means breezing through checkpoints


January 12, 2003|By Michael Quintanilla | By Michael Quintanilla,Special to the Sun

When she's being herself, Angie Bayer likes to wear attention-grabbing chunky jewelry, killer stiletto boots with metal straps and a studded belt slung dangerously low on jeans. Today, though, she's in gauzy drawstring pants, pink tank top and plastic flip-flops, her outfit for staying below the radar -- a look that lets her breeze through airport security without triggering a beep, a hand wand inspection or removal of her shoes.

This is just how the 33-year-old computer consultant from Atlanta on a stopover to Los Angeles planned it. Like millions of others, she has in subtle and overt ways figured out how to dress the part for her journey through airport security.

Since heightened security procedures began in November -- with screening practices made uniform nationwide -- many travelers who once didn't trigger metal sensors or secondary scrutiny find that they're being searched. Everything from hidden shanks in boots, rivets in sneakers, zippers in pants and even clasps on barrettes are triggering alarms. And, dare we say, so are underwire bras.

In addition to getting the attention of passengers, all the buzzing at security checkpoints is getting the attention of some in the clothing industry. They are beginning to rethink how items are constructed.

New lines of detector-free clothing and marketing campaigns may not be far off. Jockey International introduced a new bra seven months ago that uses Mylar under the cup rather than metal. "Internally, we would bring up how this bra 'won't set the detector off,' " recalls Jim Noble, senior vice president.

And Marshal Cohen, co-president of NPDFashionworld, a market information company based in Port Washington, N.Y., says not to be too surprised if "airport-friendly footwear" hits store shelves next spring. In a meeting last week, he saw such a marketing plan with the slogan "Shoes built to last without setting off metal detectors."

Cohen says he can't reveal the company's name yet, adding the shoe lines are "dressy and casual, but most of all, work boots will have the same construction without the metal content in them."

The metal shanks used to strengthen the soles of shoes and boots between the heel and instep are hidden triggers that trip up those who think they are dressed metal-free. Eyelets for shoelaces have been known to make even a child's tennis shoe set off the buzzers.

Consider your socks

Many more passengers will be learning the ins and outs of the new system -- and the importance of wearing clean socks when traveling by air. When travelers set off the sensitive metal sensors on the security walk-through, a secondary search that includes removing their shoes is triggered.

"Years ago, people used to dress up to travel. Now they have to be aware about how to dress down," says fashion forecaster David Wolfe of the New York-based Doneger Group. "Air travel clothes have taken on the function of, say, a uniform for an Xtreme sport. Certain items have become 'my travel clothes' because their function is to not set off an alarm and then I won't be seen as a potential troublemaker or terrorist," he says. "C'mon, who in their right mind wants to have their feet inspected at an airport?"

Levi Locke, chaperoning 26 track students (who packed their cleats in carry-on bags) for a junior Olympic cross-country championship outside Atlanta, said during a stopover in Los Angeles that he'd made sure he was wearing clean socks before he got to the airport. "And no holes in them too," he adds.

Anne Swasey says sock sales at her Designer Shoes store in Boston, located on the way to Logan Airport, have increased at least 15 percent thanks to shoppers who drop in before catching a flight. "We get a lot of people heading back home and feeling like their feet might be exposed at the airport," says Swasey. "They want to make sure they have nice socks on, just in case."

The top security official at Los Angeles International Airport says he wants to see travelers breeze through checkpoints too -- and without having to bare their soles.

"If you and your belongings have cleared through a metal detector, then the probability of a secondary screening with a wand is very low," says retired Rear Adm. David M. Stone, federal security director for the Transpor-tation Security Administration at LAX.

The way to avoid triggering the sensors is simple he says: Don't wear metal.

'Wear the good stuff'

The vast majority of passengers have no intention of bringing anything prohibited on board, but plenty still show up with stuff that is caught in the dragnet. At LAX during the Thanksgiving holiday weekend, 4,171 items were confiscated, among them seven box cutters, 1,215 knives, 2,463 cutting instruments, 222 tools, 18 pepper-spray devices, nine clubs, nine toy weapons and a turkey thermometer (regarded as a potential weapon.)

Stone adds this advice: "Don't wear, pack or bring items that you think would create panic and fear."

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