At what age can you stop taking your shoes off at the airport?

Airport security screening procedures often require travelers to remove their shoes before passing through security checkpoints. This requirement was instituted after the failed shoe bombing attempt in 2001 and aims to detect any explosives or prohibited items that may be hidden in footwear. However, some travelers may wonder at what age they can stop taking their shoes off at airport security. Here is a look at the current TSA shoe removal guidelines and exemptions.

When did the shoe removal requirement start?

Prior to 2001, airport security screening did not require travelers to routinely remove their shoes. But after the December 2001 shoe bombing attempt by Richard Reid aboard an American Airlines flight from Paris to Miami, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) instituted mandatory shoe removal and screening at airport checkpoints.

Reid had concealed explosives in his shoes and attempted to detonate them during the flight. Thankfully, alert passengers and crew members were able to subdue him before he could detonate the device. But the incident highlighted the threat posed by explosives hidden in shoes, leading to the new security measures.

What are the current TSA shoe screening guidelines?

Currently, the TSA requires all travelers to remove their shoes when passing through security checkpoints at U.S. airports. Shoes must be placed in bins on the conveyor belt to be X-rayed along with other carry-on items.

There are some exceptions to the shoe removal requirement (outlined below), but in general, travelers aged 2 years and older must take off their shoes for screening. Infants under 2 years old are not required to remove their shoes.

Why is shoe removal required?

The TSA requires shoe removal and screening for a few reasons:

  • To check for explosives – Shoes are an effective hiding place for explosives, as demonstrated by the 2001 shoe bombing attempt.
  • To detect other prohibited items – Weapons, drugs, or other illegal items could also be concealed in shoes.
  • To screen for anomalies – X-ray screening allows TSA officers to detect any suspicious items or anomalies inside the shoes.

By having all travelers remove their shoes, the TSA aims to add a layer of security to help keep prohibited items off of flights.

Are there exceptions to the shoe removal requirement?

Yes, the TSA does make some exceptions to the standard shoe removal requirement in certain circumstances:

Children under 12

Children aged 12 and younger are not required to remove their shoes. However, their shoes will still need to be X-rayed at the checkpoint.

Passengers 75 and over

Travelers aged 75 and older can keep their shoes on during screening. They may be required to undergo additional screening of their shoes.

Medical reasons

Those with medical conditions that prevent them from easily removing footwear can keep their shoes on during screening. However, they will undergo a modified screening process, which may include a visual inspection of their shoes.

Passengers in wheelchairs/scooters

Wheelchair users and those in scooters may be screened without having to remove their shoes, if they are unable to stand or walk through the metal detector.

PreCheck passengers

Travelers enrolled in TSA PreCheck do not need to remove shoes during screening. However, PreCheck eligibility is not based on age, but rather an application process and background check.

In these cases, the TSA officer will swab the travelers’ shoes to detect any traces of explosives. If explosives are detected, the shoes will undergo additional screening.

At what age can you reliably keep shoes on?

Based on the TSA’s exceptions, the earliest age at which most travelers can consistently leave their shoes on during airport screening is 75.

Reaching this age allows travelers to qualify for an automatic exemption from the shoe removal requirement. Unless prohibited items are detected during screening, travelers 75 and up will not be asked to take off their shoes.

Can children stop removing shoes at 12 years old?

When a child turns 12, they are technically no longer required to remove their shoes during screening. However, this exemption is not guaranteed. TSA officers have discretion to still require shoe removal from children if warranted by security concerns.

Factors such as acting suspiciously, setting off alarms, or anomalies detected in screening may still prompt officers to have children 12 and under take off their shoes. So 12 is not an automatic “pass” to keep shoes on.

What about TSA PreCheck?

TSA PreCheck allows qualifying travelers to bypass certain screening procedures, including shoe removal. So travelers as young as 12 can use PreCheck and leave their shoes on during screening.

However, PreCheck requires an application and fee. Eligibility is not based on age, but rather identity verification and background check. Children under 18 must have a parent or guardian apply on their behalf.

So while PreCheck allows shoeless screening for travelers 12 and up, it does not automatically apply to all children when they reach a certain age. It requires successful enrollment in the program.

Why are shoes screened in the first place?

Airport security screening procedures are intended to keep dangerous items off aircraft and maintain the safety of air travel. Shoe removal became a standard part of the screening process in response to a specific threat – explosives hidden in shoes.

The December 2001 shoe bombing attempt revealed shoes as a potential hiding place for explosives that could be used to attack aircraft. To close this security gap, the TSA instituted mandatory shoe screening for all travelers (with certain exceptions).

While shoe removal can be inconvenient, screening footwear has identified threats over the years. In 2016, TSA officers detected explosives hidden in the heels of shoes in two separate incidents at U.S. airports. These finds demonstrated the ongoing need to thoroughly screen shoes.

What is the screening process for shoes?

At airport checkpoints, all travelers’ shoes must be X-rayed along with carry-on bags and other personal items. Passengers walk through metal detectors or body scanners in their socks or bare feet.

The X-ray machines allow TSA officers to look for any suspicious or prohibited items hidden inside or attached to the shoes, including explosives, weapons, drugs, or contraband.

If any anomalies or concerns are detected in the X-ray image, officers will conduct additional screening. This may include a visual inspection, explosive trace detection swabbing, or physical search of the shoes.

How are exceptions handled?

When exempt travelers such as children under 12 keep their shoes on during screening, TSA officers manually inspect their shoes. They visually check for any signs of tampering and swab the shoes to test for explosive residue.

If explosive materials are detected or anything suspicious identified, the shoes will then undergo X-ray screening. The passenger may also face additional screening or questioning.

What are the risks of not screening shoes properly?

The primary risk is allowing prohibited items that could threaten passenger safety onto an aircraft. Shoe explosives and other dangerous materials could potentially slip through security if footwear is not thoroughly inspected.

Past attacks have shown that just a small amount of explosives in shoes can cause an in-flight explosion. Failing to detect these threats could allow terrorists or criminals to access aircraft.

There are also risks from not consistently applying shoe screening procedures. Making too many exceptions could allow more opportunities to hide dangerous items in shoes.

How effective is shoe screening?

Since implementing shoe removal protocols in 2002, the TSA has intercepted thousands of prohibited items at airport checkpoints – including loaded firearms, knives, explosives, drugs, and other hazards.

Screening shoes separately via X-ray has proven an effective way to scan for concealed threats that may not be obvious in a visual inspection or metal detector walk-through.

While any screening system has limitations, mandatory shoe checks have enhanced aviation security and prevented many dangerous items from making it onboard aircraft.

What new shoe screening technologies are in development?

To improve the shoe screening process, the TSA and researchers are working on new technologies that do not require shoe removal:

  • Advanced X-ray systems – Next-generation X-ray machines with improved explosives detection capabilities and algorithms to better identify shoe threats.
  • Body scanners – Millimeter wave scanners allow passengers to keep shoes on while screening for anomalies beneath clothing.
  • Explosives trace detection portals – Special portals that travelers would step into to check their shoes for explosive residue without removing them.

These emerging technologies aim to maintain robust shoe screening while reducing hassle and frustration for travelers in the future.


The TSA shoe screening procedures evolved in response to an aviation security threat – explosives hidden in footwear. While shoe removal can be inconvenient, it is seen as a necessary step to keep prohibited items off aircraft and protect passenger safety.

Children 12 and under and travelers 75 and older receive special exemptions from removing shoes. But reaching these ages does not guarantee being able to keep shoes on, as individual screening protocols still apply.

Participation in TSA PreCheck provides the most consistent ability to bypass shoe removal during screening. But it requires successful application rather than just reaching a certain age. Given the ongoing threats, thorough shoe screening remains a key part of the aviation security process.

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