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Airport security may soon let shoes stay on

Technology improvements in airport screening machines could soon allow travelers to pass through the checkpoints while wearing belts, coats and shoes, Homeland Security's Janet Napolitano says.

September 12, 2011|By Hugo Martín, Los Angeles Times
  • Barefoot travelers prepare to go through a security checkpoint at Los Angeles International Airport.
Barefoot travelers prepare to go through a security checkpoint at Los Angeles… (Wally Skalij, Los Angeles…)

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano recently offered some good news for air travelers: The days of marching through airport security checkpoints in your stocking feet may soon be over.

Technology improvements in the nation's airport screening machines could soon allow travelers to pass through the checkpoints without removing belts, coats, shoes and other clothing, she said in a C-SPAN televised interview last week.

"I think one of the first things you will see over time is the ability to keep your shoes on," Napolitano said.

Shoes have been a target for inspection by airport security agents since British-born Richard Reid attempted to ignite explosives hidden in his shoes on a 2001 flight from Paris to Miami.

Napolitano didn't offer a timeline for dropping the shoe-removal rule, but she did say it would probably be the next big change at airport checkpoints.

And although airport screeners may soon let you keep your shoes on, they probably still won't let you pack a liter of mouthwash or shampoo in your carry-on bag. Napolitano predicted that the ban on bringing containers of more than 3.4 ounces of liquids into the cabin will probably be around for a while.

"Identifying what is actually in a liquid and doing it quickly so you know that it's not an explosive material — that technology is still in development," she said.

Restrictions on liquids are among several security measures that the nation's travel agents would like to see Napolitano nix.

In a survey of 170 agents and other travel professionals who book business travel, 28% said they would most like to see the limits on liquids eliminated, while 28% said they would like to do away with the requirement that passengers remove their shoes at airport checkpoints.

The survey by the Minnesota travel firm Travel Leaders also found that 25% of the agents would most like federal officials to eliminate the extensive pat-down searches that some passengers say feels like a full-body grope.

And despite the controversy that has erupted since the federal government installed full-body scanners that can look through passengers' clothing, only 10% of travel agents called for removing the scanners as a priority.

"The extensive coverage given to full-body scanners apparently isn't what clients are discussing most frequently with their travel professionals," said Roger E. Block, who oversees retail travel agencies for Travel Leaders.

Hotels to spend on upgrades

Don't be surprised if the next hotel you visit is swarming with construction workers and landscapers.

The U.S. lodging industry is expected to spend $3.5 billion on upgrades this year, a 30% increase from 2010, according to a study by Bjorn Hanson, dean of New York University's Preston Robert Tisch Center for Hospitality, Tourism and Sports Management.

Hanson estimated that the nation's hotels spent heavily from 2006 to 2008 on upgrades such as new beds and bedding, high-speed Internet access and flat-screen televisions, among other improvements. But once the economic recession hit the industry and demand for hotel rooms plummeted, he said, spending on hotels also slumped.

In 2009, spending on hotel expansion and improvements dropped to $3.3 billion nationwide, compared with $5.5 billion the previous year, according to Hanson's report. In 2010, such spending dropped to $2.7 billion.

During the economic slump, many hotel chains eased up on requirements that the independent owners of hotels in the chain make costly improvements, he said.

But this year, he said, he expected hotels to spend mostly to renovate rooms and to upgrade hotel facades, landscapes and signs. Many hotels will also spend to redesign their lobbies, which have increasingly become a gathering spot for younger guests, Hanson said.

"Not only do the hotels have the money now," he said, but "guests are starting to report that hotels are looking worn and torn."

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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