Solving the Airport Shoe Puzzle

By Robert McGarvey

Essentially since the rollout of the TSA pre-boarding security check I have wrestled with an issue that on the one hand seems mundane but at times has vexed me as much as the hardest logic problem ever.

What are the best shoes to wear to the airport?

Keep in mind, shoes have to be removed for ordinary TSA security checks – unless you are TSA Pre and a Pre line is operating and your carrier participates in Pre.

Sometimes I forget and show up at the airport wearing lace up shoes and then discover there is no Pre line and, what do I do, I uncomfortably get my shoes off (and the belt! And the computer out of my bag!) and then after passing through, there’s the reassembly process.  Awkward. Uncomfortable.

So for years I have been on a quest for the perfect shoes.

At last I found them. Quite by accident really. I bought them to serve an entirely different purpose and then it struck me that this was the answer to my airport dilemma.

For starters, I agree, completely, with this piece on the absolute worst airport shoes – flip flops. They have a superficial appeal – talk about easy on, easy off.  The good news ends there. You wear them sockless so when you take them off for the TSA, you are barefooted.

And they provide absolutely no support. None.  I find them uncomfortable to wear walking across my city apartment.  In some airports I log as much as two miles – going through security, trekking to a club, finding the boarding gate, etc.  Distances mount. At Kennedy a few months ago I wondered if my gate was in fact in Montauk, I walked so much.

Flip flops are fine to wear to the pool and, definitely, in a community shower room (as at an athletic club) – those are reasons I have a pair.  

But they are a really bad idea at the airport.

What about Birkenstock Arizona sandals? New York Magazine likes them a lot as airport shoes. I own a pair and I don’t like them much for the airport. The fit isn’t especially snug, it’s hard to walk fast in them (as in rushing to board), and I flat out believe the better airport Birkenstock is the Milano, with more strapping and a much more secure fit. I own a pair of Milanos too – but they are not my top airport pick.

Probably the runner-up. But not number one.

But I do disagree with the Points Guy’s comments: “Flip-flops and sandals pretty much break all the rules we’ve established so far, so don’t wear ’em. Well, yes, they do breathe, but they offer no support and don’t really function as a shoe in anyway except technically keeping the soles of your feet above the ground by a mere butter pat’s depth of rubber.”

That is, some sandals work.  Flip flops don’t. But let’s not ignore all sandals.

That’s all the more important because over many years I recognized that loafers too don’t really work.  They don’t have laces but the on and off can be tricky. Especially when you are in the rush we always are going through TSA lines.

If you have nothing else and don’t want to splurge on a pair of good airport shoes, by all means, travel in well broken in loafers.  They will probably be fine.

But here’s the better solution that I just discovered: Chaco Z cloud sandals – also for women – around $100 at REI, where I prefer to shop because it’s a cooperative with a good selection of clothes and shoes that wear well.

I got the idea listening to a podcast with Twitter ceo Jack Dorsey where he talked about daily power walks in San Francisco wearing athletic sandals.

I hadn’t even known that kind of shoe existed. But I was intrigued. I walk six miles every morning in Phoenix – on city sidewalks – and my feet and back take a beating.  I continually cycle through footwear.

I wasn’t immediately wowed by the brand of sandals Dorsey favors so I went to REI and explored walking/running sandals.  

I walked out with a pair of Chaco ZCloud sandals which permit wearing socks (and I want to wear socks on long walks).  I’ve logged about 50 miles in them over the past week and this morning it dawned on me that these are my ideal airport shoes.

A snug fit – good for fast walking.

Thick soles, good support.

Easy on, easy off.

Accommodate socks.

Would I wear them on a January business trip to Montreal? Sure, why not, it doesn’t snow in the airport and generally a taxi gets me right near the hotel door.  I’d pack other shoes for walking around town but the Chacos still could be my airport shoes of choice even in a snowy winter.

That’s my recommendation.

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