10 Years Ago Today Airline Travelers Lost Their Shoes

Over the past ten years the changes in commercial air travel have been extensive, airlines have disappeared, mainline flights have been down gauged to regional jets, airline meals are hard to come by … and of course airport security has become an irritating process, with one of the top complaints being the forced removal of passengers’ shoes.


The reason passengers must remove their shoes in many airports around the world came about ten years ago to when Richard Reid, a British Citizen, set out to blow up a bomb in his shoe on board American Airlines Flight 63, from Paris to Miami. How Reid ended up on American Airlines Flight 63 on the 22nd of December 2011 is a story of a long journey for Reid and missed opportunity for law enforcement.


A young Richard Reid was in and out of jail throughout his youth. In 1996, at the age of 23 Reid was released from prison and shortly there after found himself studying with the well known Cleric Abu Hamza al-Masri, known for his extreme anti-American views, at the North London Central Mosque in Finsbury Park..


Shortly after Reid began studying with al-Masri he found his way to Pakistan with al-Qa’ida and then an al-Qa’ida terrorist training facility in Afghanistan between 1999 and 2000. Upon returning home to London Reid began planning his long term terrorist actions and researching potential targets, including visiting British Consulates to apply for duplicate passports.


In July of 2001 Reid flew on Israeli airline El Al, to and from Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion International Airport, testing his skill in passing through even the strictest of airport security environments. With Reid’s preparation to carry out a terrorist attack completed, he returned to Pakistan just two months after the September 11th 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States, then traveled onward to Afghanistan where he received a pair of boots packed with a hidden plastic explosive with detonator cord.


Reid returned to London in December 2001 with his explosives laden boots, then to Brussels on the 6th of December, where he obtains a duplicate British Airports. On the 16th of Paris Reid departs for Paris, as he prepared to carry out his terrorist act of blowing up a U.S. airliner on a flight to the United States with a shoe bomb. A day after Reid arrived in Paris, on the 17th of December; he purchased a one-way ticket from Paris’ Charles de Gaulle International Airport to Miami International Airport, in cash.


On the 21st of December it was raining when arrived at Charles de Gaulle International Airport on the 21st of December and he fully intended to carry out his terrorist attack, but a gate agent would thwart his attempts on this day and the rain would thwart his attempts the following day.


Upon arrival at the airport he checked in for Flight 63, checked no baggage and proceeded to his departure gate. As Flight 63 was boarding he was stopped by a gate agent and denied boarding due to his unkempt appearance and the gate agent believing Reid to be unstable.   Reid was escorted from the boarding gate by the National Police, while wearing a pair of shoes packed with explosives, and was released for an unknown reason before completing the interview.

Reid was issued a ticket for the following day, the 22nd of December 2001. Much like the day before, Reid arrived at the airport, proceeded to the gate, but unlike the day earlier, he boarded American Airline Flight 63, a Boeing 767-323/ER.


Not long after lunch was served, Hermis Moutardier, an American Airlines flight attendant, smelled the odor of a burnt match, an upon investigating the odor was directed to Richard Reid by passengers, who was seated alone in a window seat. Upon arriving at Reid’s seat, Moutardier found Reid hunched over and not responding to her attempts to gain his attention, when she finally caught his attention, she discovered a shoe, with an exposed fuse, in his lap. Moutardier grabbed for the shoe twice, but was knocked away each time by Reid. Eventually a group of passengers wrestled Reid to the ground and he was restrained using seatbelt extensions, headset cords and plastic flexi-cuffs.


With Reid restrained, and later sedated by a doctor, the flight diverted to Boston’s Logan International Airport, the closest airport in the United States, where Reid was taken into custody.


Reid’s attempt to detonate his shoe bomb could not have been foreseen by him, or its designers. Reid had worn the shoes packed with explosives for a few days, allowing not only perspiration to soak the detonation cord fuse, but he had also worn the shoes the previous day in the rain, leaving the inside of the shoes damp when he attempted to light fuse.


Here we are, now ten years removed from Richard Reid’s failed attempt to blow up an American Airlines flight to the United States … and we are still taking our shoes off.


Immediately following Reid’s shoe bomb attempt airline passengers the, then newly created,  Transportation Security Administration (TSA) required the removal of shoes to pass through airport security check points, a security decision followed by many nations around the world. Now as shoes are allowed to stay on in some nations, but not others, it may be possible that in the larger scope of fear the terrorist attempt to use a shoe bomb worked. Many travelers are still fearful, millions of dollars have been lost focusing on a future shoe attack that has never occured and many travelers have piles of soiled socks with holes in them from walking through airports barefoot.


Happy Flying!





  1. Wow, can’t believe it’s been 10 years of shoe removal. Here’s an interesting excerpt from “Super Freakonomics” by Steven Levitt on the shoe bomber:

    “Terrorism is effective because it imposes costs on everyone, not just its direct victims. The most substantial of these indirect costs is fear of a future attack, even though such fear is grossly misplaced. The probability that an average American will die in a given year from a terrorist attack is roughly 1 in 5 million; he is 575 times more likely to commit suicide.

    Consider the less obvious costs, too, like the loss of time and liberty. Think about the last time you went through an airport security line and were forced to remove your shoes, shuffle through the metal detector in stocking feet, and then hobble about while gathering up your belongings.

    The beauty of terrorism – if you’re a terrorist – is that you can succeed even by failing. We perform this shoe routine thanks to a humbling British national named Richard Reid, who, even though he couldn’t ignite his shoe bomb, exacted a huge price. Let’s say it takes an average of one minute to remove and replace your shoes in the airport security line. In the United States alone, this procedure happens roughly 560 million times per year. Five hundred and sixty million minutes equals more than 1,065 years – which, divided by 77.8 years (the average U.S. life expectancy at birth) yields a total of nearly 14 person-lives. So even though Richard Reid failed to kill a single person, he levied a tax that is the time equivalent of 14 lives a year.”

  2. I can’t believe its been a decade since. Sad that the reality of air travel is the way it is now, because of one person or one incident in the early 2000s.

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