Here's Why You Should Never Go Barefoot on a Plane
Safety, sanitation, airline policies, and common decency should be your main priorities.
Let’s just momentarily gloss over the fact that being barefoot on a plane is just socially (and maybe morally, ethically, and fundamentally) questionable flight etiquette. Let’s just, in the name of fairness, leave behind the personal problem that I (read: most people) have with your decision to casually traipse across the plane with not only shoes, but also socks (!!!) off. Let’s just…forget all of that for a hot second. If you choose to go barefoot on a plane, guess what? You might still be in some trouble, and this time, it has nothing to do with social norms or sheer common sense.
Recently, a business-class traveler made headlines when they not only decided to ditch their designer shoes in the name of shoeless comfort, but also casually thought that spreading their bare feet across the in-flight entertainment TV screen in front of them was a phenomenal idea. Spoiler alert: it was not.
Travel blog Miles Quest reports that the passenger in question, who was on a Delta flight from NYC to St. Maarten, even went to the bathroom multiple times (still barefoot) and then proceeded to prop their feet onto the TV again. Let that sink in.
Now, since we said we’d detour and avoid getting into the nitty-gritty of how this is unacceptable behavior per se, let’s just focus on the science and law of this situation that seems to just keep happening.
What are airline policies on going barefoot?
First of all, because you might very well get booted for it. Most major US airlines—including Delta, United, American, JetBlue, Alaska, and Spirit—have specific policies in place stating that you might get removed from a flight or be denied boarding if you pull up to the gate barefoot. This doesn’t mean that taking off your shoes isn’t allowed (though still questionable, at times), but it does mean that if removing your shoes leads to your toe beans showing and touching the plane’s grounds, then that’s a no-no.
If you don’t believe us, read it yourself from Delta’s policy statement: "Delta may refuse to transport or may remove passengers from its aircraft in any of the following situations: [...] 2) When the passenger is barefoot." And for future reference, you can also find American Airlines saying basically the same thing here and United specifying its anti-barefoot rules right here. JetBlue is of the same opinion, but its rules are a little more lax. You definitely can be barefoot—If you’re under the age of 5, that is. You can also find Alaska’s contract of carriage mentioning its barefoot policies here and Spirit’s one at this link.
How often are planes cleaned?
Hygiene and sanitation should, quite frankly, be your main concern, though. That airplanes are pretty dirty shouldn’t come as a shocker. Just like other public transportation vehicles, they carry a large number of people everyday, and those people have walked on different grounds, touched many different things and objects, and breathed different kinds of air, even. Now, imagine putting all of them into the same flying tin can. You get the picture.
While you shouldn't worry about getting sick by just hopping on a flight (planes are equipped with good ventilation systems and are cleaned after every flight), you might want to think twice before exposing your bare skin (e.g. your feet) to the dirtiest part of the aircraft, lest you want to get in contact with many disease-friendly and warts-causing bacteria. Bathroom floors, though still pretty dirty, aren't even the worst part.
According to a 2015 study on airline hygiene, seatback trays and overhead vents are the top two most bacteria-ridden areas on planes. As per the study's findings, the bathroom's flush button had 265 bacteria colony forming units (CFU) per square inch (which is still pretty high), while seatback trays "flaunted" 2,155 CFU per square inch. Overhead vents had a 285 CFU per square inch rating in the study. Now, it is unlikely that you'll stick your feet on a plane's overhead air vents, but given the recent in-flight TV news, propping your toes on the seatback tray doesn't seem too far of an option.
Don't count too much on the "planes get cleaned after every flight" train of thought, either. While that is technically true, it doesn't mean that planes get the full scrub-down every time passengers get off a flight. Right after you get to your destination, the airline staff always does a quick cleanup of the aircraft, which usually involves picking up any trash or debris fallen onto the aisles and seat pockets as well as those present in the overhead bins. Stains and fluids in the common areas get cleaned too, but that's more or less all you get, although some airlines—especially during and after the peak of the pandemic—might still spray the cabin with disinfecting solutions or adopt similar practices.
Interior deep cleaning is a whole other thing, though. According to Forbes, airlines are not very vocal about the frequency of this, but one can assume the sanitary revamp happens every one to three months. All hard surfaces including trays, seats, and air vents are wiped down, and the aircraft gets substantially cleaner than before. You might want to ask yourself—what are the odds of hopping on a just-sanitized, just-cleaned plane? Unfortunately, the answer is "low," so you might want to consider keeping your toes in your socks.
Is it safe going barefoot on a plane?
But let's also talk about safety, for those of you who are not quite convinced yet. Unless you're a real pro at coal walking, keeping your shoes on, at the very least during takeoff and landing, is your best bet to save your feet in case of emergency. Christine Negroni, travel writer and author of a book on air disasters, has advised passengers to not only keep their shoes on, but also wear sneakers instead of, say, flip flops.
"One of the best things people can do is put their shoes on for takeoff and landing," Negroni told The Sun. "This is still not required by many airlines and I think it ought to be. If you escape an aircraft, the floor could be very hot or cold, it might be covered in oil or on fire, or in a cornfield—you won't want to be barefoot."
At the end of the day, though, it is also about common decency and respect for your fellow travelers. Flight attendants will tell you that much. J. Neil, a flight attendant of 34 years, took the time to give an eloquent response to a Quora question, which asked the million dollar question, "is it ok to have bare feet on airplanes?" According to the flight attendant, taking your shoes off while you are seated is okay, but you should always wear foot coverings. "Please do everyone a favor and wear clean socks, especially if your feet are odorous," they wrote. "Once you leave your seat to walk and stretch or go to the galley for a drink, or to the lavatories, PLEEASE wear shoes!"
Naked feet, however, are just a no-no. In addition to safety and sanitary reasons, it's just a bad practice. "It's disrespectful to your fellow passengers and to the crew," J. Neil wrote. "Oh yeah… and please don't put your feet on the tray tables (people EAT there), or on the head rest of the seat in front of you…shoes or no shoes. Just. Don't."
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