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Is It OK to Go Barefoot on the Plane?

In an airplane cabin, among recycled air and tightly packed passengers, unpleasant body odors are a cause of great torment. Smelly feet are top offenders. If you have ever been stuck next to a passenger who made himself a little more comfortable by removing his grungy sneakers and airing out his sockless, sweaty extremities, you will likely agree with my take on this issue: It is not OK to go barefoot on a plane.

Denial is the prime source of the problem here. Folks with smelly feet never seem to realize that they have smelly feet. Most people, excepting the uttermost shameless among us, would avoid shoe removal if they were aware that their feet reeked.

But even if you are sure that your feet are indisputably pristine and smell-free, keep them covered. The sight of strangers’ naked feet bothers a lot of people. It’s unsanitary to put uncovered soles on airplane surfaces. And, most importantly, bare feet are banned in aircraft cabins. In most U.S. airlines’ contracts of carriage, you’ll find a small stipulation that says airline staff can remove you from the plane if your feet are exposed. For example, here is American’s rule, under “Acceptance of Passengers.”

The airlines’ bare-feet ban provides an easy fix for passengers stuck next to shoeless offenders. You could politely ask a seatmate to re-shoe, or you could try to blast foot odors away by way of the overhead air vent. But if all else fails, alerting a flight attendant to the situation should solve the problem.

On the other end, I’ve thought of some solutions for those who want to remove their shoes on planes. These are obvious fixes to most of us, but maybe these ideas could help some of the more shoe-averse flyers:

  • Bring packable slippers. Travel-supply stores sell slippers to take on the road, but, really, they’re not all that different from regular ones. Pliable, soft-sided slippers are pretty easy to stuff into the side pocket of a suitcase.
  • Socks exist. Wear them. Throw a sock ball into your carry-on if you’re wearing sandals on the plane.
  • No socks or slippers in your carry-on? If you’re sitting in coach on a long-haul flight, politely ask a flight attendant if there are extra pairs of socks or slippers available on the plane. Many first- and business-class amenity kits contain socks or slippers, and a friendly attendant might be willing to bend the rules a bit to help you keep your feet cozy and covered.

What do you think? Is it OK to go barefoot on a plane?

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