You Shouldn’t Take Your Shoes off on a Plane—but It’s Not Why You Think

One of the great debates of air travel is whether it’s OK for passengers to go shoeless. But air travel experts have strong reasons to keep your kicks on.

Airplane passenger sitting crossing legged in economy class, with foot in white sock sticking into the aisle

The debate about whether it’s OK to take your shoes off during a flight is almost as divisive as whether it’s OK to recline your seat.

Photo by Nattawit Khomsanit/Shutterstock

You know the saying, “No shoes, no shirt, no service”? Whether you like it or not, the shoe portion of the warning doesn’t really apply to airplanes. In fact, according to a survey conducted by Kayak, dubbed the Unspoken Rules of Air Travel, 44 percent of Americans think it’s OK to take their footwear off while at cruising altitude.

However, if you’re one of those travelers who enjoys freeing their feet while flying, you may want to reconsider.

While the FAA does have an Aviation Maintenance Handbook that includes guidance and the importance of cabin cleaning, there are no federal regulations mandating how, or how often, cleaning of airplane cabins should occur. Each airline has its own protocols, which vary with each aircraft and how long it has until its next flight. Often, there’s only a 10-minute period to wipe down high-touch areas, clean seat back pockets, refresh the lavatory, spot-clean stains, and tidy up crumby messes.

“By walking barefoot or even in socks around the cabin, you are putting your own health at risk,” says Hailey Way, a flight attendant with charter-airline company iAero Airways. “The lavatory floors are probably the worst place to be barefoot. There’s likely a mixture of water, urine, and other bodily fluids in there. You can never be sure.”

According to an Airplanes Etiquette Violations Survey, conducted by travel planning website the Vacationer, more than 24 percent of fliers consider it annoying when another passenger removes their shoes.

But beyond the ick factor, being shoeless can also prove to be a hazard in the event of an emergency. Christine Negroni, an aviation safety expert and author of The Crash Detectives: Investigating the World’s Most Mysterious Air Disasters (Penguin Books, 2016), says she wishes flight attendants told passengers during their safety briefing to keep their shoes on at least during take-off and landing when accidents are statistically more likely to happen.

“Most airplane crashes are survivable and don’t have fatalities, but when a plane lands in an unexpected place or at an unexpected time, there are lots of things that can cause you trouble as you try to get out of the airplane, including broken glass, burning fuel, asphalt, mountainous terrain, or whatever,” Negroni says. “If you don’t have shoes on, you’re more likely to have your feet injured. It’s as simple as that.”

Negroni added that, for the same reason, people should avoid wearing flip-flops and sandals on planes, as the open-toe designs don’t offer much protection.

One of the most common arguments for taking shoes off is that footwear can become uncomfortable due to foot and leg swelling during a flight. The Mayo Clinic says the phenomenon happens to a lot of people and is usually harmless (though it’s always best to check with your doctor and to be aware of symptoms of blood clots known as DVTs). If this does happen to you, then compression socks can help.

Similarly, keeping your shoes on can also prevent your feet from swelling too much, as explained on the website of Houston-based Tanglewood Foot Specialists, which also recommends wearing sneakers and tennis shoes with laces, so that you can adjust the size if needed. Keeping your feet in your shoes also means you won’t struggle to get them back on if your feet do swell.

In the end, taking off your shoes while flying isn’t an egregious enough action to, say, get the plane diverted or grounded, but it could be upsetting to other passengers. Many people are grossed out by feet, especially in public spaces. Air travel is bad enough already—keeping your shoes on for a flight is just one thing you can do to make it less frustrating for those around you.

Bailey Berg is a freelance travel writer and editor, who covers breaking news, trends, tips, transportation, sustainability, the outdoors, and more. She was formerly the associate travel news editor at Afar. Her work can also be found in the New York Times, the Washington Post, National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, the Points Guy, Atlas Obscura, Vice, Thrillist, Men’s Journal, Architectural Digest, Forbes, Lonely Planet, and beyond.
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