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Passengers: Please Stow Your Nasty Feet for the Duration of the Flight

Ladies and Gentlemen, it’s time we had a serious talk.

Most of you reading this are thankfully not my target audience, and will understand that, in writing this, I am fighting the good fight for you, dear airline passenger. You should not have to see the things you’ve seen or smelled. You should never have to feel so violated or intruded upon, and I wish these things did not take place. But they do. There are people out there that do the unthinkable, and I, among my peers and others, want to put a stop to it.

I want people to keep their feet to themselves.

In my 15 year-long career as a flight attendant, I’ve seen a steady rise in foot-related incidents, but never more than I encounter as a passenger. It always begins the same way: I’ll be sitting in my seat, settling in as we hit cruising altitude with a cup of coffee and watching a documentary about donkeys or some other mind-numbing trifle when suddenly I feel a gentle poke or rub on the back of my arm. If I am traveling with my son or boyfriend, I may momentarily mistake this as an affectionate gesture, which will make me briefly smile until a sense of disgust and anger overwhelm me. I look and see that no one is touching me but the person behind me with their feet, sometimes pedicured but often sporting yellowing skin and cracked toenails, toes wiggling contentedly back at me as if to say “Howdy, neighbor!” My blood pressure is rising just typing that.

I wish I could say that it’s just my bad luck, but this is becoming more and more commonplace on flights. Recently a fed-up JetBlue Airways passenger live tweeted her experience as not one but two bare feet emerged beside her. It went to the next level when one of the feet actually opened her window shade. The tweet-storm went viral and a chorus of sympathizers chimed in to respond that they can feel – and smell – her pain, with several respondents including photos of unwanted toes beside them.

Passengers’ little piggies aren’t just responsible for making people uncomfortable, but regularly even cause damage to the cabin. If you’ve ever seen a ripped and sagging seatback pocket, feet are the culprit. This poor literature holder already contends with enough abuse by way of chewed gum and dirty diapers, but feet, for some reason, will always try to sneak their way in uncomfortably like an overgrown baby kangaroo insisting it can still fit in its mother’s pouch. Eventually, also like an overloaded mother, it will snap, never to return to its original state.

To avoid any confusion, I’ve come up with a handy list of places to never bear your bare feet, all of them locations in which they’re regularly found. Feel free to print this up and laminate it if you’d like.

– The armrest*

– The seatback pocket*

– The headrest of the seat in front of you*

– The wall or bulkhead*

– Walking to the lavatory (this is more for your own personal well being, but it’s not much more pleasant as a spectator)

– Anywhere that’s possible for others to see or smell them

* Feet are not acceptable in these areas even with shoes on.

I’m not saying that you don’t have a right to make yourself comfortable on a flight. But your neighbors have a right not to have their comfort infringed upon by your barking dogs, either. I can’t imagine that there are people out there who wouldn’t be offended by phantom feet suddenly joining them in their physical space. So if you know you just loathe being locked up in your shoes all day, bring a pair of slippers or clean socks from home to change into (never just wear the socks you’ve been sweating into for hours) and relax. There is no reason to be barefoot in public at any time, just as it isn’t appropriate in a restaurant or movie theater. Airplane cabins are getting more cramped and uncomfortable, which is unfortunate, but to make the person in front of you have to attempt to keep down their airplane chicken cacciatore simply because you feel entitled to stretch out your smelly, disgusting feet into their personal space is the most selfish, piggish behavior possible.

The “golden era” of travel may indeed be dead and buried, but passengers ought to retain a basic sense of decorum in order to at least attempt to get on with one another in a confined space for hours on end. Entitlement is a problem that transcends the airline industry, but gets magnified onboard. Others have a more important entitlement to enjoy their flight without it being ruined by odors of someone’s feet competing with them for their precious space. So have some consideration for your neighbors and keep those feet on the floor – the only place they should be – and in shoes, slippers or clean socks. It’s not difficult to not be a jerk.

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