Since I spent the weekend examining airport escalators for barefootedness, (See Ya Escalator, Alligator), I think most folks can figure out that I did so while flying.
The airline contracts of carriage are simply ridiculous.
In Flying Barefoot I wrote about how the airlines write a “Contract of Carriage”, and how Daniel Howell, author of The Barefoot Book, was escorted off his plane on the way to New York to discuss his book on “The Today Show”.
Almost all Contracts of Carriage say that the airline may remove you for not wearing shoes.
Now, I haven’t flown in about six years. When I did so, I hadn’t had much trouble doing so. This weekend showed me that either things have gotten worse, or I just had a string of pretty bad luck.
First off, let me say that I made sure I had flip-flops in an easily accessible location of my carry-on bag. I did not want to get kicked off—I had a family wedding to get to. (Also, getting kicked off would really piss off my wife. )
Leaving Columbus on U.S. Airways, things started out well. The folks at the gate were very nice. One guy actually kidded me about being barefoot (“You need shoes on! . . . Just kidding.) The lady who took my boarding pass said that she envied me. So I went down the boarding ramp barefoot.
But then at the airplane hatch I was confronted by the flight attendant. She not only gruffly told me I needed shoes, but after I put them on, she added, “And keep them on!” Later, during the flight, I actually saw her leaning over to check that I still had them on (I was in the middle seat, so she could see fairly easily). Geez! It’s not like plenty of other normally-shod people don’t take off their shoes. It is even recommended to help with swelling of the feet from sitting so long.
Now, in the past, even if told to put on shoes to get off, I’ve walked off the airplane barefoot, and even had a flight attendant go apoplectic because of it. But what could they do, throw me off the airplane I was already leaving? But in this case I was sufficiently intimidated that I walked off wearing the flip-flops. I had a connecting flight on the same airline, and was (probably overly) concerned that this flight attendant might get so pissed she’d call ahead to my next flight. But I did take them off as soon as I left the plane.
So now I was in Charlotte. Again, I had no problem at the gate. On entering the airplane, I stayed close behind my wife (to hide my feet), but in this case the flight attendant must have seen my heels, because she chased me down the aisle after I’d passed her.
All I can say is that U.S. Airways must be carefully training their personnel to look out for this scourge of flying: barefoot in the aisle. This time, though, I didn’t worry much while in my seat.
I’m afraid that by the next flight (yes, it was a three-legged trip to get to our destination) I didn’t even bother trying to get on barefoot. It was a long day; I was tired (and discouraged). Enough already.
Oh, and as my wife and I were getting our rental car, one of the other passengers was sure that I’d somehow lost my shoes, and offered me a pair of his flip-flops.
My return trip was no better (except that I only had to change planes once, instead of twice), this time on American Airlines. At Corpus Christi, no mention of my bare feet at the gate, but the flight attendant asked, “Where are your shoes?” So on went the flops, I walked back 14 seats, and then took them off. This time I did exit the plane barefooted.
Then at Dallas I had the gate personnel insist that I wear the flip-flops through the boarding ramp. Again, I took them off and stowed them as soon as I sat down.
So, how is all this ridiculous?
After all, I only had to put the flip-flops on for a very short time. But the real question is, “Why?” What real purpose did it have? What problem did it solve? I spent a lot of time in the airports walking around barefoot, perfectly safely. Nobody can tell me with a straight face that the first 14 rows inside an airplane (okay, it was 24 rows on one of the flights) are somehow more hazardous than the airport (or even outdoors).
I will provisionally concede that if there were a crash and the plane were on fire, footwear might be useful to walk on burning and/or melting carpeting. (Glass? Not a problem. See this. Besides, all the windows are plastic.) Except I suspect that’s not why the rule is there. I suspect it is a holdover from when people almost always wore shoes and socks for flying, and if you took them off, it would raise a stink (literally).
I suppose folks could say it is ridiculous that I make such a fuss about it. May be. But I really never carry footwear. Instead, for flying I need to make these sorts of special arrangements, and for what? 14 rows? It would be nice just to not have to worry about it at all. It would be nice not to have to stop for an empty gesture that really serves no purpose but to satisfy somebody’s idea of propriety.
So, I feel I at least need to make the attempt. To me, it is always good to test the limits, and try to change them.