The New York Times has weighed in again, this time regarding bare feet on airplanes, and yet again focus on the wrong culprits.
I guess we shouldn’t be surprised.
Here’s the article: Whose Feet Are Those? Negotiating Air-Travel Etiquette. And it’s illustrated with just about the most offensive picture possible.
I mean, it’s nicely drawn and rather cute, but it’s intended to slant the article against anyone being the least bit barefoot on a plane.
The author claims:
On recent flights I’ve had bare feet beside me, on the back of my armrest, on the bulkhead in front of me. Once, upon feeling something push through the sliver of space where the seat back and bottom meet, I reached behind me and grabbed a stranger’s toes.
The article notes that, these days, an awful lot of people take their shoes off on airplanes. And it stinks.
Again, we shouldn’t be too surprised. A lot of travel sites now recommend taking off tight shoes because of the circulation problems they can cause while sitting down for a long flight.
And regarding the stink, of course if you put any body part into a mostly impervious warm, dark, moist environment you’ll get pretty cheesy.
But the problem is not bare feet (and particularly not barefooters); it is what’s done with them.
The article totally fails to make that distinction and paints with a broad brush.
It does, though, bring up an important point: etiquette.
If your feet stink from being encased and allowing all sorts of bacteria and fungus to grow on them, then you should leave your shoes on. But if you were wearing flip-flops or other odor-preventing footwear (or really are truly barefoot), then you should be aware where you put your feet.
But that really applies regardless of whether you have shoes on or not. You shouldn’t put a fully-shod foot up into another person’s space on an airplane either. The article uses this additional photograph:
Those are bare feet on the bulkhead. Shoes up there wouldn’t be any better (but wouldn’t cue the outrage the article is trying to generate).
Again, the article incorrectly conflates the offensive (putting out bad odors; putting feet, shod or not, where they don’t belong), with a simple condition (barefoot). And again, they try to make the sight of a bare feet as something wrong, but without realizing they have no problem with seeing people wearing flip-flops or light sandals.
The author does acknowledge barefooters:
Now, there are people who like to go barefoot as often as possible and who will not only take offense at my offense but who put forth a thoughtful argument as to why bare feet ought to be acceptable. You can read more in “A Case for Bare Feet” on the Society for Barefoot Living’s Web site, barefooters.org. “If some people have a problem with bare feet, tough,” the document says, “it’s their problem.”
No, we don’t take offense at your taking offense to bad odors and feet, shod or not, where they don’t belong. We take offense at your conflating that generally with bare feet.
On the other hand, maybe an article about bare feet on airplanes is a good sign. For us barefooters, it means that we are no longer the only ones. Others recognize, and are willing to follow through on, the comfort and sensibility.
It also means that the common Condition of Carriage that many airlines use, that says that they can refuse transportion if you are barefoot, is being used less and less. (It would be interesting, though, to see them toss a barefoot customer in mid-flight, right? Or wouldn’t it be interesting to see an emergency landing: “We had to land right away. One of our passengers was barefoot and wouldn’t put shoes on!”)
Actually, most of the article was not about bare feet. It was really about all the possible friction points on flights. Bare feet were just the lure to bring in readers. (Grrr.)
At least they also discussed other offensive behaviors, like odors (e.g., cologne and perfume), and jamming back the seat rest, and applying nail polish, and personal grooming, and loud talking.
The comments to the article were also fairly encouraging. Yes, readers were invited to share what behavior they’d observed while traveling that seemed appropriate. Most of them actually did that, and didn’t complain too much about bare feet in an of themselves.
I found this comment rather amusing:
I am glad that I am not the only person who has noticed the disgusting new phenomenon of people taking off their shoes and socks on a plane. It happens everywhere regardless of the season. On a recent flight from Switzerland to the US in business class, the first thing the passenger next to me did when he sat down was take off his shoes and socks and display his bare feet. I was truly repulsed and could not imagine spending the next 9 hours staring at and smelling those feet. I said hello and suggested that he might put on the socks that are in the business class amenity bag. I don’t know if he wanted to or not, but he did it and I was greatly relieved. Maybe we should all carry extra socks to give out to passengers who take off their shoes and socks.
If the feet stink, a pair of socks is not going to stop the odor from escaping. The socks will just disguise the source of the stink. But also note that this person was going to be repulsed merely by staring at bare feet for 9 hours. Uh, don’t stare? And if the “offender” had come in wearing flip-flops and kept them on, I bet we wouldn’t have heard a thing about it.
But that person also made a separate a good point:
Regarding nail clippers, I was recently on line to board a flight and a very well dressed man proceeded to take out some nail clippers and clip his nails in front of everyone just as the plane was boarding. The clippings flew everywhere and my children and I were all shocked.
I’m assuming that’s fingernails, not toenails. Regardless, that’s the kind of stuff—the behavior—that shouldn’t be done. But if it were done with toenails, you can be sure it would have been blamed on bare feet.
Some day it would be nice to see an article that finally distinguished between mere appearance and the behaviors that truly impose upon others. But this one sure didn’t manage that when it comes to bare feet.