It’s of those thorny plane etiquette questions, where people have all kinds of opinions: should you keep your shoes on when flying, or take them off?
There are two aspects to think about — your comfort and your wellbeing. (Note: I’m an aviation journalist, not a doctor, so if you have concerns about your health when flying speak to a medical professional.)
Comfort-wise, it’s nice to kick off your shoes on a long flight in particular, to wiggle your toes and to let your feet breathe. Some airlines even have a special little net where you can store your shoes if you want, which can keep them up off the floor and out of your leg space.
But nobody wants to see (let alone smell) your bare feet, so please, for everyone’s sake, wear socks and make sure that your feet are clean and odour-free. Shoe deodorising powder or even a light sprinkle of baking soda into your kicks make for a more pleasant and less odoriferous experience.
Wellbeing-wise, feet can swell on long flights, so when taking off your shoes be certain you’ll be able to put them on again. The rose-tinted jet age of bygone years where people dressed up to travel is gone now, at least down the back of the plane, so wear comfortable shoes.
The athleisure trend in footwear means that comfy yet stylish is an easy option, and some of these also benefit from being able to be worn with the heel area flipped down to create a sort of clog-espadrille effect, perfect for popping out to grab a drink or visit the lavatory. A stretchy casual sneaker or trainer is a good idea, since they’re easy to put on or take off, and swelling feet will squeeze in again.
Some shoes to avoid: high heels need to be removed in an evacuation because they can tear the slide. Lace-up boots are a faff to do up, particularly in the limited space available on planes, and can trip the metal detector at security.
Flimsy sandals or flipflops aren’t safe if you need to evacuate the plane, can trip you up on escalators or moving walkways, run the risk of being run over by someone’s luggage or trolleys, and don’t keep dirt or anything else gross on the floor of the plane off your feet — which, let’s remember, nobody wants to see.
Actual rope-soled espadrilles or other absorbent shoes are a no-no, not least because the floors of airplane bathrooms aren’t the most hygienic, and if someone spilled their beer on the carpet you don’t want to be soaking it up.
For a long flight, you may want, though, to pop that free pair of hotel slippers in your carryon, or even pack a light pair of flipflops from home. There’s a lot to be said for keeping your socked feet off the floor but still comfortable, although keep an eye out for spills when traipsing to the lavatory.
It’s a good idea (and indeed many airlines require you) to leave your shoes on during takeoff and landing. If you have to leave the plane in a hurry you don’t want to be trying to put them on, let alone be tripping over your laces.
And whatever you do, keep your feet to yourself, and don’t put them on the bulkhead walls or wedge them into the seatback in front of you.
At the end of the day and after the flight, I know some people who swear by a peppermint foot cream to smooth onto tired and swollen feet to refresh them — either to kick off their holiday or pep up their feet once back at home.