I have a confession to make. A deep, dark, shameful confession. I once went barefoot on an airplane!
I was flying from Bangkok to Dubai and, thanks to the heat, I hadn’t thought to change out of my Birkenstock sandals and into my usual flying uniform of sneakers and compression socks. Perhaps that heat affected me in more ways than one, and I had a headache throughout the flight. Thankfully, my husband and I were the only people in our bank of three seats and I was able to pitifully curl up, put my head in his lap, and my bare feet were everywhere, pushing against the wall, curled up against the seat belt mechanism, dangling on the floor. Not my finest hour.
Thus, when I saw comedian Andy Richter’s viral tweet about a man who stretched out his legs and put his bare feet against the front wall -- to the disgust of everyone around him -- I felt a split-second moment of sympathy for the shoeless flier. Airplanes don’t exactly bring out the best in people, thanks to how uncomfortable they are. But my wave of concern left as quickly as it came. At least my feet weren’t infringing on anyone’s space and were virtually concealed by my blanket!
I wasn’t alone in my displeasure at the sight of a clueless, shoeless passenger. Richter’s tweet has had close to 4,000 re-tweets and dozens of comments from people sharing their own horrifying encounters with bare feet in airplanes, dental offices, and classrooms. The lack of courtesy in common spaces in general, and airplanes, in particular, was a common theme in the commentary, as was a general disgust with bare feet.
In Richter's original tweet, a dog is also visible on the floor next to the passenger in question. It’s not clear if the dog was a service animal or a travelling pet (it didn't appear to be in a carrier). The presence of the hapless dog and his rather alarmed expression caught the attention of many people, including celebrity chef Padma Lakshmi, who tweeted “Even the dog is like [face with rolling eyes emoji].” In response to Lakshmi’s comment, Richter tweeted “It’s not the dog’s fault.” Even when feet are involved, dogs can do no wrong!
While one man tweeted “The man paid for his seat. Let him do what he wants” and a few people halfheartedly spoke in favor of bare feet in general, precious few people defended the shoeless passenger’s behavior. Some even said that Richter should have shown a photograph of the man’s face and not just his feet!
While many people expressed the sentiment that bare feet are unsanitary and disgusting, many others pointed out that not only would his feet leave germs behind, they would also pick up germs. People were dismayed to imagine voluntarily touching more surfaces of an unsanitary airplane than was absolutely necessary. Others eagerly shared their tips on how they make their own space in an airplane more hygienic, including what wipes they use and what kind of slippers or sandals they travel with.
While Richter is always hilarious and provocative on social media, his evocative tweet was an important reminder than when you encounter something inappropriate on an airplane, you should speak to the staff. That’s exactly what Richter did, and the flight attendant supported him. While the passenger was hugely reluctant to change his practices and needed to be reminded several times, he acquiesced in the end. Hopefully on all of Richter’s future flights -- and yours -- passengers’ feet will stay where they’re supposed to so everyone can fly comfortably!