I flew back from California to New York yesterday, and sat next to a woman who, functionally, was an utter disaster. We’ll call her Stella. Stella helped me gather the courage to give you this important take: do not take your shoes off on a flight, because that is gross.
I was in the middle seat in an exit row, which I was happy about since I’m tall-ish and could generally use the extra space. But when I sat down I noticed Stella, who was in the aisle seat, talking to the man across from her, also in the aisle seat. If they weren’t married they were either very long-term partners or brother and sister or roommates or people who had just met and had made an immediate and irrevocable bond. Anyway.
I noticed the man take off his shoes, which I had never seen before. Huh, I thought. Then I noticed Stella do it as well, revealing ankle socks. Then Stella put her tray table down, and put a leg up on it. (We were, again, in the exit row, so she had more room than usual to navigate.) At a certain point, she put both feet on the tray table. Frequently, throughout the flight, she would put her shoes back on and get up and walk up and down the aisle and then do some stretches. She would return from these exercises and take her shoes off again.
More: She was very busy throughout, constantly producing bags and containers of snacks, like chocolate-covered raisins or marinated chicken fingers, before distributing them to herself and the man. She ordered wine about midway through, but, around 10 minutes after pouring herself a cup, she spilled the entire cup on her pants and belongings. (She had previously dropped and spilled an ice coffee.) She ordered the wine through the screen on the seat in front of her, which is how you order drinks on Virgin America.
When it came time for payment, Stella produced a gold-colored American Express card, which she then swiped the wrong way roughly 14 times before flagging down a flight attendant, who remedied the issue. (An onscreen graphic instructed you to swipe it with the magnetic strip facing up; I’m not sure Stella looked very closely at this graphic.)
It was a fairly miserable flight.
But the first sign of what was to come occurred, I think, before the plane even took off. When you sit in an exit row, flight attendants give you special instructions on how to act in case of emergency, while also getting verbal confirmation from you that you are willing and able, in a time of crisis, to act to save the lives of yourself and your fellow passengers.
Stella was annoyed with this whole process, mainly, I think, because she had to cut a phone call short to give said verbal confirmation. She was explaining to whoever was on the other end of the call that she and the man had done well in getting “the good seats with extra room.” (I would under no circumstances trust Stella in a time of crisis.)
Let’s return to the feet thing. There are some varied opinions among the Jalopnik staff about whether or not taking your shoes off on a flight is acceptable or not. I think that for longer flights it might be, as long as your feet don’t smell and you keep them low and, for Christ’s sake, you keep your socks on.
My flight from LA was around the five hour mark, so, borderline. (Around a year ago, when I was 31 and still a young man, I began to smell like an old man, all at once, no matter what I did to try to help the situation. One of the remedies my girlfriend forced me to adopt was Gold Bond foot powder. Suffice to say I’m never taking my shoes off in public.)
Stella’s feet did not smell as far as I could tell but I’m here to argue that that, in itself, is not the only factor. No one wants to see your feet on a flight, socked or not. But they especially don’t want to see your sockless feet.
And since I can’t think of a medical reason why one would need to take their shoes off for short durations—if said condition existed, maybe get proper footwear?—I’m ruling that taking your shoes off on a plane is wrong and disallowed. Thank you.
At the end of the flight Stella sort of speed-read Monday’s copy of the New York Times, ripping out stories to stuff in her bag and then crumpling whole sections and stuffing them into the seat pocket in front of her. When we had landed but were still taxiing to the gate Stella called the driver picking her and the man up, and began a five-minute conversation. “Call me back when you are outside,” I heard the driver say. A few minutes later, while we were still in the plane, Stella called the driver again.
I’m assuming Stella and the man got home safely but I don’t know for sure.