It’s natural to want to kick back and relax when you’re flying—especially if you’re on a cross-country or international flight. You might want to turn your plane seat into a home away from home for a few hours. But experts warn that you shouldn’t get too comfortable. Despite airlines creating stringent rules amid the COVID-19 pandemic, flight attendants and frequent fliers say they’re still seeing people doing this “don’t.” Read on to find out what you should never do in an airplane bathroom.
According to podiatrist Ebonie Vincent, people are putting themselves in danger by going barefoot on planes. Vincent, who stars on the TLC show My Feet Are Killing Me, warned the Washington Post that walking barefoot on a plane can expose people to bacteria and viruses.
“You could also pick up fungus, not to mention the millions of germs and bacteria that you could transfer to carpets, inside hotel rooms or homes and cars, which serves as a danger to other people,” she told the newspaper. And there are few places that are home to more germs and bacteria than inside airplane bathrooms.
Being barefoot anywhere on a plane puts you at risk, however. “[It] just makes me cringe every time people do it. I don’t understand,” flight attendant Raven Johnson told the Washington Post. “Yes, they’re cleaning the planes a lot more than they used to, but still, you’re not at home.”
Although the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that planes are wiped down and swept between flights—and subjected to a deeper cleaning at least once every 24 hours—the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) doesn’t actually regulate how often (or well) a plane is cleaned.
Beyond that, the compressed space of a plane bathroom makes it easy for bacteria to spread and for splashes of fluid to make their way onto every surface in the area. It’s important to remember you’re not at home. The toilet you’re using is also being used by dozens if not hundreds of other people in a short period of time.
Experts suggest that you avoid touching many of the most used parts of a plane bathroom—from the toilet seat to the door handle. While the bathrooms are cleaned as often as possible, high-touch surfaces are still liable to harbor germs, as Forbes notes.
And certainly wear shoes. “DO NOT WALK AROUND BAREFOOT,” one flight attendant warned Reddit. “Pee and poop happens, all over. I feel like I witness an ‘accident’ regularly, in their seat or in the [bathroom]. People get nose bleeds, or their wounds open. Obviously, when we land, it is thoroughly cleaned. But inflight our resources are limited.”
Bathroom aside, people love taking their shoes off on planes. There’s a veritable epidemic of no-shoes flying—so much so that an Instagram account devoted to shaming barefoot fliers has amassed more than 1.4 million followers.
“There’s a really strong sense of entitlement where people are like, ‘Hey I paid X amount of money for this plane ticket so I can treat this aircraft as I wish,'” Shawn Kathleen, the former flight attendant behind the account @PassengerShaming, told The Wall Street Journal in 2020.
Shoelessness has become such a problem that many major airlines, including Delta, American Airlines, JetBlue, and Southwest Airlines have explicit rules stating that you can be kicked off a flight for sporting bare feet.
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Bare feet are a no-no for hygiene reasons and because it’s just plain rude. But if your feet swell on planes and shoes become uncomfortable, you have options—and keep them in mind before any trips to the lavatory. Travel expert Caroline Costello of the Smart Traveler recommends that you stow a pair of slippers in your carry-on to slip into. Walking around in socked feet is better than nothing in a pinch, but keep in mind that socks won’t save you from any liquids (water or otherwise) that you might encounter on the bathroom floor.
Vincent told the Washington Post that compression socks with grips on the bottom could be the answer for people who struggle with swelling. Costello also suggests that you ask the flight attendants if the airline has socks or slippers for you to wear as a last resort. Many carriers provide those items gratis for business and first-class customers.