Flying Barefoot


Since Daniel Howell was escorted off his plane yesterday for being barefoot, I thought I’d go over the situation for that.

Daniel was flying to NYC to appear on The Today Show to talk about The Barefoot Book. He had actually boarded the plane, and after he had his seat belt on, he was approached and asked if he had any shoes with him. He didn’t, so they tossed him.

Is that legal? Yes, it is. Your airline ticket is basically a contract with a private company, and the terms of that contract are detailed in that airlines “Contract of Carriage.” You can easily use Google to find the contract for any airline you are interested in flying. But it is probably not worth it. Practically every airline has a barefoot rule.

Daniel was flying US Airways, and you can see their Contract of Carriage can be found here (click on the PDF). The relevant section, for any airline, is under the heading “Refusal to Transport”, and for US Airways it says:

US Airways may refuse to transport, or remove from any flight, any passenger for the following reasons: Any passenger who may pose a threat to the comfort and/or safety of other passengers or employees including (but not limited to) passengers who: Are over the age of five (5) and barefoot, or otherwise inappropriately clothed, unless required for medical reasons;

Notice that they say that they may refuse to transport, not that they will, which really makes it a crap shoot depending on the employee who sees you. Also notice that they say the rule is for “comfort and/or safety.” That’s not a crap shoot; that’s just crap. Of course it is more comfortable to be barefoot, and medical experts actually suggest removing your shoes when flying to help keep the blood flowing. Now, maybe they don’t care about your comfort, but thing that the other customers might not be comfortable seeing bare feet. Crap there, too: they don’t ban flip-flops, which show the same amount of foot. And if were really about safety, then there would not be the exception for children under 5 years old, unless the airline wants to go on record saying that they don’t care about the safety of young children. (Think about that!)

It’s all just more mindless following the herd.

The origin of the rule predates the airline deregulation in 1978. Back then, flying was regulated by the Civil Aeronautics Board, and they dictated the Contract of Carriage. That Contract had the barefoot rule (but without the exception for children). After deregulation, most airlines just kept the original Contract, though over the years, many have slowly modified them. (You can see remnants of the CAB rules in that Refusal to Transport is still often called Rule 35.)

Some airlines (a very few) removed the barefoot restriction, Aloha Airlines being one of them. Unfortunately, Aloha ceased operating in 2008. Non-US airlines base their Contracts of Carriage (actually called “General Conditions of Carriage”) on a different model, and generally do NOT have a barefoot clause.

As I said, different airlines have modified the rules, so there are slightly differently worded versions.

Hawaiian Airlines:

Persons who do not meet HA standards for dress and attire: . . . For safety reasons, footwear must be worn unless the passenger is unable to do so due to a disability or physical condition that prevents them from wearing footwear.

Delta Airlines:

Delta may refuse to transport any passenger, and may remove any passenger from its aircraft at any time, for any of the following reasons: Delta may refuse to transport any passenger, or may remove any passenger from its aircraft, when refusal to transport or removal of the passenger is reasonably necessary in Delta’s sole discretion for the passenger’s comfort or safety, for the comfort or safety of other passengers or Delta employees, or for the prevention of damage to the property of Delta or its passengers or employees. By way of example, and without limitation, Delta may refuse to transport or may remove passengers from its aircraft in any of the following situations: When the passenger is barefoot.


AirTran may refuse to transport or may remove from any flight any passenger for one or several reasons, including but not limited to the following: If a passenger’s conduct is disorderly, abusive or violent, or the passenger: Is barefoot, or is clothed in a manner that would cause discomfort or offense to other passengers.

Grand Canyon Airplane Tours:

In addition to persons who may be refused transportation on Carrier under Section 6 above, refusal to transport or removal of the following Passengers may be necessary for the comfort and safety of the affected Passenger or other Passengers: Persons over two years of age who are barefoot;

So, how do you fly barefoot? Society for Barefoot Living members have developed a few strategies. Often you can just board barefoot, since the employees are really pretty busy. Don’t look down at your feet, but keep looking directly into the eyes of the employee, particularly when handing over your ticket, and when passing by the flight attendant as you enter the plane. Once you are seated, you are probably fine if they didn’t see you come in, because, as I noted earlier, many people do take off their shoes once they are seated.

However, carry a pair of flip-flops, or something else you can put on for just a moment if challenged. Put them on, pass the person challenging you, and then just take them off again. Yeah, it’s a hassle (I personally hate to have to carry footwear just in case, and rarely do so), but at least then you don’t miss your flight.

One time, on Southwest Airlines, an otherwise very friendly airline, I’d boarded and flown barefoot without being challenged. (They have the “comfort and safety” excuse with an exception for those under 5.) However, on getting off the plane, I was noticed by a flight attendant who went ballistic, telling me I couldn’t be like that. OK, I’m leaving. I think part of his frustration was that there wasn’t a darn thing he could do about me. Hah!


12 Responses to “Flying Barefoot”

  1. Flying Barefoot | Living Barefoot Says:

    […] Flying Barefoot: “ […]

  2. John Clayton Says:

    I can see one very practical reason for having footwear available while flying: in case of a crash. If you survived a crash, trying to escape into an unknown crash site in bare feet would guarentee injury of some sort.

  3. Zarlan Says:

    “Practically every airline has a barefoot rule.”

    How can that be true, when you later state:
    “Non-US airlines base their Contracts of Carriage (actually called “General Conditions of Carriage”) on a different model, and generally do NOT have a barefoot clause.”

    Surely US airlines are not an utterly overwhelming majority of all airlines?

    There is a rather pervasive stereotype about Americans, that they pretty much consider the US to be the whole world (the only part that matters anyway), and largely ignore the rest of the world.
    You should try, to not to live up to such negative stereotypes.

    Practically every airline, IN THE US, has a barefoot rule.
    To omit that “in the US” bit, is a rather significant error (both in term of the facts, and the attitude it shows).

    For me and most other people in the world, this means that there should be no problems for a barefooter, when traveling by plane.
    …unless they are traveling to, or within, the US (in which case footwear is required).

    The majority people, even if you only count the developed world, aren’t in the US …or even North America.

  4. Dan Says:

    I recently had a problem flying barefoot, also with US airways. I have flown barefoot several times before, with other airlines, and never had a problem. This time, a flight attendant was very rude to me and insisted that there was an FAA rule which required passengers to wear shoes. Other flight attendants and even the captain repeated this lie, which I told them I didn’t believe, but I put on shoes because I didn’t want to get kicked off the plane.

    When I got home I filed an official complaint with the DOT’s Aviation Consumer Protection Division, as well as the airline, and both confirmed that there is no such FAA rule. I don’t now why people feel the need to just make up rules about wearing shoes when they don’t exist.

  5. Beach Bum Says:

    Instant Karma’s gonna get you, as John Lennon said….
    US Airways banned Dr. Howell from going on the plane barefoot, but they let a dog on. And it bit 2 people.

    So what is the greater liability? Think lawsuits will happen? Where is the concern for passenger safety?


  6. Bill Says:

    Hmmmmm…… Let’s see now…..
    Some idiot sympathizer for Al Qaeda tries to set his shoes ablaze, so now the TSA can require you to take off your shoes before being cleared past the airport security checkpoints.

    Some other idiot Muslim suicide/murder bomber wearing underwear fashioned into a bomb blows himself up, killing innocent people in the process so TSA personnel now have the right to grope you, including your genitals, or send you through a body scanner.

    Methinks the safest way to travel by air would be to fly naked, but the airlines won’t even allow anyone to board an airliner clad in a swimsuit or bare feet.

    What’s wrong with this picture??

  7. Matt Says:

    John C., a “practical reason” is “in case of a crash” ??? Really? You choose your attire for flying on the premise that your plane might crash AND you survive BUT the wreckage is so bad you need to walk over shrapnel or burning debris or whatever HOWEVER it’s not quite sharp enough to puncture a shoe or melt rubber? Do you also wear a full fireproof suit, helmet, gas mask, kevlar body armor and a parachute? You know… just in case.
    Seriously, I’ve heard this “safety” argument used against bare feet and flip flops before and can’t help laughing at it. There’s just nothing about silly airline rules like this that make any sense… until you factor in their fear of offending the elusive “loyal business traveler.”
    Gotta love the irony of forcing everyone to wear shoes, then forcing everyone to take them off and scan them, then put them back on again, but if you don’t have any shoes to start with in the first place, you’re a safety risk.

  8. Dan Says:

    Ditto with the previous comment- if I’m lucky enough to survive a crash, shoes will be the least of my problems.

    If I survived a crash in the wilderness, I would also want a sturdy knife, a multitool, some pyrotechnic flares, and probably a firearm, but I can’t bring any of those things on a plane.

    Besides I always bring shoes with me in my carry-on luggage anyway, and I could probably put them on if a crash was imminent.

    On another note, I’m hoping some executive will get fed up with the ridiculous amount of airline security and come up with a zero security, full dignity option- You just sign a disclaimer, carry whatever you want, and skip all the screening bullshit. Hey, I can dream…

  9. Tim Says:

    Being barefoot like many issues in society is full of inconsistancies and minimal logic. All airlines request that high heeled shoes be taken off in case of emergencies. I suspect other heeled shoes or non-skid soles would also create problems with the inflatable slides. In addition security in other international airports do not require any shoe removal.
    But why fight it? Just know that you are a little more “grounded”.

  10. Adam Says:

    Thats very strange, a week ago I was in Hawaii, and could SWEAR I saw Aloha airlines operating out of Honolulu Air port, they even had Aloha colors and said Aloha! on the sides, so HOW can Aloha airlines have ceased operations when I saw their planes ?

  11. Bob Neinast Says:

    The wikipedia article on Aloha is here. Might you have seen a remnant cargo operation? Or maybe somebody bought the name?

  12. Randal Says:

    I went through ARFF school years ago (Aircraft Rescue and Fire Fighting) and most airplane crashes are survivable when you are talking about crash landings or crashes upon takeoff. I have flown barefoot from Egypt to Houston before on KLM without problems but I won’t do it again due to the slight possibility that I could have to exit the plane in an emergency and in that case, not having shoes on would be a hazard. And yes, I do dress for flying refusing to wear any non-natural fibers since the synthetic stuff will melt to you versus cleanly burning off.

    Over 20 years of paramedic/firefighting tempers my desire to go barefoot all the time.

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