Is it ever really OK to not wear shoes on flights?

Forget leaving your hat on, can you leave your shoes (or thongs) off at the airport or on a plane? Here's what Australians think.

Legs and feet of people standing in a queue at the airport with their luggage
  • Deborah Grunfeld
  • March 2020

We all know being asked to remove your shoes for security screenings at the airport can be a pain in the proverbial, especially when you are loaded up with carry-on luggage, juggling handbags, phones, laptops and overnight bags.

So, is it acceptable to ditch the footwear and stride through the terminal – and on to the plane – barefoot?

The results are in: shoes on or off at the airport

In our survey, answered by over 20,000 Jetstar travellers, most are outraged at the idea of being footloose and fancy-free at the airport, with only 6 per cent of Australians and 9 per cent of Japanese thinking it is OK to leave your shoes off. (The ever-tolerant New Zealanders are more accepting, with 12 per cent thinking it’s fine).

So, it’s almost unanimous – it’s not OK to travel barefoot on a plane or at the airport.

Someone walking at the airport with a strolly wearing jeans and white shoes
Most Australians think it's unacceptable to go shoe-less at an airport or plane.

Zarife Hardy, director of the Australian School of Etiquette is not surprised by these results. “Let’s remember an airport or aircraft is not your personal loungeroom,” she says. “Taking your shoes off in crowded spaces is off-putting to others. The number one rule of etiquette is making others feel comfortable in your presence, not wearing shoes makes others feel uncomfortable. It is impolite.”

Is it acceptable to take shoes off on long flights?

But don’t despair if you love that free feeling on your tootsies. There are occasions when it is OK to remove footwear on flights.

“When flying domestically, feet should remain on the floor,” says Zariffe. “There is no need to turn your seat into a bedroom or lounge chair.”

But taking shoes off on long-haul flights is acceptable.

“When flying internationally, wait until the plane is well and truly up in the air – and bring some socks or lightweight slippers to wear,” she advises, adding it’s not the best idea to walk around the plane barefoot, both for aesthetic and hygiene reasons.

A man's feet in jeans and brown shoes sitting on an airplane seat.
You should keep your shoes on and feet on the floor on short-haul flights.

“If everyone maintains a pleasant level of respect, attire and personal space, then we all arrive at the end destination happy!” she says.

To avoid the hassle of removing and replacing laced or heavy shoes at security, consider donning a pair of lightweight slip-ons, such as loafers or flat pumps when catching flights, and pack a disposable slipper in your carry-on luggage.

Some other rules of etiquette at the airport

Another interesting finding of our survey was that most people don’t like to see what’s inside your suitcase. Unpacking and repacking personal belongings in front of strangers annoyed 89 per cent of Australians and 83 per cent of New Zealanders - so try and make sure your bags are ready to go before leaving home, and within the allowed weight limit.

So, what is acceptable when in transit? Brushing your teeth. Around half the survey responders from Australia, Japan, New Zealand and Singapore said it was fine to grab the toothbrush and toothpaste and do what needs to be done.

Hands putting toothpaste on to a toothbrush over a washbasin.
No one minds people brushing their teeth in an airport.

So, keep your feet covered, your bags closed and your breath minty-fresh next time you are ready to board a plane and everyone will fly happy.