Frequent fliers are familiar with the many ways your body changes while in a pressurized tube at 40,000 feet: Your ears pop, your ability to taste shifts, and you may find it harder to put your shoes back on after a flight.
There’s a multitude of tricks to combat the last problem (hello, compression socks), but the best advice may be just to keep your shoes on the whole time. The reason has less to do with compression and more to do with avoiding some potentially icky situations.
Generally speaking, airplane cabins are not very clean. (Although the air, for what it’s worth, very much is.) “Cabins are cleaned prior to every flight, but that will be more perfunctory on a quick turn when there are only 15 or 20 minutes to get it done,” pilot Patrick Smith of Ask the Pilot tells Travel + Leisure.
That means cabin cleaning could be as meager as tossing out the trash left behind in the seatback pockets and quickly wiping down high-touch surfaces like lavatory door handles. Planes do go through deep cleaning, but not very often. The frequency varies by airline, but deep cleans typically happen once every four to six weeks.
Outside of those deep cleans, carpets are commonly only vacuumed if time allows, and spot cleaned where necessary. When something (food, beverage, bodily fluids) is spilled, the cleaning crew will eliminate the stain, but won’t necessarily disinfect the entire area where germs could spread.
Jasmin Merdan/Getty Images
“Those who decide to go barefoot might be picking up bacteria and viruses that could negatively impact their health. Likewise, the concern of picking up a fungal infection is always there as well,” David Krause, owner of SyQuest USA, which manufactures cleaning products used on airplanes, tells T+L.
Even worse, those liquids on the floor in the lavatory? Flight attendants are not necessarily required to clean them up mid-flight, which means you could be stepping in urine.
Fortunately, airplane cleaning routines have changed quite a bit due to the pandemic. “The introduction of COVID-19 has affected the way we go about cleaning airplanes,” says Krause. “More disinfectants are now employed on floors and the cleaning process is a little more detailed in an effort to ensure that no trace of the virus is left behind to potentially infect crew or passengers.”
That said, as travel returns to normal, it wouldn’t be surprising if airline cleaning protocols slipped back into old habits.
Oh, and while we’re discussing germs, the tray tables and armrests are filthy. (In fact, tray tables are typically the germiest surface on an aircraft, so put those alcohol wipes to good use and disinfect your space after you board.) Don’t put your bare feet up on those — although no passenger should ever do so, out of courtesy to others.