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Playing Footsy With The Armrest

I am submitting this story both to rant and for advice should something similar happen again (as I expect it will).

I regularly travel between the UK and the Netherlands. Approximately once a month I take a 1 hour flight between these 2 countries. I always take these flights alone. Due to a change in personal circumstances I have recently begun using a different UK airport to make these trips. As you may know, the Netherlands has liberal drug laws which makes it a popular destination for stag and hen parties, as well as other young people keen to experience the Dutch nightlife. In addition to these tourists there are also usually many young families and business travelers on the flights.

The flights from my new UK airport seem to have a much higher percentage of stag and hen parties and a lower percentage of business and family travelers. For this reason, the flights can be more rowdy. I usually take a book and tolerate this issue as it is only a short flight. However, on my most recent flight this strategy was insufficient.

A group of young women sitting behind me (I estimate approximately 18-20 years old) were speaking loudly and using offensive language from the beginning of the flight. As there were no children nearby no one seemed to mind, and I ignored it. As food was served I noticed that the woman sitting behind me had removed her shoes and socks and placed her feet between the chairs and onto the arm rest beside me. Her feet were not clean and I felt unable to eat with them almost touching my arm. I think the woman sitting next to me (also sharing the foot-covered arm rest) had noticed but chosen not to react.

I turned around, smiled at the woman behind me then glanced at her feet. I assumed this would be enough to remind her that her actions were inappropriate. I was shocked when she smirked back at me and her friend said, “Have you got a problem?”  I replied, “Please can you move your feet, it is quite unhygienic”.  She moved them off my arm rest. I then heard her and her friends mocking me. It seems ridiculous, but I felt like I was back in High School! I hate confrontation, and this incident bothered me for the rest of the day.

Can any readers offer advice on how I can better handle a situation like this in the future? Unfortunately, unless I pay for an upgrade I expect to encounter similar problems again. Whilst ideally I would hope the cabin crew would ensure a pleasant environment (and have contacted corporate to suggest this) I do not expect much. 0928-15

What you said was fine.  What you need is your confidence built so that you don’t feel guilty for standing up for yourself and so that you are not emotionally bothered by the antics of petty people.   View it this way…you won.   You had control of the situation.  Footsy chick may have grumbled and spewed hateful invectives in your direction but she did what you asked nonetheless.  Kind of reminds me of how my dog mutters under her breath when she has to do something I want her to do.   What Footsy Chick did in response to your request was typical of insecure people who do not yet have the maturity and self confidence to behave civilly to a civil request.

{ 67 comments… add one }
  • Lexie September 30, 2015, 3:32 am

    What you did was absolutely fine and appropriate – you were gracious, polite and caused no drama. It was disgusting and inconsiderate of the woman to think putting her feet next to you was even vaguely appropriate, ugh.

  • just4kicks September 30, 2015, 3:40 am

    My husband, years ago, while traveling for business, was seated in the aisle seat with a young mom and her six-year old son across the aisle.
    Halfway through the flight, and after quite a few cocktails, the man seated behind this woman and her son was being loud and obnoxious, and the flight attendants cut him off from any further alcohol.
    When the flight attendant told the man he wasn’t allowed to have any more booze, the mom was in the bathroom, and this guy WENT OFF, cursing and yelling at the flight attendant…..calling her every name in the book.
    The little guy looked around for his mom (he had been dozing) and was very frightened and began to cry.
    My husband said “Hey buddy….It’s ok….your mommy went to the bathroom….She will be right back, ok?”
    He then looked at drunk guy and said “Hey…you want to knock it off?!? You’re scaring the kid!”
    This guy stood up and went after my husband, saying the usual macho things like “HEY! No one asked you, did they?!? Butt out!….And “F@CK YOU, A$$HOLE, mind your own goddamn business!”
    My husband told him HE was being an a$$hole and sit down and SHUT UP!
    The flight attendants got him back in his seat with the threat of being arrested when they landed, and my husband got a round of applause.
    Fast forward to landing, the mom thanked my husband for sticking up for her son, and my husband got off the plane and went about his business.
    As he headed towards the men’s room in the terminal, a man in a suit coat put his arm around my husband and said “come with me, Sir.”
    My husband laughed and said “no…get away from me!”
    The man then open his jacket to show him his air marshal badge and nifty 45 caliber pistol.
    They went into the rest room, and the air marshal asked what happened up there.
    My husband relayed all the details and then asked “why on earth are you talking to ME, and not the idiot who caused this whole problem?!?”

    • Rose September 30, 2015, 7:01 am

      I’m not sure that was a real Air Marshal. If he were, he would have intervened at the time of the incident, not after everyone had disembarked. Also, he wouldn’t have taken your husband to a public restroom to question him, it would have been in an office at the airport. I don’t know what he was, but he wasn’t an Air Marshal.

      • Tracy P September 30, 2015, 8:18 am

        I’m guessing the air marshal wasn’t on the flight, but was called by the pilots and informed of the incident and was looking into what happened. Still, he would have talked to the husband immediately after disembarking, not just randomly waylaid him in the terminal. That is very creepy.

    • Otter September 30, 2015, 8:15 am

      Yes, that’s really weird. Don’t air marshals have access to offices in the terminal? Maybe he was a friend of the jerk…Your DH should have gotten lots of comps and congratulations instead of questioned in a rest room.

      • just4kicks September 30, 2015, 10:19 am

        @all who commented:

        He was a real air marshal, my husband asked for identification before he would talk to him.
        The marshal showed my husband his badge, and gave my husband a business card to contact him later with any other info my husband may have forgotten to tell him.

        The rest room pow wow was because my husband had only a short amount of time before catching his connecting flight.
        The AM told my husband to follow him to his office, and my husband said he wasn’t taking the chance of missing his next flight….He said if you want to get my statement, you’ll have to come to the men’s room with me.

        And, the AM was not on the flight in question, he was told by the flight staff what happened and to stand by for the disembarking passengers…He was texted a photo of my husband and of the idiot who caused all the trouble.
        My husband asked him, “how did you know WHO to talk to if you weren’t actually ON the plane?!?”
        The AM pulled up a photo of my husband on his phone, and showed him a photo of the trouble maker asking “is the man who confronted you?”

        Thanks for all the nice comments, I hope you all have a great day!!! 🙂

        • Goldie October 1, 2015, 8:14 am

          Oh thank you for the follow-up. The initial post read like a man in a suit walked up to your husband, put an arm around him, showed a marshal’s badge and a gun, and said to follow him into the men’s room. Which sounds all kinds of creepy!!

          • just4kicks October 1, 2015, 1:06 pm

            @Goldie: it WAS creepy….that’s why my husband at first said “get away from me!”, until the man showed my husband his credentials.

            My husband said this AM seemed to enjoy his job and the power that went with it a little TOO much!

    • Hollyhock September 30, 2015, 12:33 pm

      Hate to sound like a prude but even when the conventional spelling of certain vulgar words are disguised with $$ signs and the like, it still is a jolt to see them on a site like Etiquette Hell, which I like to think as a haven from the coarseness of everyday life.

      I wonder if it would be possible to convey the gist of the story without the use of those words, as in “the man used a variety of obscenities…” etc.

      • Lady Catford October 1, 2015, 12:56 am

        I, also,would like to see the obscenities deleted. The $$ and @#$@ are almost as offensive as the actual words.

      • just4kicks October 1, 2015, 3:37 am

        @Hollyhock: What the @$&$!@ is wrong with you, you @!&?@$!!! 🙂

        I’m just joking around!!!
        My apologies for my potty mouth, or potty typing fingers as the case may be.
        I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone….I’m sorry.
        I will keep the profanities down in future comments.

        …..And, it’s a good thing I skipped typing what the drunk on the plane called the flight attendant when she cut him off from any more alcohol….my husband (who is no shrinking violet) said even HE heard a few new words!!!

        • Ella October 5, 2015, 9:48 pm

          When someone has stated something upsets them, it is polite to abstain from doing it.

          • just4kicks October 6, 2015, 7:24 pm

            @Ella: I apologize (again) and was kidding around above.
            It’s just my silly sense of humor….won’t happen again, Ma’am.

          • J November 3, 2015, 2:04 am

            Is this a joke?

        • J November 3, 2015, 2:07 am

          Don’t worry, some of us weren’t offended at all! I have multiple graduate degrees, a successful start-up, an uncle who is COO of a fortune 500 company, another uncle with a title/immediate family members who attended the royal wedding…and a potty mouth. Apparently it makes me “coarse” to be educated enough to know that “good language” vs. “bad language” is merely a social construct.

          Oh well, whatever makes others feel better about themselves! LOL

          • just4kicks November 4, 2015, 9:20 am

            @J: thanks for the back up!
            I didn’t see any harm in using $@+!&$ in place of certain peculiarities, and the Admin has never (to my knowledge) blocked any of my comments.
            But since it bothers more than one person, I’m happy to not use foul symbols to get my point across.

            Have yourself a $&@!$& day!!!

  • Stephbwfern September 30, 2015, 6:56 am

    I can’t say for sure, because I wasn’t there, but from the way you described how you initially addressed the issue (looking at her, then pointedly at her feet), I think this could have been received, by the woman,as somewhat patronizing – it sounds like the kinds of thing an authoritarian school teacher would do.
    So, if course she wasn’t going to respond to you well.
    Maybe just turing around with a smile and saying “Can you please move your feet – they’re sitting a bit close to my food” – something more direct and friendly – may have had a more friendly response from her?
    (And yes, the woman was acting childishly and wasn’t really that deserving of extra niceties, but if you wanted a better response from her, that is probably the way to achieve it).

    • Pat September 30, 2015, 10:16 am

      Sorry, I disagree. OP kindly gave Stinky Foot Lady a chance to remove her feet without anything being said. Stinky Foot Lady didn’t take that chance and instead removed any doubt regarding her immaturity and incivility.

    • Goldie September 30, 2015, 11:51 am

      Didn’t work in my case (I left a comment below). I started out with a nice request and the girls just kept looking past me as if I wasn’t there, and doing nothing about the foot in my face. I then stared the Footsie Girl in the eyes and pointed at her foot and then at the floor and that did the trick, albeit only for a few seconds.

      But I do agree that it’s a good idea to start out by asking nicely anyway. If the other side sees this as a weakness on your end, that’s on them.

    • lakey September 30, 2015, 1:44 pm

      “may have had a more friendly response from her?”

      A more friendly response from someone who puts her bare, dirty feet on the armrest next to the arm of a passenger on a plane?

      Anyone who behaves like this in the first place is not likely to react like anything but an ill-mannered boor, no matter how they are addressed by the victim. There are people out there who behave in a rude and disgusting manner deliberately. That’s what this incident sounds like.

      • mark September 30, 2015, 6:33 pm


        I agree with you, and because people don’t want confrontation, they get away with it a lot.

  • Mustard September 30, 2015, 7:12 am

    Yuck! Thankfully I’ve never been on a plane where it was even possible for whoever was sitting behind me to put their feet as you describe – no gap between the seats.

  • AMC September 30, 2015, 7:37 am

    Admin is 100% right! You handled it fine, OP. The behavior of the young women sitting behind you says nothing about you, but quite a lot about them. Kudos to you for handling yourself in a mature and civilized manner.

  • Mike September 30, 2015, 7:47 am

    It would be a terrible shame if steaming hot coffee or tea spilled onto footsy girl’s tootsies, wouldn’t it?

    • JO September 30, 2015, 9:15 am

      This made me giggle.

  • another Laura September 30, 2015, 7:53 am

    The “footsie” girl should be glad you were polite. Evil me (who I rarely let out) would think it would be more fun to “spill” my beverage or hot food on her feet.

    • admin September 30, 2015, 8:07 am

      That’s OK. My Evil Twin thought the same thing. Or crushed her tootsies with my elbow.

      • o_gal September 30, 2015, 9:38 am

        Wouldn’t that be considered retaliatory rudeness?

        • lakey September 30, 2015, 1:47 pm

          They’re probably joking. In real life, it is a bad idea to get into it with people who behave like this. They could attack you. But it’s fun to fantasize about spilling something on her foot.

          • o_gal October 1, 2015, 5:58 am

            I was replying to the suggestion to crush the tootsies with an elbow, which is more of a “real” idea than spilling hot beverages. But I guess that’s why we all keep our evil twins under heavy control.

      • Pat September 30, 2015, 1:14 pm

        If I tried that I would probably accidentally spill the drink on myself or the poor person next to me!

  • Otter September 30, 2015, 8:19 am

    OP you were well within rights and totally appropriate. What some rude people do is transfer their shame onto you by ridiculing, complaining, etc. Simpler to do than say but, refuse to take it. She was disgusting and deserved to feel bad, not you.

  • Cat2 September 30, 2015, 9:01 am

    Fwiw, there’s a high likelihood that that other people around you were quietly rolling their eyes at her and thinking she sounded like an obnoxious fool. Keep that in mind if it helps you feel stronger about dealing with the aftermath in future (should there be a similar aftermath).

  • Yarnspinner September 30, 2015, 9:53 am

    “This little piggy went to market…this little piggy stayed home…..”

    Would have required massive amounts of hand sanitizer, but evil me would have been willing….

    • mechtilde September 30, 2015, 2:33 pm

      I like it…

    • InTheEther September 30, 2015, 4:53 pm

      I actually do this to my brother when he props his bare feet up within easy reach. Actually don’t have an issue with feet or anything, it just annoys him (picking at me is a driving force in his life so he deserves it ;p )

      • mechtilde October 1, 2015, 6:01 am

        Brothers are fair game 😉

  • Catherine September 30, 2015, 10:00 am

    My first thought is rather horrible, but, if I were a man, I would have liked to have told the woman that I find young women’s feet very attractive and, since I needed to eat, I would appreciate her removing temptation from my path for the moment.
    In fact, you handled the situation appropriately. Her juvenile behavior is not your responsibility unless you raised her.

  • Annie September 30, 2015, 10:32 am

    Admin’s response is perfect. You did win.

  • riversong September 30, 2015, 10:38 am

    I don’t care how clean someone’s feet are- they’re still feet. That’s disgusting. I’m sure the girl knew she was wrong and that’s why she behaved that way. I think you handled it perfectly.

  • ketchup September 30, 2015, 10:41 am

    When they start bad mouthing you, is the perfect time for some eye rolling.

  • Kirsten September 30, 2015, 10:41 am

    Sitting with bare feet on someone else’s armrest is rude and strange, but I don’t know why you think it should affect you eating. Germs aren’t going to run from her feet along your arm, down your hand, down your cutlery and into your meal.

    • kingsrings September 30, 2015, 1:29 pm

      Doesn’t matter – it’s still very unsightly and unpleasant.

    • MamaToreen September 30, 2015, 3:19 pm

      It’s highly unappetizing

    • Kate September 30, 2015, 8:34 pm

      OP said that the woman’s feet were dirty. Imagine trying to eat and having a big waft of foot odour right up into your face as you take a bite.

      • Ella October 5, 2015, 9:49 pm

        I wouldn’t even care if they were clean. I wouldn’t want them near me at all.

    • Goldie October 1, 2015, 8:16 am

      Because it’s gross, and a major invasion of personal space.

      Unless I’m in a romantic relationship with a person, or gave birth to them five years or less ago, I do not EVER want some of their body parts in my face. Bare feet are high on that list.

  • girl_with_all_the_yarn September 30, 2015, 10:42 am

    Well, that was apparently more polite than I did when someone did that to me.

    I have a very pronounced startle response and on a flight something weird and fleshy touched my arm. I jumped and made a rather loud noise (to my own embarrassment). I instinctively hit whatever it was, probably assuming it was an insect or small creature (a snake maybe? I honestly have no idea what I thought it was).

    It was someone’s foot. And he was pretty unhappy with me for hitting him.

    • MeganAmy October 6, 2015, 9:18 pm

      I love your genuine response! I would have responded like the OP. And been proud of myself for standing up for myself. And then would have felt awful, like the OP described, for the rest of the flight with the immature women behind me mocking me.

      If I’m ever in a situation like this, I hope I have your reaction!

  • MyWorld September 30, 2015, 10:44 am

    Possibly the only thing I would have done differently would have been to leave out the part of her feet being unhygienic… I would have turned around, smiled in a friendly manner and said “Could I ask you to please take your feet down?” And then thanked her and maybe made some comment about how the airline packs people in like sardines

  • Bugurl September 30, 2015, 11:33 am

    There’s a Facebook page and a website devoted to this type of behavior. Passenger Shaming is full of many egregious behaviors, and the foot between the seats seems to be one of the most rampant. (http://www.passengershaming.com/)

    I feel pretty lucky that I’ve never encountered this behavior before, and I fly at least once a month, on average. My evil twin thinks the spilled beverage or elbow toe crushing are fine ideas, but I’m hoping that e-Hell helps me be polite and firm in case this ever happens.

    • Mary October 1, 2015, 9:28 am

      I follow this site and the disgusting behavior that people engage in is unbelievable!

  • Vrinda September 30, 2015, 11:35 am

    I would have turned around, looked at them, and mocked them right back, and I have done that.

  • Goldie September 30, 2015, 11:47 am

    I’ve had the same thing happen at my older son’s HS graduation. It was amphitheater seating, and when I turned to say something to my family, who sat next to me, I was surprised to find a stranger’s bare foot in a flip-flop inches from my face! I, too, told her to put it down. Except in my case, she put it back up five seconds later and eventually I just moved seats when another one opened up. So I’d say, OP, you got better results than I did, good for you! And yes it really is disgusting!

  • Willynilly September 30, 2015, 12:28 pm

    OP you were totally fine. And I agree with the admin, what you need is confidence not advice.

    But I do also agree with a previous poster, perhaps if there is a next time start off with a friendly request, not just a look and then admonishment (while it was unhygienic it wasn’t necessary to say that right off the bat). You were fine in what you did, but if your goal is a friendlier response, not just getting the offending foot removed, starting with a friendly request will help get there.

  • Hollyhock September 30, 2015, 12:36 pm

    You were fine, OP, but I think “Please remove your feet from my armrest,” also would have been assertive and sufficient. You really don’t need to give a reason for the request and the remark about hygiene, while perfectly accurate, was only going to put the ill-mannered girls on the defensive.

    Personally I have given up dealing with unreasonable people in public and would have pressed the call button for the flight attendant and let him/her deal with the other passengers.

    Shudder. I am old enough to remember when flying was a genteel, dressed-up event (my first flight we even wore little white gloves, and it wasn’t in the Stone Age — I’m barely 50) that one could look forward to. Not hours of being lumped in with the lowest common denominators.

  • Michelle September 30, 2015, 1:13 pm

    I think you did fine, OP. I have a “thing” about feet and I would not have appreciated her feet so close to me or my food.

    I went a movie and the kids behind me kept sticking their feet on the top my seat and that really grossed me out (again, I have a “thing” about feet), as well as the feet having a noticeable odor. I asked them twice to please take their feet off of my seat. The third time, I went out to the lobby, asked for the manager and explained the situation. He was super nice and offered me tickets to return and threw the kids out of the theater.

  • JD September 30, 2015, 2:36 pm

    If this kind of thing is getting to be common behavior on flights, I’m glad I don’t fly much.
    OP, you got her feet away from you, and remained polite, which is excellent. When someone’s ugly response starts to fluster you, just try the old trick of imagining him or her in underwear. Maybe Disney or Smurfs underwear. And smile as you carry on with your own business. Mockers and bullies hate to see a “victim” smiling.

  • Devin September 30, 2015, 2:44 pm

    I’m in awe of the fact the airline has food service on a hour long flight. In the US, some airlines don’t even do beverage service for flights that short!!

  • ketchup September 30, 2015, 2:54 pm

    One time I (I was in my early 20) was sitting in the bus alone, and there were a few young adults sitting behind me. One of them, a woman, was very aggressive. She didn’t hit anyone, or yell at anyone, but she did get in their personal space by touching their hair. At some point she decided to try me.
    She touched my hair. I turned around, looked her in the eye and said: ‘you will stop that right now.’ She did, but she had to prove herself to her friends, of course. So she asked me ‘or what?’ So I said: ‘there’s no or what, because you will stop right now.’ So she started telling me she wasn’t my slave, and I couldn’t tell her what to do. I told her she indeed wasn’t, and that it was irrelevant. Hihi, she couldn’t pin me down.
    That was the day I discovered I had a polite spine.

    The point (apart from the bragging, sorry about that) is that asking them nicely means they can say ‘no’. Telling them they will stop might work better in some situations.

  • EllenS September 30, 2015, 4:44 pm

    We have a saying in my house, when I give my kids unpopular instructions, “You don’t have to like it, you just have to do it.”

    I try to remember that, unless they need help, other people’s feelings are not my business.

  • Rebecca September 30, 2015, 7:29 pm

    The creatures who will react to a civil request when they’re misbehaving in public is because they’re attention hungry and self centered. That is not your problem and however they feel about you is not important, they are trolls and therefore their opinion is automatically void.

    You did well with the situation. If someone does this to you again, you can also add “If you don’t want to listen to me, I can press the call light and get the flight attendant to ref this one for us.” What an obnoxious girl, I hope she grows up for her own good at some point.

  • LadyV September 30, 2015, 8:52 pm

    If it was the kind of armrest that flips up, I would have had it in the upright position as soon as the foot appeared. Little Miss Sunshine got her toes caught? Too bad, so sad.

  • Jewel September 30, 2015, 9:54 pm

    For various reasons, I often carry a thick nibbed black marker in my purse. I do believe I’d have given stinky feet girl one chance to remove her feet from my arm rest before I uncapped my marker and gave her a big, thick swipe with it across her instep. If she was foolish enough to repeat her stunt, the marker would start on the top of her foot and ruin her pedicure.

  • Green123 October 1, 2015, 3:00 am

    Evil me would definitely have had an ‘accident’ with that nice hot cup of tea the stewardess just brought to me… OH! I am SO SORRY! Fancy your FEET being in the way of my accidentally spilled beverage!

    At least the hot liquid might’ve cleaned ’em… Ugh!

  • rachel October 1, 2015, 11:42 am

    She got embarrassed so that was her attempt to embarrass you. Good for you standing up for yourself.

  • Rebecca October 5, 2015, 11:35 pm

    I’d be less concerned about hygiene than about someone behind me using the space on the plane that had been designated for me, that I’d paid for. “Excuse me, your feet are on my armrest; can you remove them please?” If there was a refusal then I’d call over a flight attendant and ask for this individual to be dealt with.

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