Fleet of foot, on land or in the air

Stephanie Rosenbloom / New York Times News Service /


Published Oct 17, 2012 at 05:00AM / Updated Nov 19, 2013 at 12:31AM

Uncomfortable shoes can not only ruin your feet, they can ruin your vacation. Try walking around Versailles with a blister on your heel, or climbing the Spanish Steps with a sandal strap slicing into your pinkie toe.

Cinderella aside, there is no perfect shoe. But if anyone knows which shoes will treat your feet right yet also look sharp enough for a night on the town, it’s a flight attendant.

“We’re on our feet 13 hours a day, sometimes six days a week,” said Grace Brown, a North Carolina-based flight attendant who has worked for a regional carrier for more than four years. (Like other flight attendants, Brown requested that the name of her employer not be mentioned because she was speaking for herself, not the airline.)

Who better to, er, pump for shoe advice? Flight attendants choose their shoes based on a number of factors, including their individual budgets, foot problems and the rules of their airline. For instance, Virgin Atlantic flight attendants are issued liquid-red heels (aptly named Dorothy; a lower heeled version is Dotty). But most flight attendants in the United States are allowed to buy what they like as long as they stay within certain guidelines.

Typically, that results in crew members rotating between two sets of shoes: a snappy-looking pair to wear in the terminal, where appearing polished is a job requirement, and a more sensible, affordable pair that they change into for the service portion of a flight.

After all, as several flight attendant bloggers underscored, high heels and turbulence are not a winning combination. And regularly hitting the brakes on a drink cart can scuff, even rip, the tops of their shoes.

What follows are some of their favorite shoes and brands, ideas you can steal for your own weary soles.

“You’re looking for something that’s comfortable inside but at the same time doesn’t look too casual on the outside, which is pretty difficult,” said Bobby Laurie, a Los Angeles-based flight attendant for almost seven years who writes about life in the sky on his blog, “Up, Up and a Gay” and on the website Savvy Stews.

His picks? A leather loafer by Skechers called Men’s Work: Exalt — Closer ($65), which has a soft fabric lining, a removable cushioned insole and a shock-absorbing midsole, and Timberland’s Pro Five Star Ashford Lace-Up leather shoe ($110), which the company’s website notes was designed for restaurant and hospitality industry professionals and has “anti-fatigue technology” meant to support and cushion feet.

In addition to liking the sturdy construction of these shoes, Laurie said he was delighted that they do not set off metal detectors (he said his Skechers even say so on the box). Being a flight attendant means that he does not have to remove his shoes when he goes through security, he said, as long as they don’t “beep.”

This is handy, and not only for flight attendants. It’s useful for fliers enrolled in the TSA PreCheck program, which can enable frequent travelers who have been prescreened to pass through security without removing their shoes as long as they do not trigger the detectors.

Should a pair of shoes pinch or rub him the wrong way, Laurie has a novel way to mitigate the pain, even at 36,000 feet: He sticks maxi pads in his loafers.

“Every airplane’s got them,” he said. “It adds extra cushioning while breaking them in.”

Comfort versus style

One shoe brand popular among flight attendants is the go-to choice of many chefs and doctors, who are also on their feet for many hours: Dansko, known for its chunky clogs (about $80 to $150). To some flight attendants, these clogs (which they said many airlines consider too casual to be worn in the terminal) are heaven during a flight, enabling them to sidestep not only foot pain, but back aches, too.

“They’re so comfortable,” said Sara Keagle, who has been a flight attendant for 20 years and lives in Houston, where she writes a blog, “The Flying Pinto.” She said she also likes Sam & Libby ballet flats, which she has worn during flights.

Some flight attendants, however, say Dansko clogs lack style.

“I just can’t bring myself to wear them,” said Brown, who tweets as @GracingTheSkies. “It took me two years to find the perfect shoes.”

Her choice? The Nurture brand (about $30 to $90, available at Dillard’s) because she thinks the shoes are both fashionable and comfortable.

“The salesperson was actually a flight attendant and she was like, ‘You’re going to want to wear these,’” Brown said.

The saleswoman also recommended Aerosoles and Naturalizer brands, Brown said, although she prefers shoes by Rockport (dress shoes from about $100 to $150) and Clarks (dress shoes from about $85 to $140).

She always carries a pair of flats and advises passengers to do the same. (For those who want to travel with the bare minimum, she suggests Dr. Scholl’s “fast flats,” which can be rolled up and stashed in a handbag.)

Avoid peep toes, she warned (they might pinch or squeeze), and when flying, don’t wear sandals.

“You have no idea how many people are like, ‘I’m freezing cold,’” she said.

Heather Poole, who lives in Los Angeles and has been a flight attendant for more than 15 years, acknowledged that many female flight attendants put Dansko clogs on in the plane but described the shoes as “hideous.” Her favorite in-flight pair? Kelly & Katie flats with a cushioned insole ($29.95) from Design Shoe Warehouse. In the terminal she wears shoes by Aerosoles.

“I actually get lots of compliments on those,” she said in an email while her flight from New York to San Diego was delayed.

Like her colleagues, Poole, who blogs about her life at hpoole.wordpress.com, advises passengers to wear comfortable shoes because you never know when you will have to run for a plane in an airport, or get off a plane should there be an emergency. (This is also why she advises against wearing flip-flops.)

Her solution for tired feet? Upon arriving home after a long trip she uses a heated foot massager by HoMedics.

Patti Broughton, who lives in Los Angeles and has been a flight attendant for almost 13 years, opts for heels by Franco Sarto, like the Cicero round-toe pump ($89 at Macys.com) and Tanya Shooties with a stacked heel ($79 at Macys.com), both of which she wears in the terminal.

“They’re real stylish but they’re still comfortable,” said Broughton, who said she usually wears a heel of at least 3 inches.

“The girls at work ask me a lot about it,” she said of the never-ending search for flight-worthy shoes, “and I steer them right to that brand. I know girls that have literally gone out and got the exact same shoes.”

When Broughton, who in her spare time works on the travel website and online series “Savvy Stews,” is not amid the clouds, she takes care of her feet by exercising them and switching up her shoes. Rolling a tennis ball under her arches can feel great too, she said. And like Poole, she recommended foot massages.

“I do have a masseuse,” she said. “And he lives with me.”