Female crew working for El Al Israel Airlines have previously been able to  take off their heels and slip into more comfy flat footwear as soon as they had boarded the flight. But an email has now been sent to staff insisting that in future heels must be worn until passengers have been welcomed on board and are safely seated, and the plane is ready to depart.

The order has resulted in around 200 staff signing a petition opposing the decision, and workers have even hinted at possible legal action – maintaining that heels are not only uncomfortable, but that they could potentially pose a health and safety issue by hindering an evacuation.

Galia Wolloch, president of women’s organisation Na’amat, wrote a letter to El Al chief executive David Maimon demanding the new heels requirement be reversed. “According to what I understand, the new company directive determined that heels are part of what is defined as presentable appearance for a female flight attendant,” she said, as reported in the Jerusalem Post. “I don’t believe that heels are necessary for the presentable appearance of a woman, and certainly not for a flight attendant who is required as part of her job to stand for long periods of time.”

In a separate statement, she wrote: “I invite Mr Maimon to walk in the flight attendants’ shoes and try to walk in heels for just one hour before he forces them to harm their health for no good reason.”

Yehudit Grisaro, vice-president of customer service at El Al, told the Times of Israel: “The company updates its service procedures and within that framework it was decided that the stewardesses teams wear presentable shoes also when welcoming customers to flights. Immediately after the seating, and during the entire flight, activities are in work shoes. We stress that this practice is accepted in the world air industry.”