Inflight Farts: Doctors Say Just Do It

Inflight farting is a sensitive topic for frequent flyers, and a new report from The New Zealand Medical Journal may have more travelers holding their noses. Lead researcher Hans C Pommergaard and his colleagues note that, “Holding back flatus on an airplane may cause significant discomfort and physical symptoms.” The gastroenterologists cheekily titled the report: “Flatulence on airplanes: just let it go.”

Flight crews already have their hands full with drunk or unruly passengers including aspiring members of the Mile High Club, a popular term for people who try to get romantic in the air. They’re also struggling to deal tactfully with complaints about fat flyers, known playfully in the industry as “POS,” for Persons of Size. They’re expected to manage or even remove smelly passengers as well.

A. Pawlowski of CNN News reported two years ago on a stinky passenger on a Canadian regional flight who was kicked off because of his overwhelmingly strong personal odor. The story went viral among frequent flyers, sparking lively debate about whether someone should be denied a flight because of his smell.

Liza Kapelle of Australia’s Courier Mail noted that the team of Danish and British gastroenterologists said that cockpit crews couldn’t really win. While all passengers were advised, in the immortal words of Ben Franklin, to “fart freely,” airline captains in particular face something of a dilemma.

A fart held in may cause stomach pain or other symptoms, distracting the pilot from the job. A fart released may offend the nose of the co-pilot, causing a different kind of distraction.

The good doctors didn’t really have the final answer to the enduring question of inflight farts. They proposed that an active form of charcoal, which absorbs odors, be included in the design of seat cushions to contain the smells. An expensive seat re-design on multi-million dollar commercial aircraft, all in the name of reducing the stinkiness of farts, sounds unlikely to this writer.

If you’re worried about giving offense on your next flight, it might be worth looking into a new invention, so-called flatulence filtering underwear. Another suggestion comes from Flyertalk, a discussion forum for frequent flyers. Poster NYC96 advises the use of a small spray bottle of FebrezeĀ® To Go Extra Strength Fabric Refresher, stating, “It’s 2.8 ounces. Fits in your pant pocket and is greatly appreciated.”

Far from clearing the air, the doctors’ advice on “inflight farts” seem destined to create even more controversy.