Rigelhaupt Samuel/sipa  /  Sipa Press
With the summer heat sweltering, being up close and personal with your flightmates can get stinky.
By James Wysong Travel columnist
updated 7/10/2007 6:45:58 PM ET 2007-07-10T22:45:58

It's the sweatiest season of the year, and you don't need a thermometer to prove it. Just step aboard an airplane and take a deep breath. Peeee-yew! After a couple of hours, you're ready to rip the nose off your face. Maybe it's the guy sitting next to you with the B.O., bad breath and smelly feet. Or maybe — egad! — it's you!

Here are some sources of bad airplane smells, along with some advice on what to do about them.

The pits. If you've ever been on a full 747 flight to the Far East, then you've undoubtedly been hit with a sharp blast of body odor. In fact, armpit odor is hard to avoid in many countries of the world where antiperspirants are not widely used. The best advice I can give if you're trapped next to stinky pits is to put a dab of lotion with your favorite scent under each nostril. Every smell is transformed into a pleasant one. Crew members often share and compare lotions, and they say the most effective scent by far is lavender.

As for you gringos who've been using deodorant since junior high, there's no excuse for an extreme case of body odor, and I don't care how hot it is. Take a shower at the airport, buy some deodorant at the gift shop, or change shirts if you have to -- just don't come aboard smelling like a skunk.

Bad breath. Fresh breath isn't really noticeable but bad breath can be downright paralyzing. How many times have you been on an airplane and a person five rows back yawns and makes you feel like ripping off your nose? There are plenty of excuses for halitosis -- everything from an abscessed tooth to alcoholism -- but whatever the reason, it stinks. I admit I have been the culprit in many odoriferous conversations. In fact, an ex-girlfriend once told me in mid-sentence that if I spoke one more word, she would faint. I got the hint, but there are nicer ways to get the point across.

My advice for better onboard breath is:

1. Bring a toothbrush on longer flights and brush every time you use the lavatory.

2. Chew gum or suck on breath mints. Gum is usually more effective, and it lasts longer.

3. Look for signs that you have dragon mouth, e.g. people talking to you but breathing from the side of their mouths, people scowling at you, or you laugh out loud and the person next to you passes out.

4. Give and get the hint. If someone offers you a mint, take it; they are often dropping you a hint. Conversely, offer offenders a mint and be persistent; if they decline, tell them that they really need it. I know I would want to know.

Smelly feet. These days, we know that a shoe can be used as a deadly weapon, but here I am talking about the actual foot as the weapon. If you suffer from the old curse of stink foot, an airplane is not the place to shed your shoes. I once worked a flight where a passenger's feet smelled so bad I thought he had backpacked across the entire Himalayan mountain range without ever washing them. The smell was beyond description. When he refused to put his shoes back on even after people started to get physically sick, we had to get the captain to threaten police action. He eventually complied.

  1. Don't miss these Travel stories
    1. Lords of the gourd compete for Punkin Chunkin honors

      With teams using more than 100 unique apparatuses to launch globular projectiles a half-mile or more, the 27th annual World Championship Punkin Chunkin event is our pick as November’s Weird Festival of the Month.

    2. Airports, airlines work hard to return your lost items
    3. Expert: Tourist hordes threaten Sistine Chapel's art
    4. MGM Grand wants Las Vegas guests to Stay Well
    5. Report: Airlines collecting $36.1B in fees this year

Some people think that if you air out your feet, the odor will dissipate. False! It just spreads out to all the people around you. So be kind to your neighbors. Most people know whether their feet stink or not; if you don't, use this rule of thumb: If you can smell your own feet, multiply the odor by 10 and this is what everyone else smells. If you must take off your shoes, go to the lavatory, change your socks, and place your shoes and old socks in a plastic bag.

Unnatural smells. Do not paint your nails on an airplane. The smell of the polish is picked up by the ventilation system and is soon carried throughout the plane. Some airlines forbid it, but unfortunately not all. If you catch someone in the act, notify a flight attendant.

Food. Now that the airlines encourage passengers to bring their own meals aboard, planes smell more and more like greasy, smelly food. It gets old real quick. Here's a hint: If your meal is spicy, deep-fried or hot, it probably smells. Be considerate of your fellow travelers: Eat the smelly stuff in the terminal and bring the cold stuff on board for later.

Perfumes and colognes. Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Americans are so afraid of body odor that they tend to overdo the perfume and aftershave. Remember, one man's cologne is another man's skunk juice. Have you ever been caught in an elevator with a perfume you couldn't stand? Well, multiply that by 200 passengers and by the number of minutes on your flight, and you have a real swamp of smells. Most people like smelling nice, but all that is needed is one squirt instead of the usual three or four. As the slogan goes, "A little dab will do ya."

Gas, whoopee burps and farts. To air is human, but when it comes to airplanes, things can get tricky. You've been to a foreign destination. Your diet and nutrition table went out the window and you decided to try new cuisine. You tried wheat beer in Germany, tasted a new recipe for cabbage or maybe you just come from a genetically airy family. What to do? No, I don't recommend carrying a flatulence filter with you every time you fly, but there are some effective methods for dealing with this personal situation.

1. Utilize the lavatory; don't launch an air assault on your seat neighbors.

2. Bring along some neutralizing medication like Rolaids or Gas-X.

3. If you know that a food gives you gas and you are within hours of air travel, don't eat it! The air pressure up in the sky combined with the building air pressure inside your body adds up to a fight you don't want to see; you will lose and so will everyone else around you.

I was once a first class passenger on a flight that had a mystery gasser. It got so bad that most everyone had to stuff tissues up their noses. No one was using the lavatory, and most passengers assumed it was from the hefty man snoring away in the corner, but a flight attendant did some nosing around and determined that the offender was a well-dressed passenger on the other side of the cabin.

The flight attendant questioned him, and he finally came clean, saying, "Yes, it's me. I can't help it, so deal with it." The flight attendant paused a second and then said, "I have a small piece of advice for you, sir. Next time, use the lavatory or clench!"

As applause rang through the cabin, the businessman finally caught the hint.

James Wysong has worked as a flight attendant with two major international carriers during the past fifteen years. He is the author of the "The Plane Truth: Shift Happens at 35,000 Feet" and "The Air Traveler's Survival Guide." For more information about James or his books, please visit his Web site or e-mail him.


Discussion comments


Most active discussions

  1. votes comments
  2. votes comments
  3. votes comments
  4. votes comments