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plane maskThis weekend, after I boarded a Continental Express flight and plopped down in my designated seat, a rotten smell wafted my way. It reeked of body odor with delicate top notes of stale cigarettes, and it was utterly nauseating. Following some subtle investigation (arching my neck in various directions and sniffing), I surmised that the smell was probably coming from the passenger sitting directly behind me.

I didn’t want to make a stink or embarrass anyone by requesting a seat change on a full plane. So I spent the rest of the two-hour flight mouth breathing, meditating on pleasant-smelling things and thinking of ways to turn objects in my carry-on bag into odor-blocking face masks. Would fellow passengers stare or become frightened if I tied a sweater around my face?

Turns out I’m not the only traveler to experience pungent problems in flight — and the solution might have been easier than I expected. A reader recently wrote to us with a similar issue: “What do you do when a person very near your seat is wearing quite a lot of perfume and you are allergic to perfume? Once I was able to change seats — once I tied a bandanna over my face for a five-hour flight. Is there any better solution?”

IndependentTraveler.com Editor Sarah Schlichter answered: “Switching seats is certainly the best solution, though it can be difficult if your flight is very full. Explaining your reasons to the flight attendant may help; another passenger may be willing to switch seats with you if he or she is aware that you have a health issue.

“In case you’re not able to switch seats, it’s a good idea to have a bandanna or face mask on hand as a last resort. One other idea that may help: turn the overhead air spout in the direction of the offending scent — that may help divert the problem, at least a little.”

Eureka! The overhead air spout is an excellent defense against offensive odors; if only I had thought of that during the flight. Has this ever happened to you? How do you cope when you’re seated next to a noxious smell on a flight?

– written by Caroline Costello

7 Responses to “Stinks on a Plane”

  1. SeaMarmot says:

    My nose usually gets so clogged in the stale in-flight air that I can’t smell a thing. But when I do have the unfortunate experience of being enveloped in a noxious cloud, I usually resort to pulling my shirt up above my nose.

  2. Janis says:

    I just experienced this last week with a woman who’s perfume made me sneeze the entire flight. Turning on a overhead air full blast initially made the odor worse, but eventually helped dissapate it.

  3. Carol Bailey says:

    Pack vicks vaporub and rub it beneath your nose

  4. Jim says:

    I once observed someone several aisles away have to deal with a seatmate who vomitted. It was bad enough where I was, and I wasn’t even close. Subsequently I purchased a N95 particulate respirator (3M is one brand) which folds flat and is disposable. It looks like the photo in your article. I keep that and some medical exam gloves in my jacket pocket just in case. I’ve never used it but was prepared to if anyone coughed or sneezed around me during the H1N1 crisis. N95 is more than a dust mask as it will filter viruses but is not a chemcial respirator (which would be much more bulky).

  5. Margaret Minor says:

    In the 25 years that I have been flying, I have twice had passengers approach me and ask to be reseated. Their reason- the passenger sitting next to them had bad gas and they couldn’t take it any longer!! I was able to reseat the little boy and his father, but this is very difficult to do on (the standard) full flights we have everyday.
    Another flight, an all-nighter from LAX- JFK, I had a woman say she was allergic to dogs and there was one under the seat in front of her. I could tell she was having a reaction and resat her from coach to business class. She had to climb over the aisle pax who was draped out all over, but she was happy to comply to get away from the dog.
    Asking the flight attendant for help in reseating is the first step. In todays’ everyday flying experience (tired, frustrated, underpaid, overworked and under rested crews) I think it would depend on who you ask and if that attendant is compassionated enough to help you out. Good Luck!!
    I once read that ‘involuntary gastric emissions’ was one of the top rated complaints among paxs! I can at least move away from the guilty party, you all are stuck!

  6. GeorgeK says:

    I always carry Boroleum ointment. It’s sold by travel companies like Travelsmith or Magellan. It’s meant to keep your nose from drying out during the flight, and also has a somewhat strong but pleasant odor.

  7. LindaA says:

    I agree with the Vicks VapoRub response. I carry a tiny plastic tub (half the size of my thumb)of Vicks in my make-up case while traveling just for these type of things. I read once that this is an old trick of police officers/rescue personnel when dealing with a decomposing body. Putting a small bit directly under the nose kills the offensive odor and evokes warm and fuzzy memories of childhood having mom apply it when I had a cold.

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