With Apologies to My Seatmate: What Science Says About Passing Gas on a Plane

Flying does produce gas.

The study concluded that anecdotal evidence that flying increases flatulence is not hot air, finding that changes in air pressure at altitude result in the gut producing more gas.

…The result was an in-depth review of scientific literature on flatulence, looking at issues such as whether women’s farts smell worse than men’s (yes), what causes the odour (sulphur) and how often the average person passes wind every day (10).

The authors note that pilots in particular shouldn’t distract themselves by trying to hold it in — though they run the risk of distracting their colleagues in the cockpit which isn’t ideal, either.

Interestingly, the effects of flatulence are worse in first class on airlines that still use leather seats than they are in economy.

They did, however, note that the textile covers used on seats in economy class absorbed up to 50 percent of odours because they are gas permeable, unlike the leather seats in first class.

They suggested airlines could improve the odour-eating properties of the seats and issue special blankets and trousers to passengers to minimise mid-air flatulence.

So this thread is your excuse, dear readers, to channel your inner 13 year old boy. Have you noticed this effect? What’s the appropriate etiquette when you’re affected? How should seatmates respond?

(HT: sobore on Milepoint)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. Considering I fly out of MIA into Central & South America on most flts…..there seems to be a constant ‘frijole’effect inside and outside the aircraft. Since I fly at the back most of the time, the fabric seats seems to help out. My answer is eat more bean and fight back!

  2. I’ve heard that when the airport staff open the door upon landing the first gust of plane air is quite “fragrant”.

    Maybe some clever seat manufacturer can find a way to collect the methane and turn it into jet fuel.

  3. Frankly, I think this is 1/100th the “problem” of screaming babies, but I guess it’s good to know the research.

    My only anecdotal experience on the subject is that it’s best to not eat a really big meal before flying. The only time I’ve ever been concerned about my own emissions was after boarding a flight from Vegas after having a lunch buffet. 🙂

  4. ‘My only anecdotal experience on the subject is that it’s best to not eat a really big meal before flying.’
    Sure, but on a long haul flight in F, everyone is stuffed within 2-3 hours of take off and some are so inebriated that they can’t control and maybe don’t even know which pores of theirs are oozing out what.

  5. I tend to treat an airplane like a good friend’s parents’ house (I’d say my in-laws’, but they encourage farting more than most). That is, I save up my farts until they can be measured in liters, then take 30 seconds to foul up the bathroom/lavatory, and head back to my seat.

    It’s the drone of the engines and the sheer number of people that give passengers a sense of anonymity — and if we’ve learned anything from the internet, it’s that anonymity brings out the worst in (or from) us.

  6. If your seat mate seems to be particularly badly afflicted with this problem, take control of the air drafts. By aiming them straight at you, I find it tends to push other air out of the way.

  7. “…airlines could…issue special blankets and trousers to passengers….”

    Would the passenger emitting the noxious gas request these fart-pants (fants), or would the person sitting next to him/her?

    Perhaps airlines could return to the smoking and non-smoking areas idea of yesteryear, with farting and a non-farting sections of the plane?

  8. Of course gas is an issue, it’s middles school science. Pressure times volume, equals temperature. In your body temperature is constant, and since pressure drops a lot, gas has to expand.
    This is what makes many of my plane trips borderline unbearable.

  9. Wait until your seatmate is asleep. Because of all the ambient noise on the plane, everything is an SBD (silent but deadly).

  10. I have many funny stories about farting on a plane. But really, the 2-2-2 configuration in J never considered it. I’ve farted so loud that the “dude” sitting beside me jolted up as if his presence was King.

    Well I just farted again, but louder.



  11. Airlines can certainly help by not serving gassy foods, likes onions, beans, peppers, broccoli etc! As much as I applaude innovative food service (on airlines that even serve food anymore), I really wish they’d take this study under consideration when planning menus! By the way, if it’s really unbearable, ask the FA for a coffee pouch and hold it to your nose as an air filter. It works!

  12. Proper procedure if you detect an odor:

    1) Clear your throat with a few quick coughs. that lets your offending neighbor know that you are not letting this one go unnoticed

    2) Fiddle with the air control. Aim it slightly in the direction of the supposed offender.

    3) If necessary, say “Wow” or “Holy cow!”

    This may not actually help, but it will at least let other passengers know that it’s not you.

  13. Don’t they have oxygen masks on all planes ? I am sure they could easily be retrofitted with additional filters.
    Also reminds me of my time in the army testing our masks by putting us in a room with teargas.

  14. What about going on the “offensive”. Eat a large and gassy meal before boarding, then let it rip “loud and proud” during boarding. Very effective in keeping that middle seat empty next to you, and will often have several rows all to yourself. :0)

  15. @bluecat: just calling out an offending neighbor would not work; you would have to have the flight attendant bring you a wine bottle cork that you could help your neighbor with plugging in the source.

  16. From George Carlin’s bit on the wonderful safety lecture.

    “…your seat cushion can be used as a floatation device.” Well, imagine that, my seat cushion… Just what I need — to float around the North Atlantic for several days — clinging to a pillow full of beer farts…

  17. I’m surprised that the Geneva Convention hasn’t made an amendment to ban Taco Bells from airports worldwide. [DFW has a few]

  18. I’m with Linda B’s post — what’s up with serving hummus, beans, cabbage salads? Especially in F?! I suspect this is a not-so-private joke with the onboard catering companies.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *