Plane Farts: The Odour Of The Airborne
Let’s face it, farts are everywhere, especially in the public sphere. The more people, the more flatus, a cheekily named gas culprit of offended noses everywhere. In particular, airplanes seem to create the perfect storm for flatulence production and eruption. Cabin air, including everyone and their brother’s fart clouds, is 50% redistributed over unsuspecting neck-pillowed heads. Burning intestinal gas with an open flame ignites the sulfur floating in the air, which removes any smell, but cigarette bans as well as common sense makes this an unlikely solution. An extreme example tells of a plane filled with sheep, and hazardous methane gas levels. This required an emergency landing when the fire alarm sounded. Even sound isolating technology means the chances of letting one rip discretely are slim.
As wanderlusters, we are all too aware of the cramped spaces, high altitude air pressures, and infamously terrible in-flight meals. Ladies everywhere have it the worst. Studies have shown that we tend to produce significantly stinkier fart fumes. But why is the fart dilemma so much worse on planes. Is there anything we can do to end the suffering?
The Science Of It All
Believe it or not, this phenomenon is backed by scientific studies. The New Zealand Medical Journal details everything, but we’ll summarize. Flatus is a mostly CO2 and nitrogen sulphur-scented bum gas (but other gases sometimes sneak into the party). The higher a person rises from sea-level, the less pressure. The less pressure, the more volume. This happens to gas within our intestines, resulting in a possible volume growth of 30%! This is what causes bloating, and why it’s much more widespread on a plane (or other high altitudes) than anywhere else. Pressurized aircraft cabins simply can’t maintain the air pressure compared to the ground level.
At 33,000 feet in the air, our bodies still feel about 8,000 feet up, enough to cause some truly unfortunate scents.
Make A Change: End The Suffering
So what can you do if you notice bloating or fart-surprises? The first step is a simple one: Drink lots of water. Staying hydrated can help prevent dry skin and breakouts, dehydration, and above all, help the digestive tract run smoothly. If you’ve noticed this problem in the past, try proactively taking an anti-gas or bloating medication like Tums. Avoid eating or drinking anything that might cause a problem. Think general as well as specific. Generally speaking, alcohol, greasy and fatty foods, and anything high-fiber (Beans, beans, the magical fruit!) should be a definite no-go. One article calls out tuna tartare, peanuts and shrimp as headlining gas bandits.
The next red flag should be allergies and intolerances. Lactose-sensitive tummies should stay well from dairy.
Fructose sugar is another common intolerance in fruit juice and soft drinks, and can also cause bloating and gas.
We should also talk about the proper behavior while on the plane itself. Getting up, walking a bit or stretching, especially for longer flights, can help shake the toots loose.
But Above All, Let It Out
Doctors agree: do not hold your farts in, no matter what your co-passengers will think of you. A few side-eyes is nothing compared to the serious side effects of “holding back.” Discomfort and increased pain can turn into a distended intestine, elevated blood pressure and pulse, or reduced blood oxygenation. If you make a habit of tightening up, over time you could develop colonic diverticular disease, an inflammation of the colon. The experts suggest wearing “active charcoal underwear,” but they understand why this might be inconvenient. Instead, the best place to fart is straight into your chair, which can absorb up to 50% of the noxious egg smell, and wear lose enough fabrics to help dispersion. You might follow every bit of advice and still find yourself full of air, in the air. So for the safety of everyone involved, let the farts fly.
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