Experts tell flatulent flyers: let rip

by Neil Sands

A group of medical specialists has provided an answer to a dilemma that has faced flyers since the Wright brothers took to the air in 1903—is it okay to fart mid-flight?

The experts' recommendation is an emphatic yes to —but a warning to cockpit crews that breaking wind could distract the pilot and pose a safety risk.

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.

When Danish Jacob Rosenberg encountered the malodorous problem first-hand on a flight from Copenhagen to Tokyo, he enlisted some of the finest minds in his field to address the issue.

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 bottom line, according to the 3,000-word study published in the New Zealand Medical Journal on Friday, is that airline passengers should ignore the social embarrassment of breaking wind and "just let it go".

"(Holding back) holds significant drawbacks for the individual, such as discomfort and even pain, bloating, dyspepsia (indigestion), pyrosis (heartburn) just to name but a few resulting abdominal symptoms," the study found.

"Moreover, problems resulting from the required concentration to maintain such control may even result in subsequent ."

The authors—five gastroenterologists from Denmark and Britain—said that while passengers may experience poor service from the cabin crew as a result of their decision, the health benefits outweighed any negative impacts.

However, they said the cockpit crew faced a lose-lose situation.

"On the one hand, if the pilot restrains a fart, all the drawbacks previously mentioned, including impaired concentration, may affect his abilities to control the plane," the researchers said.

"On the other hand, if he lets go of the fart, his co-pilot may be affected by its odour, which again reduces safety onboard the flight."

The authors canvassed a number of solutions to the issue of flight-induced flatulence, including using methane breath tests to screen wind-prone passengers from flights, but rejected them as impractical.

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.

"We humbly propose that active charcoal should be embedded in the seat cushion, since this material is able to neutralise the odour," they said.

"Moreover active charcoal may be used in trousers and blankets to emphasise this effect."

Air New Zealand declined to comment when asked if it would adopt such measures, which sparked lively debate on social media.

One commentator on news website stuff.co.nz said the study was a prime candidate for the Ig Noble Awards, the annual prize for bizarre scientific research, where past winners have examined the best way to dunk a biscuit and methods of collecting whale snot.

One person unlikely to agree with the study's recommendation is British pop singer Cheryl Cole, who last year called for flatulent airline passengers to be named and shamed.

"There should be a sort of aerosol that can be sprayed into the air and it would pinpoint the guilty person," she told The Sun newspaper.

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

CDC looks for 15 passengers of flight with bat

Aug 14, 2011

(AP) -- Health officials are still looking for 15 passengers who were on a flight in which a bat flew inside the airplane's cabin so they can protect them against the possibility of rabies. ...

Air NZ flight safety video an online hit

Mar 30, 2011

An Air New Zealand in-flight safety video featuring camp US fitness guru Richard Simmons has gone viral on the Internet, the airline said Wednesday, attracting a million hits in three days.

Safe for Passengers with Lung Disease to Travel by Air

May 19, 2009

(PhysOrg.com) -- Oxygen levels while flying are substantially less than at ground level. Current guidelines for in-flight oxygen levels are sufficient to support the needs of passengers with non-obstructed lung disease. According ...

Bat on Wisconsin flight prompts rabies probe

Aug 12, 2011

(AP) -- Health officials say a bat on a flight from Wisconsin to Atlanta last week has sparked a national search for passengers to protect them against possible rabies.

Recommended for you

User comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

verkle
1.5 / 5 (2) Feb 15, 2013
I am very guilty of sometimes just letting it rip. But I agree, it reduces the discomfort.

gwrede
5 / 5 (4) Feb 15, 2013
I wish there were Negative Stars to give to articles.
djr
5 / 5 (3) Feb 15, 2013
This is from the Onion right?
tekram
1 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2013
re:"The authors—five gastroenterologists from Denmark and Britain—said that " It took five board certified medical doctors to come up with this? Their suggestion should be that if one is concerned about odor, try modifying the gut bacteria by probiotics and their toxins by taking activated carbon orally - it should reduce the odor and in some cases reduce bacterial indoles and phenols that can lead to blood toxins such as indoxyl sulfate and p-cresyl sulfate.
freethinking
2.3 / 5 (3) Feb 16, 2013
How much government money went into this?
JRi
5 / 5 (1) Feb 16, 2013
Smart Japanese have already solved the problem - underwear that neutralizes possible malodorous components:

http://www.japant...554.html
alfie_null
1 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2013
If you can't stand it, take a canister gas mask along (canister with activated charcoal, of course). Maybe some enterprising airlines could offer these for purchase during flight. The high level of intolerance of other people's smells is a recent phenomenon.

Compared to all the other discomforts and inconveniences of flying (noisy infants, no room to move, waiting with legs crossed to get by the refreshment cart to the lavatory, being seated next to a large person, being a large person, etc.), this rates low.

Regarding possibly distracted pilots? Pilots who spend orders of magnitudes more time in aircraft than the rest of us. You think they might possibly be inured to fart exposure by now?
Skepticus
1 / 5 (3) Feb 17, 2013
Farting is a natural biological fact of life, as long as you are still living and eating. You farted. I farted. Elizabeth Taylor farted. Jesus farted. Buddha farted. Mohammed farted. Gandhi farted. M.L.King farted. ...so face the reality, unless you are unhappy with the blunt reminder of your earthy origin.
david_kurt_morris
3 / 5 (1) Feb 17, 2013
I smell an Ignoble award for this little stinker.