September 9, 2010

On the Nose

Yesterday I asked a question on my Facebook page regarding undesirable 'neighbours' on a flight. I wanted to know if readers had to choose between a screaming baby and a smelly seatmate, which one they would rather put up with on a long flight.

I got some amusing answers, but most people favoured the baby to be stuck with, as at least there was a possibility the baby could be calmed down or would stop crying eventually. The smelly seatmate however, offered little in the way of solutions.

(As an aside, the baby comment reminded me of a line in 'Sex & the City 2' where Big & Carrie are stuck in a hotel room between a screaming baby, and Samantha having a *very* good time with her latest man. When Big comments, "I don't know which is worse", Carrie responds with, "Samantha. The baby will tire eventually." It made me laugh out loud!!)

Back to smelly seatmates. If you find yourself in the unfortunate position to be seated next to someone who is a little- ahem- 'fragrant', what can you do?

Well, it can depend on which airline you're flying with. Some airlines have policies in place to deal with malodorous travellers (Southwest in Airline, anyone?) while others have no official stance.

First things first, check out the seating situation. Are there spare seats available to move to? If not, you're out of luck. Or are you? If you're one of those card-holding frequent flyers, you may just be able to upgrade your way to olfactory reprieve :P

Discreetly speak to one of the flight crew. In most cases, there may be nothing we can do to help you, but we may be able to ease the situation using some of our little tricks. (At the least, a drink or two might help to numb the pain)

So. You're stuck next to someone who dosn't believe in deodorant, the alcohol isn't working and the flight is barely one hour along. What else can you do to stop yourself from jumping out the nearest door?

1. Physical Barriers

If you're flying on an airline that still has blankets, get one and use it to cover your mouth & nose (or even your whole face, if the person is smelly AND ugly). It might not sound like much but it can help to reduce the amount of smell that gets to your nose. (As my FA friend M calls it, a "stink shield".) If putting a (possibly icky) blanket over your face creeps you out more than the smell does, ask the crew if they've been provided swine flu masks.

They can serve the same purpose of restricting the airflow to your face and hopefully cutting down on the odour. An added bonus of using a mask is, you now look considerate, as if you are trying to stop spreading germs, rather than receiving them. (I always keep a face mask in my crew bag for just such emergencies, especially when I'm deadheading in uniform & unable to show my disgusted looks)

2. Aircraft Amenities

Use what the airline gave you. Open that air vent and use the airflow to blast the stink back where it came from. If you as the stink-ee have to suffer, then at the very least make the stinker feel your pain! :P This method, combined with the blanket, can be very effective.

3. Scents & Sensibility

If the whiffy person next to you is particularly offensive, the flight attendants are usually only too sympathetic. Ask them if its possible for them to discreetly blast a shot of air freshener in your general direction every time they pass by. If they can't (not all airlines provide freshener) or won't (could be too busy) pull out your own perfume/aftershave and go for it. If a person doesn't care about how they affect others, then you shouldn't care about possibly offending them. Maybe it's the hint they need!

4. Police Assistance

If you can't do anything else (aside from getting up as frequently as possible to escape the reek), use this tip a police officer once told me. She frequently worked crime scenes and as a cadet cop was often grossed out by the multitude of truly stomach-turning smells she experienced. On jobs, she always carried a small tube of scented hand cream (or perfumed body lotion for a potent punch). Take a small amount on the end of your finger and place it just inside your nostrils. You'll now be smelling the pleasant scent of your lotion rather than the passenger next to you. If you use an antiseptic lotion like Dettol, it can have the added advantage of helping to ward off icky cold/flu bugs. A Lanolin cream can have the side effect of stopping your nose from drying out- one of the first ways we get sick on a plane.

If all else fails, there's this tried-and-true method:

If you have any other suggestions, leave a comment, or hop on over to Twitter!

(Photos: Google Image Search)


  1. Nothing could be worse than having someone get on the flight at the last minute, like they've run a marathon, sweating profusely! And then to plonk themselves right next to you, get their coat off and fold their hands behind their head to relax, and to reveal large brown circles of underarm sweat. That was enough for me to flee my seat and find one at least 25 rows behind, was on a 747-400. Would have been grossed out to sit there the whole flight imagining those sweat stains were so close by everytime those hands went up again behind the head lol

    And this one a passenger two seats behind me had the most unfortunate case of flatulence! It was not a full flight so he was more liberal with it, not to mention the sudden rumble from his corner (which could be subtly heard even over the drone of the engines) and sudden toxicity in the air. I used all available air vents to keep the air clean around my seat!!

  2. A small bottle of lavender oil can make a pongy seatmate pleasant to your nose! I just dab a drop or two on my headrest cover or pillow.


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