A smorgasboard of smells


Ever sat next to a passenger who made you want to tear off your nose in despair?

The aircraft is a smorgasbord of smells, as I’ve already mentioned in a previous column. But there are more culprits than the body’s proverbial whoopee cushion. Odors are all around us, and when you put a couple of hundred passengers in a pressurized aluminum tube, those smells tend to get … concentrated.

Here are a few other plane smells – and what you can do to make sure you aren’t responsible for any of them:

It’s the “pits” – If you have ever been on a full 747 flight to the Far East, then you have undoubtedly been hit with the sharp blast of body odor. Unfortunately, this may be difficult to avoid when traveling to destinations where antiperspirants are not widely used. But for most of us there is no excuse for the extreme cases of body odor. I don’t care how hot it is.

Sometimes there are shower facilities at airports, gift shops with deodorants, and even clothing stores. The best advice I can give to someone who is trapped next to stinky pits is to put a dab of lotion with your favorite scent under each nostril. Every smell is transformed into a pleasant one. On the flights to India the flight attendants would share and compare lotions. Most effective scent was lavender, by far.

Just breathe (but not in my direction) – As someone who talks to many people, I can speak with a little authority on this matter. I enjoy garlic, onions, and spicy foods; if it turns your breath sour, I usually like the food. I have been the culprit in many odoriferous conversations. An ex-girlfriend even told me in mid-sentence that if I spoke one more word she would faint. I got the hint but there are nicer ways about this.

Fresh breath isn’t really noticeable but stale breath is, and bad breath can be downright paralyzing. How many times have you been on an airplane and a person five rows back yawns and makes you feel like pushing your nose into a pillow? There are plenty of excuses for halitosis from tooth abscesses to alcoholism, but bad breath is bad breath, regardless.

My advice for better onboard breath is: 1) Bring a toothbrush on longer flights and brush every time you use the lavatory; 2) Bring and use chewing gum or breath mints. Usually gum is more effective and lasts longer; 3) Watch out for the obvious signs such as: People talking to you but breathing from the side of their mouths, the unmistakable scowl from others, or you breathe deeply and the person next to you passes out; and 4) Take the hint. If anyone offers you a mint take it. Nine out of ten times they are dropping you a hint. Offer offenders a mint and be persistent. If they decline, tell them that they really need it. I know I would want to know.

Quite a feet – This is when you’ve got way too much sole. These days, we are realizing that a shoe can be used as a deadly weapon, but here I am talking about the actual foot as the ammunition. If you suffer from the old curse of stink foot, an airplane is not the place to shed those vessels around your feet. I worked a flight where I could have sworn the person who removed his shoes must have backpacked across the entire Himalayan mountain range without washing his feet. The smell was beyond description. When people started to get physically sick and he declined to put his shoes back on, we had to get the captain to threaten police action. He eventually complied.

One myth about foot odor is that it dissipates with time. For you maybe, but not the dozens forced to sit around you. Be kind to your neighbors. You know whether your feet stink or not; if you can smell your own feet, multiply it by ten and this is what everyone else smells. If you have to take off your shoes, go to the lavatory, change your socks, and place your shoes and old socks in a plastic bag. Never walk around the airplane barefoot, especially in the toilet vicinity, because even Frank’s aim is occasionally bad.

Nail her – The practice of doing your nails onboard should be forbidden. It is forbidden on some but unfortunately not my airline. It’s selfish, inconsiderate, and sometimes dangerous. It is as rude as smoking or passing gas in an elevator. The smell from the nail polish is the fastest-spreading agent onboard. If a passenger in first class does her nails, it is not unheard of to smell the scent of polish in the last row of economy. The reason for this is that the filters in the oxygen system are unable to filter out the pungent element in nail polish.

If you witness or are exposed to someone on the plane doing their nails, notify a flight attendant. I know most flight attendants will forbid it; I know I would.

It goes both ways, sweetie – Now, saying all of this about body odor leads me to the other side of the spectrum. Too much of a good thing can actually be a bad thing. Americans are so afraid of body odor that they tend to overdo it a bit and pile on the perfume. Remember, one man’s cologne is another man’s skunk juice. It is only natural the body emits odors; the key is not having the odor overpower or offend. Have you ever been in an elevator and couldn’t stand someone’s perfume? Multiply it by 200 and by the amount of hours on your flight, and you have a cacophony of smells.

Most people like smelling nice, but all that is needed is one squirt instead of your traditional three or four. As the slogan goes, a little dab will do ya.