There’s something rotten in the air and a Kenyan politician reportedly recently suggested taking action against it by banning farting on planes, according toBritish media.
The Kenyan member of parliament Lilian Achieng Gogo, who addressed the concern last month during a debate about aircraft security, isn’t the only person who's noticed that gas seemingly increases on planes. Among the many gripes and discomforts that come with flying, in-flight flatulence is it's own special problem. In an essay for the New Yorker in 2010, David Sedaris recalled how flight attendants confessed that everyone gets gassier in the air and how they’d “crop dust,” that is slowly releasing gas down the aisles.
Do people really fart more on planes?
The short answer: Yes.
“It is actually true,” Dr. Patricia Raymond, a private practice gastroenterologist and a fellow of the American Academy of Gastroenterology. “As you gain altitude the gas expands.”
Everyday everyone passes two liters of gas by either farting or belching, she said. It’s a normal bodily function that happens gradually as the body metabolizes food. There’s often gas hanging out in the colon. As airplanes ascend the gas expands and causes bloating and pressure that forces the air out.
Digestion creates byproducts that cause a stench, such as hydrogen, methane and volatile amines, “which gives off that egg smell.”
“If it is time for gas to be passed you need to stand your ground and let it go,” Raymond said. “Passing gas does not connote any disrespect.”
According to one article, Gogo thought handing out gas pills might help. But Raymond said that wouldn’t work. When people pass gas on planes that gas has already worked its way through the body and is in the middle of the colon, soon to be released — no matter what. People would have to take gas pills before long getting on the plane to impact in-flight farting. Once people are on the plane there’s little to be done.
“The only thing they could do if they really felt like they needed to deodorize a plane for gas would be to issue charcoal underwear or pads to sit on to neutralize the smelly gas,” Raymond explained.
Some gas, aerophagia, is caused when people ingest air, such as when chewing gum, using a CPAP machine or drinking from water bottles. This might sound loud and embarrassing but it won’t stink.
“These come when you swallow the air,” Raymond said. “It doesn’t smell. It is just atmospheric.”
The gas that smells occurs after the food is in the body, “is eaten by the microbiome in the gut.”
Digestion creates byproducts that cause a stench, such as hydrogen, methane and volatile amines, “which gives off that egg smell,” Raymond said. The smell can worsen when the body struggles to break down foods like meat, milk and cruciferous vegetables, such as Brussels sprouts or cabbage.
While farting is perfectly normal, people feel self-conscious it and might worry more about it when stuck in a confined space.
Raymond said people can be polite seat-mates on a flight by thinking ahead. Before a trip, avoid anything that you struggle to digest, such as lactose or beans. And when on the flight if you're especially worried about the smell, simply be considerate.
“If you feel like you’re going to pass gas go into the bathroom,” she said. “Or bring a small bottle of (air freshener).”
While many of her patients feel horrified by the idea of farting, Raymond says it’s natural and encourages people to “relax your anal sphincter and let it go.”
“There is nothing wrong with the passage of gas,” she said. “A gentle and discrete release of gassy materials is not a big deal.”