Updated 03 November 2015

Farting on flights, is it OK?

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?

It can happen to the classiest of us. There you are, ensconced in your seat as you jet off to your destination, be it Cape Town or Copacabana beach, and you've made yourself as comfortable as possible in your letterbox-sized seat.

You've had one of those mini bottles of red wine, eaten your obsessively-packaged plane food and are just settling into watch a movie of which you certainly won't get past the first half-an-hour without nodding off.

Then, thunder strikes. Not the plane, but your bowels. You feel that unmistakable sensation of a large pocket of putrid gas that wants nothing more than to escape your now-clenched buttocks and spread like a smelly, shameful wildfire through the cabin.

What do you do?

Of course, you can try and hold it in, but unless you're taking the lazy route between Joburg and Pretoria your flight is likely to be more than a little too long.

So, what if you give in? Release the "k*k kraken?" Will the sound give you away? Nobody can ignore the rasping tear of a wet one, and are you willing to sit in shame while everyone in your immediate vicinity looks at you in shame and repulsion for the next several hours?

The experts' recommendation is an emphatic yes to airline passengers – 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 gastroenterologist 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.

Read: Facts on farting and burping

How the study was done

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, 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 stress symptoms."

Benefits outweighed any negative impact

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."

Read more:

Are these men's worst habits ever?

Got gas? Get a grip on it now.

Manage your farts


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