Extended air travel may cause dehydration, exhaustion, and heightened flatulence, which may already be present before boarding. To stay healthy during the flight, it’s important to stay hydrated, eat slowly, refrain from carbonated drinks, and read this comprehensive guide on the effects of extended flights on your body, as well as tips for preventing common issues.
Regarding flatulence (yes, the farting issue), it’s a natural response to the alteration in cabin pressure, causing gas in your system to react. Therefore, it’s important to be cautious during the plane’s ascent and descent.
Doctor Jacob Rosenberg’s interest with in-flight flatulence began on a long-haul trip to a New Zealand. This a Danish doctor looked down at his stomach and it seemed to have visibly grown since he stepped on the plane. When he opened his bag and saw his empty bottle of water this made sense. The bottle had expanded in the low pressure and then crumpled as the plane reached the ground. The gases in his stomach, he realised, must have been doing exactly the same thing.
Even on the ground, we all pass a surprising quantity of gas every day. According to one estimate, the average person breaks wind 10 times every 24 hours, expelling about 1 litre in total.
“Since then, I’ve noticed just how much flatulence you have on a flight,” he says. “Which is very much.”
But if our flatulence on ground level passes mostly unnoticed (or is at least politely ignored) in day-to-day life, it can become something of an unwanted companion in the confines of an air cabin.
According to experts, during air travel, the drop in pressure causes the air to expand into a more substantial area. As a result, a single liter of gas must now fill a volume that is 30% larger, resulting in an unpleasant bloating sensation. This appears to be a common issue among pilots, with over 60% reporting frequent abdominal bloating, which is considerably higher than the average among office workers.
Freeing the wind has its own potential problems at altitude: one paper from 1969 highlighted the risk of a fireball arising from astronauts’ wind, held in high concentration in the space cabin. Thankfully, no such accidents have been recorded so far.
While the worst-case scenario on aeroplanes may be discomfort or embarrassment, airlines have already taken some action to help us out.
During his research for his paper, Rosenberg spoke with aircraft engineers in Copenhagen and discovered that many airlines already utilize charcoal filters in their air conditioning systems. Charcoal is exceptionally permeable and has been demonstrated to efficiently absorb various odors, preventing the circulation of sulfurous fumes throughout the cabin.
Additionally, airlines frequently ensure that their in-flight meals are low in fiber but high in carbohydrates, which is more likely to soothe digestion. Although it’s unclear when or how these decisions were made, it’s possible that Brussels sprouts and cabbage were removed from in-flight menus early in aviation history.
Although in-flight flatulence can be uncomfortable, resorting to extreme measures is unnecessary for such a minor issue. Instead, the best solution may be to overcome our embarrassment. As Rosenberg stated, “Flatulence is a common problem, but it’s not something we discuss openly.”
Hopefully, his article has helped to address this issue. Now, just fart away!