Why Do People Fart More When They’re On A Plane? And What Can They Do To Prevent It?

Flying can potentially affect our health and well being in a bunch of ways:

  • The pressure changes in the cabin can wreak havoc on your ears, causing extreme ear pain, especially if you’re sick or have allergies or sinus issues (here’s a way to help it)
  • Your feet and legs can swell from your blood pooling in your lower extremities, or you could develop a DVT (blood clot which, if it breaks free and travels to your lungs, can kill you) (here’s a way to avoid this)
  • You’re stuck in a tin can with recirculated air for hours, so the chances of catching a cold from the person in 14B behind you, or of the person who sat in your seat on on the plane during the flight before you are real (but here’s how to decrease your chances of getting sick).

But it can also affect us another way – your digestive system.

Many people complain of feeling bloated or, more often, an increased need to pass gas when they’re on planes. It’s happened often enough where there’s even a scientific name for it: High Altitude Flatus Expulsion (HAFE). The name was developed after studying mountain climbers who experience more flatulence than usual when climbing mountains.

Anyway, it all has to do with pressure. As we discussed in this post, there are pressure changes inside the plane when you’re flying. It’s the pressure that causes your ears to hurt and is the reason for those little holes in the windows of your plane. That pressure on your body, including your belly, could be enough for some peoples’ colons to want to pass gas.

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If you’re prone to this sort of issue, it’s recommended to limit your intake of fiber before flying and increase consumption of fish, rice, dairy products and strained fruit juices, since they tend to leave less waste in the gut for fermentation. Some people recommend anti-gas medication such as Beano, but personally, I’ve never noticed a major different with or without. As always, Your Mileage May Vary.

It’s generally recommended to let the air out, by the way. If you “hold it in,” you put yourself at risk for pain and bloating at the time, as, as well as bowel problems down the line. And if you have issues with odor, they do make underwear (And jeans. And pajamas. AND seat cushions) with activated carbon that filters the gas so the smell doesn’t get out. Unfortunately, there’s nothing yet available to muffle the sound. Pity.

By the way, pilots and flight attendants suffer from the same issue. I’m not sure how pilots deal with it, especially in the relatively small space of a cockpit, but flight attendants have to be sneaky when they pass gas on a plane. They call it “cropdusting” 😉

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This post first appeared on Your Mileage May Vary

6 thoughts on “Why Do People Fart More When They’re On A Plane? And What Can They Do To Prevent It?”

  1. That pressure “on” your body should be “in” your body, no? The pressure of the gas inside makes it want to escape when the outside pressure drops.

  2. Articles like this are somewhat amusing and always welcome reading. But does it just give free license for people to let it rip? ‘Heck I guess there is nothing you can do about it…. so I might as well let everyone suffer with me.’

    Over the course of my million or so miles in the air, I have noticed some patterns to in flight gas. My experiential but non-scientific review concludes that I am awash in people’s gas throughout flights on American based carriers on transatlantic routes. In fact I can remember one flight to London in which the passenger in front of me farted just about every 15 minutes for nearly the entire flight. But this is much less common on foreign carriers on transatlantic routes. And on transpacific flights there is barely a hint of gas, regardless of carrier although the mix of passengers seems quite diverse compared to transatlantic flights.

    So perhaps its not just a matter of physiology and diet, but also to some degree a level of manners and respect for those around us? In addition to warning people it may be an issue, perhaps reminders on etiquette would be welcome. Perhaps at least trying to find some release in the toilet rather than just letting go willy nilly while packed 6, 9 or 10 across?

    1. I actually find it kind of fascinating that you’ve found a pattern like that. I suppose it’s possible that part of it is based on etiquette? Moreso, I wouldn’t be surprised that we Americans are less polite about it.

      That being said, I can attest from working with senior citizens throughout my career and my own self currently being solidly in midlife, that the older you get, the harder it is to keep it in. The toots also get MUCH louder (but not as stinky) with age. Not sure where/how that fits with the demographics of the people you’ve flown with but…there ya go 😉

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