Slightly related: What can you do about being forced to sit next to a very large passenger?

I think the title says it all. I have, what you could call, a sensitive nose. I absolutely despise people who won't shower regularly / brush their teeth / use deodorant, especially in a small enclosed space such as an airplane.

The last flight I was on, I was seated next to an average sized male, who absolutely reeked. I was close to gagging every time the guy lifted his arms, and it was not the first time that happened; there's usually someone smelly sitting close by.

What can I do in that kind of situation, or am I out of luck? I obviously do not want to sit next to someone who makes me throw up.

  • 25
    Yeah well, I've been that passenger once. One week in mongolia with no access to showers, my plan to clean before my flight in UB shattered when my transfer got delayed. I was deeply sorry for my fellow passengers, but I don't think I deserved shaming for that...
    – Antzi
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:10
  • 5
    @Antzi Right. A little bit of communication and understanding can go a long way. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:12
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    I'm much more likely to find the deodorant irritating than natural body smells. I once had to endure a woman next to me who was smothered in perfume. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 10:14
  • 8
    Make your smelly neighbour read So what can I do to avoid being “that” passenger with bad hygiene! Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 11:17

7 Answers 7



the solution is an ointment with menthol/eucalyptus. Pathologists are using Tiger Balm, the red variant and apply it under the nose to suppress...well, I think I do not need to explain that.

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It is not really necessary that it is exactly Tiger Balm, any very strong and durable menthol/eukalyptus is sufficient, you can also ask a nice pharmacist if he mixes it for you.

Some precaution: Only use as much as needed. Depending on the strength it can give a burning feeling on the skin and make your eyes and nose water.

  • 12
    This is an extreme solution. Those things are able to screen very strong smells indeed.
    – mzu
    Commented Mar 23, 2017 at 22:28
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    This is the same solution that nurses use (depending on locale, Vicks may be more common than Tiger Balm). Also similar to plague doctor masks. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 3:47
  • 1
    A person with a sensitive nose might not be comfortable with the smell of Tiger balm for too long.
    – Nitish
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 6:57
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    In the past I have used vanilla extract, dabbed under the nose - this works well. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:49
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    This goes without saying almost, but if you decide to go this route, make sure your container is small enough to get through the liquids check at the airport.
    – A Simmons
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 11:35

This happens periodically, and you can politely and privately bring the problem to the attention of the cabin crew during boarding, before the aircraft door is closed, especially if the odor is so strong that many passengers are complaining. Here's an article in which one flight attendant describes one such situation. Here's another in which some possible solutions are mentioned:

  • The airline can ask the passenger to clean up, even providing toiletries in some cases
  • They reseat you if the flight isn't completely full
  • They can spray air freshener, which might also be unpleasant for you if you are sensitive to smells
  • They can kick the passenger off the flight, sometimes allowing them to fly on a later flight after they've cleaned up
  • They can let you off the plane and rebook you on a future flight
  • You can use a cream or balm to help reduce the odor for you, as Thorsten suggests

The response will depend on the details of the situation, the airline's policy, and the judgement of the crew on a case-by-case basis. It's important to raise the problem as early as possible, as your options become much more limited at 33,000 feet on a completely full flight.

  • 11
    Is it legal to kick someone off the flight if they are not clean?
    – Nitish
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 6:58
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    @Nitish Only if the Captain says so. I suppose, if the Captain felt that the unhygienic passenger was causing enough of a disturbance, and wouldn't co-operate with the flight crew, then yes. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:11
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    @Nitish This would depend on the airline's contract of carriage and local law (e.g. if the smell is related to a disability). United's contract specifically includes "Passengers who have or cause a malodorous condition (other than individuals qualifying as disabled)" as cause to refuse a passenger. Other airlines may not state it directly, but have a catch-all in their contract that often could apply. Whether the airline will actually do so depends on their policy and the judgement of their staff in a given situation. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:54
  • The air freshener isn't a very good idea because the spray might upset people with asthma (especially in such an enclosed space).
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:03
  • @Pharap I agree, but one of the articles I linked said it's something airlines sometimes do, so I mentioned it as a possibility. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 23:49

If the aircraft is still at the gate, ask to speak to the Agent. Perhaps you can be reseated. Alternatively, the Purser might be able to assist as well.

At the Gate is the best time to address this and any similar situation as there are a lot more options available.

If the flight has departed, you easiest option is to find another open seat and move. The Flight Attendant can assist with this.

If there are no other options, adjusting the vent to blow fresh air on you or between you and the other subject may help.

  • 13
    How would you know who your neighbor passenger is, and how bad his hygiene is, before you two board the flight and sit next to each other?
    – RanST
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 7:43
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    @RanST I'm pretty sure John means at the gate when they flight hasn't departed yet, not at the gate when you haven't boarded yet.
    – Summer
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 11:42

I almost didn't think this deserved to be an answer, but here goes:

Have you ever attempted to ask the offending person? (I didn't mean for that to read as being confrontational, on my part.) Even if you have done so in the past, and needed to resort to other means when the accused party failed to respond, or even acknowledge your question, each person is probably not the same as those others.

Your first recourse should always be to ask the other person if they are aware that their bodily aroma could be causing offense to others.
It would work best if you didn't presume to condescend upon them as if they were a child being scolded, either: most people — those not simply indolent or inconsiderate — would take that as a sign that you are not worth a rational discussion.
Maybe they aren't aware; maybe they are aware, and have a perfectly reasonable explanation — delayed flight, inconvenient layover, temporary financial hardships, dire circumstances, refugee, so on. You might think it frustrating to listen to their arguments, yes, but this strategy applies to broader situations too: e.g. if the offending odor is not bodily funk, or even an odor at all.

The other person might be uncooperative; the manner by which they do so may be informative as to what other recourses are available to you.
Keep in mind that you can expect any perceived differences of social strata between the two of you will change your optimal approach.

Yes, in a moment of indignation, most of us tend to assume offense and to blame the other party, but unless the situation calls for such hasty responses, it is better to take a moment to fully assess all the possibilities.

Okay, I'll end so that it doesn't sound like I'm being preachy.
Anyways, this is really less of a topical answer, and more to broader interpersonal encounters anywhere, I suppose.

The gist of it is that discussing with the person might not help immediately remedy the situation between you and the other person.
Hopefully, it at least helps to ensure the second person will be easier to work with; rather than scrambling around them, confront them directly first.
It also tends to make for a better society: If the first party behaves like an adult, and treats the second party like an adult, then not only are they given more incentive to behave like one, but the first party is less likely to appear juvenile.

  • 9
    Not sure how the other person having a reasonable explanation would help the OP.
    – jcm
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 8:32
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    I don't think the OP is interested in figuring out why the person smells. He may have all the understanding in the world for whatever personal circumstances cause the problem - but anyway he wants the problem solved.
    – Tom
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 13:17
  • 1
    This is a better answer than people are giving credit for. It will be much easier to find a solution if the OP keeps the odourous person on their side. If they upset the odourous person, said person could decide to be malicious and do something to upset the OP further e.g. they might purposely move closer to the OP.
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:08
  • I don't think there's a reasonable way to ask this of a complete stranger. "Do you know you smell, mate?" might not go down well; but neither would anything else. Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 22:21

Find a different seat.

One way to do this is to bring $20 - $50 cash. After you board, if you happen to be in a seat you don't like (e.g. because the person next to you is smelly), find a more preferable seat that seems to have a solo passenger in it, and make an attractive cash offer to the person who currently has that seat to switch with you. Be upfront with your reason for wanting to switch, as they will likely be suspicious otherwise.

  • The airline is likely to frown on this idea. It may even be against airline rules. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 8:43

There is a simple way to reduce the impact of a strong bad smell you can do any time, anywhere.

Breathe through your mouth.

The majority of the sense of smell comes from air passing near the olfactory epithelium at the top of the sinuses, an area rich with olfactory neurons. Air breathed in through the nose passes across this area, and the olfactory neurons detect even very minute quantities of the molecules that trigger the sense of smell. The more neurons are affected, the stronger the smell.

Breathing through the mouth will greatly reduce the amount of air that flows past these neurons, reducing the impact of any smells. With conscious effort, you can effectively avoid even very strong smells this way.

The advantage of this technique is it requires no advance preparation and can be done spontaneously.


Recognize that it's your nose and tastes that are your problem, not the person sitting next to you?

You're describing a smell, but have no clue actually what is causing the smell.. Making an assumption that it's a lack of showering.. some people's sweat is pungent, but being able to smell it doesn't mean they haven't washed.

But let's go for the two most obvious..least effort solutions, shall we?

1: Travel with something you do like the smell of. 2: Ask the person to go into the toilet cubicle and have a wash, maybe you brought some soap with you? Hell, you could even pay them to do it. If that's the case then I'd agree that the person was ignorant & worthy of the kind of attitude you display. [Otherwise I'd suggest that you take a more civil approach, telling somebody they're making you want to throw up is not going to get a civil and reasoned response. Especially being as we know full well you're exaggerating for dramatic effect.]

There, that was hard.

But 3 is really the only long-term solution. Prepare yourself for life in public spaces.

You say you have an extremely sensitive nose. So the problem is you as much as it is the actual source of the smell. Well, entirely really, because you're the one that is upset by it. We can confer responsibility on others, implicitly or explicitly, but the fact is that you're the one that is suffering and you don't want to suffer. Some people take face masks into public spaces, others spray extra perfume on a stole or somesuch.

People deal with expected levels of noise pollution with earplugs, noseplugs are an obvious counter then to smells, right?

Can you tell I find this question and it's phrasing particularly odious?

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