What can I do if I'm seated next to a person with bad hygiene on an airplane?

I've been that passenger several times, typically on connecting flights after a transoceanic leg. I really try hard to find time and place to shower after such a flight (you can see it in my post history here and on flyertalk) but it's just not always possible. For example, the queue for the shower at the KLM Lounge in Schiphol in the morning is too long. So what can be done if a shower is not available?

  • 27
    I'm not entirely sure you're the problem: everyone is in that basket after an intercontinental flight. The impression I got from the linked question is that it's more to do with people who systematically ignore personal odour issues. If you don't want to be that person, make sure you have a shower sometime in the 24 hours before a long flight, use some kind of antiperspirant / deodorant, and you'll likely be no worse an issue than anyone else on the flight.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 10:07
  • 3
    Oh, there are so many times when this is an issue. For example, maybe you're somewhere hot/tropical/humid, your flight is at 23:30, and your hotel check out was at 10:30. Or maybe you're getting on the second of two or more connecting long-haul flights. Or maybe your journey to the airport involved 2+ hours stuck in traffic in midday sun in a vehicle with no effective air conditioning. Or maybe you're meeting someone at the destination airport who you don't want to repulse. Or maybe you just want the smug sanctification of being the only person on the plane who doesn't smell... Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 11:24
  • 4
    Some chewing gum and a paper towel over your face should be enough. Optionally add deodorant if you have overactive sweat glands. Seems like people are going a little overboard! Or perhaps there is a medical problem. You should be able to maintain a normal human scent over the course of a day. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 12:59
  • 2
    I've taken a few overnight train trips in coach. I'm sure nobody there smelled so great in the morning. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 13:48
  • 2
    I love how we've ended up with twin questions.
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 3:49

4 Answers 4


Lots of options! Starting with the ones that require no forward planning:

  • Just lock yourself in the toilets for 10 minutes and wash your... smellier parts using your hands, sink water, soap dispenser soap and the paper towels provided. Yes, it's not exactly dignified, but no-one's watching (probably), and it's more dignified than causing your neighbour to put medieval plague doctor balm under their nose. Bit of water and soap on your hands, push or remove clothing far enough to reach your... various crevices, quick scrub, dry off with paper towels, bin the paper towels. If parents can change and clean babies in those things, you can give yourself a quick scrub
  • Ask an attendant if they have disposable wet wipes available, or "hand sanitizer wipes". Many if not most airlines do, and some even give them to everyone to clean their hands before or after eating (seems to be particularly common in Asia). Even those that don't do this will often have a small supply available on request: they're useful for parents, germophobes and people who are ill or travel-sick (as well as the self-consciously sweaty). Then lock yourself in the lav and use them to freshen up. This is a favourite item for "10 things you didn't know you could ask for on a plane" type list articles:

    If you forget to pack your own sanitizing wipes, ask a flight attendant since they usually have them on hand.

Some more options when you can plan ahead before a long, complicated or hot and bothersome journey, in order of decreasing easiness:

  • Bring a spare t-shirt or equivalent, then choose an appropriate point during the journey to change (e.g. between connecting flights, after changing climates, or maybe after sleeping). It's always a good idea to have some clothes in your hand luggage anyway, in case your checked bags go missing or are delayed
  • Bring spare clean socks if you prefer to take your shoes off on long flights and there's a lot of walking before one of your flights (e.g. it's an evening flight and you can't change or shower before heading to the airport)
  • Bring a plastic carrier bag or dry bag so that after changing, you can wrap your worn clothes up while still locked in the toilet and not stink anyone out while stashing them in your bag
  • Bring chewing gum, and/or one of those travel toothbrush/tiny toothpaste sets, often sold at airports, sometimes not unreasonably expensive. For example:

    enter image description here

  • Bring your own pack of wet-wipes, to make the self-cleaning process easier and reduce any embarrassment of having to ask an attendant for one (though trust me, they won't bat an eyelid, they've see so much worse...)

  • You could even bring a flannel/sponge/washcloth and a small travel/gym towel plus some airtight bag like a ziplock or dry bag to seal them in once wet. For the true "luxury" commando shower, this Flyer Talk thread chx linked to includes the idea of putting some of your favorite shower gel on your washcloth, before putting your shower gel bottle in checked luggage, then sealing the soaped washcloth in a ziplock bag and bringing it to the plane ready to wet and use.
  • Some stores sell "anti-odor" or "anti-microbial" clothing, which could be an option for a frequently-stinky frequent traveller - but it might just be expensive quackery
  • 5
    travel bag with disposable stuff and wet wipes. That's what we called "Field Showers" in the Marines. Doing whatever it takes to maintain some level of "clean".
    – WernerCD
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 19:20
  • 6
    I am offended by the use of the words "medieval plague doctor balm" to describe my suggestion...it's "modern cold balm"...... ;-) Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 20:15
  • When it comes to travelling toothbrushes, I absolutely adore my Toob. Refillable, packs away, I have several and they really do help when travelling / on client site / doing concerts / etc. Disclaimer: satisfied customer, no other relationship with the manufacturer.
    – MadHatter
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 20:23
  • 2
    You can also take advantage of the extremely low humidity on airplanes to wash the pits of your shirt. On long overnight flights, I'll bring a pajama or equivalent comfy thing to wear, and change in the lavatory. It sometimes happens that I had to run to catch the flight, or it was unusually hot on the way to the airport, and I've noticed that my shirt armpits are moist. I'll wash them with a little hand soap in the lavatory. Usually I ask a flight attendant for a hanger, and put my clothes in a closet, but the low humidity means they'll dry quickly regardless of where they are.
    – jetset
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 22:07
  • Maybe worth adding: don't forget to put off unnecessary clothes so that the temperature feels like a tiny bit cooler than normal, and only use muscles as much as needed but not more, in other words, be extremely lazy. and don't worry about anything. these tactics should minimize sweating. Commented Mar 26, 2017 at 7:58

As you say, the best way to avoid being that guy is to try and wash yourself in between flights. When showers are not available, you can use (scented or unscented) baby wipes to clean your armpits and other exposed smelly body parts. You can wash your face and neck in any restroom sink. And don't forget to brush your teeth. Changing shirt/t-shirt is also very helpful.

  • 2
    This answer led me to this flyertalk thread -- apparently there are (much) better solutions than just going with baby wipes for this kind of non-shower.
    – user4188
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 10:16
  • 1
    worth it for the rerun of the "wash possible" chestnut, @chx Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 13:03
  • 1
    @KateGregory ell.stackexchange.com/questions/123556/…
    – user4188
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 4:15
  • In a similar situation (bike commuting) I found that baby wipes weren't great on their own. Combining with a fresh top and fresh antiperspirant makes a big difference. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 9:15

Taking regular showers is actually the root cause of this problem. Biologically, taking showers, washing your skin with soap, shampooing your hair, etc. etc. is totally unnatural and it leads to diseases. It destroys your natural skin flora, but far from becoming totally sterile, it causes your skin to get populated by microbes that would normally not be present or not be the dominant microbes. It are these unnatural microbes that will make you smelly if you don't take a shower for a day.

As pointed out here:

When I was a kid, bathtime was a once-a-week affair. We weren’t an unhygienic family – this is just how most of us lived in the 1960s, and I do not remember any horrific body odours resulting from it. By the time I was an adult, I was showering every day. With hindsight, I should have stuck to the old ways.

The habit of taking regular showers does not only make you prone to become smelly, it causes serious diseases. As pointed out here:

The results were incredible. Like most of us in the Western world, the families had far fewer types of bacteria living in and on them when compared with people in traditional tribes in parts of the developing world. One hunter-gatherer community was found to not only have a higher diversity of bacteria, but only one in 1,500 suffered from an allergy - compared with one in three in the UK.

The detrimental effect of excessive hygiene on the skin flora may affect your gut microbiome, problems there have been linked to not only intestinal diseases, but also heart disease and even Alzheimer's disease.

We have to take very seriously the fact that we didn't design the human body, the fact that we take regular showers is not based on any deep insight on how the human body actually works, rather it's based on ideas that are now known to be totally wrong. If you just kick the habit of taking regular showers, then you're going to allow your own body to determine what microbes it wants to have on its skin. But it will take a while for this effect to kick in. The more you exercise, the more sweat your body produces, the faster this feedback mechanism will kick in.

If you are able to convert to the no-shower routine, all you need to do is use only moderate amounts of deodorant, probably less than what you use now after taking a shower in the morning on your way to work. Best of all is that sweating will no longer make you a lot more smelly, the effect is quite minimal compared to people who take regular showers.

  • I also bathed once a week when I was a kid. I changed that at some point because I was reeking... Puberty changes the way you sweat and smell.
    – Kami Kaze
    Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 10:37
  • @KamiKaze My experience was similar, but later in life I started to exercise a lot more. Instead of running for 20 minutes a few times per week, I'm now running an hour almost every day. Then instead of needing to shower more I found out that I don't need to shower. I also eat only healthy foods, large amounts of fruits and vegetables. I think this changes the sweat that the body produces, also the medical evidence about this issue is becoming more negative w.r.t. taking regular showers. Commented Mar 27, 2017 at 22:26

Here's what I usually do during long haul flights. I carry mouthwash and a toothbrush and use them when I'm in transit. I then usually go to the duty free stores and try some perfumes :) It also helps if you carry an extra tshirt. Alternatively if you have some of those small roll on deo's, those will help as well

  • 27
    Oh, please don't think that 'some perfumes' solve the problem. I personally find exorbitantly deodorized or perfumed persons much more annoying than body odour. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 10:00
  • 8
    @Tor-EinarJarnbjo Agreed. If the person you sit next to is sensitive to strong (chemical) smells, like I am, that is an instant migraine for them. As unpleasant as body odor can be, I would much prefer that to b.o. plus perfume.
    – senschen
    Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 12:05
  • 4
    -1 for perfumes for the reasons already stated. Commented Mar 24, 2017 at 16:04
  • 2
    @hangar18 There are many people for whom any perfume is too much perfume.
    – Pharap
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 3:51
  • 2
    go to the duty free stores and try some perfumes -- hehuhe
    – AKS
    Commented Mar 25, 2017 at 7:23

You must log in to answer this question.