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Full of Hot Air: Passengers, Not Pilots, Should Fart in the Friendly Skies

Update Date: Feb 15, 2013 02:20 PM EST
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Inspired by a flight from Copenhagen to Tokyo, five gastroenterologists from the United Kingdom and Denmark have finally answered the question that passengers have been forced to ponder since the beginning of air travel: to fart or not to fart?

Their in-depth paper on flatulence has answered those questions, and others. For example, the study, a meta-analysis on the subject, found that women's farts smell worse than men's do, that sulfur is the reason that passing gas smells bad and that the average person cuts the cheese 10 times a day.

Most relevantly to the subject of air travel, people pass wind more often in mid-air because the changes in air pressure at a high altitude force the body to pass more gas. According to the Agence France Presse, the researchers found that passengers should just ignore the potential social embarrassment and let it rip. While the passenger may suffer from worse treatment from the cabin crew, the health drawbacks are far worse.

"[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 said, according to AFP. "Moreover, problems resulting from the required concentration to maintain such control may even result in subsequent stress symptoms."

Fortunately, the study authors say that, if you do fart on a plane, it may not be as embarrassing as you think - if you are seated in economy class. The seats in the economy section are gas-permeable, so they can absorb up to 50 percent of the odor let out. Unfortunately for first-class passengers, the same cannot be said of the leather seats in the front of the plane.

The study authors note that more can be done though. They write in The New Zealand Medical Journal, "[We] humbly propose that active charcoal should be embedded in the seat cushion, since this material is able to [neutralize] the [odor]. Moreover active charcoal may be used in trousers and blankets to [emphasize] this effect. Other less practical or politically correct solutions to overcome this problem may be to restrict access of flatus-prone persons from airplanes, by using a methane breath test or to alter the [fiber] content of airline meals in order to reduce its flatulent potential."

As for the pilot, he or she is caught in a lose-lose situation. On the one hand, pilots can obviously suffer all the health drawbacks that passengers suffer. They can also contend with loss of concentration, as a result, which may pose a safety risk for passengers.

However, if they do let it go, the smell may affect the co-pilot - posing yet another safety risk.

At least one manufacturer sells odor-absorbing farts for just this purpose: the Huffington Post reports that Deoest odor-absorbing underwear is on sale in Japan.

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