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Burgers On Airplanes

I was on a four-hour flight last week. I have a major problem with airsickness, so I don’t fly unless I have to, but, well, this time I had to. So I armed myself with my Dramamine, ginger tablets, etc., and boarded the plane. Then a guy sits down next to me with a full bag of food from McDonald’s. Even the unopened bag had a really strong, onion-y, fried food smell. As it happened, he stashed the bag in his carry-on and never took it out again during the flight (which made me wonder if he thought it would still be tasty more than four hours later?) so it wasn’t a problem for me. However, that got me wondering what the e-hell minions think about the subject of taking food on airplanes. I’ve always felt that, in such close and airless quarters, passengers should try to be as odorless as possible (including no perfume, and please, please, take a shower the morning of the flight!).
I do understand that a four-hour flight might make one peckish for something other than peanuts and pretzels, but I kind of feel like something like a turkey sandwich would be more polite than a burger and fries!

So, what do you think? And, if he had brought out the food, would I have been rude to say, “I’m sorry, but I get really airsick, and I think that smell is going to make me throw up”? My airsickness isn’t his problem, and yet… 0818-13

With more airlines offering no frills travel which then puts the impetus on travelers to feed themselves during the flight, I think one must expect to experience all kinds of olfactory sensations.  A McDonald’s meal is pretty ubiquitous but I do agree that it has a particular odor.   I worked at a McDonald’s decades ago when a teen and there is a smell to the trashcans that is distinctly a McDonald’s smell no matter where you go in the US.   It could have been worse.   He could have brought sushi on board to eat.

{ 138 comments… add one }
  • Alie October 25, 2013, 7:20 am

    I get airsick myself, and eating myself actually helps dispel some of it.

  • nk October 25, 2013, 9:53 am

    For everyone saying to just make a sandwich to bring with you instead of buying food at the airport, that’s not always possible. I’ve been on flights where I had to travel over an hour to the airport, wait at the airport 2-3 hours before my flight, and finally board the plane. By that time, any cold-cut sandwich I’d packed would be wilted and disgusting. I would much rather buy something at the airport (which pretty much means fast food, because I’m not spending $10 on a pre-made deli sandwich and it’s ludicrous for a stranger to expect me to) than eat a sandwich that’s been sitting at room temperature for 4 hours. If someone has absolutely no tolerance for the smell of fast food, then they either have to never leave their house or learn to grow up and deal with it, because fast food is pretty much everywhere these days. If you had an allergy that’d be one thing, but you can’t expect the whole world to cater to your likes and dislikes–that’s Special Snowflake territory and it’d land you in Ehell, not them.

  • JeanLouiseFinch October 25, 2013, 11:04 am

    I just got back from a vacation late last night. We were at an all inclusive hotel and packed sandwiches at breakfast made from the cold cuts and cheese there. Since I am diabetic, it its really important for me to have something I can eat on an airplane. It is my position that it is more considerate of fellow travelers to pack something unobtrusive if possible, like a turkey sandwich, but unfortunately, nobody can predict what will revolt the person next to you. What if you pack roast beef and the person next to you is a strict vegan for moral reasons? What if you pack ham and cheese and the person keeps kosher or is Islamic? I would not pack peanut butter since some people can get deathly ill from just the smell. As a former airsickness sufferer, I am sorry for the OP, but if she really can’t handle the smell, she needs to change seats if she can, or borrow an idea from the rich of long ago and carry a handkerchief with a scented oil on it – eucalyptus is supposed to work well. It might just take away your seatmate’s appetite and make them change seats.

  • Kendra October 25, 2013, 12:32 pm

    As I said, I’m not a frequent flyer. Most of our vacations are spent in San Francisco which is a day’s drive away from where I live. That said, many of my friends and family do travel a lot and from what they’ve told me, it seems that different airports interpret TSA rules differently. When we flew out of Reno in 2009, security would not let us through with any food that was not commercially made in it’s original unopened packaging. The peanut butter, the little ‘to go’ cups, they took because they counted peanut butter in the “liquid” category. And the rules seem to change all the time. When my mom flew to TX about 3 months later, security didn’t have a problem with her peanut butter cups, but did have a problem with her Frito’s Cheese Dip in the unopened can and still wouldn’t let anything through that wasn’t in it’s original unopened commercial packaging. My mom travels a lot both for work and to visit my sisters on the east coast and her experiences with security have been different not only in different airports but are different on each trip.

  • Stacey Frith-Smith October 25, 2013, 12:59 pm

    Reading through the posted comments about options in airport food did bring one question to mind- has anyone ever had experience taking one of the products on an airline that are dehydrated entrees? (Some of the freeze dried ones are pretty good, and they do come in individual servings). You could ask for a cup of hot water during coffee and beverage service or even add water from a personal water bottle. Of course, it wouldn’t be hot with the second option, but it’s a food item in its original packaging and might answer the need for some who need a reliable meal in an emergency that can be stored long term. And some entree options are bland smelling, as well.

  • Angel October 25, 2013, 2:03 pm

    I’m sorry but your seatmate cannot be expected to anticipate that someone on the plane may be offended by his food odor. Meals are no longer provided even on long flights, and a 4-hour flight is not that short. McDonalds isn’t that offensive either, at least not to most people. Now if a passenger was right next to you changing their baby’s poopy diaper in the seat I can see your point. But a food smell? Bring nose clips the next time if you are that sensitive.

  • Lacey October 25, 2013, 3:33 pm

    Sorry, but no, eating on a plane isn’t rude. Maybe that guy’s McDonald’s was a treat to himself because he also hates flying, so at least he gets some comfort food. Ask to switch seats if you’re that uncomfortable, but you can’t dictate what your fellow passengers eat.

  • Stella October 25, 2013, 3:48 pm

    Wait what’s wrong with sushi? I once bought sushi at an airport and had it on the flight. Why is that wrong? I mean obviously if it’s a long flight and it starts to go old but..?

  • Clair Seulement October 25, 2013, 5:24 pm


    The “Unbeknownst to the whole of mankind, xyz behaviors actually make me ill!” is the last frontier of I-resent-having-to-live-with-you indignance. In my years of lurking on this site I have tended to eyeroll-skip stories that resort to “but but but I have a condition!” as their big argument. It’s also one of the reasons I have gone on and off this website.

    It’s always “this is bad behavior until I do it.” I HATE. Hate to the hate hate hate the smell of ketchup. Well that’s too bad for me, because ketchup usage is *not rude*. Also the airplane does not explicitly bar the bringing-on of foodstuffs, precisely because they would have hefty lawsuits on their hands if folks that didn’t have the extra money on hand succumbed to hypoglycemia during the red-eye from NY to Honolulu.

    I think those who are easily offended would be better served by seeking ways to chill out than seeking excuses to condemn and be declared the conceptual “winner” in petty battles. IMHO.

  • Angeldrac October 25, 2013, 5:26 pm

    This post reminds me of an episode of “Airport”, when there was a complaint made to the staff about another passenger’s extreme body odor (this was during a transfer). The staff agreed with the complaint and actually had to ask the woman to go and change clothes before she reboarded. The body-odour lady was actually very embarrassed and co-operative about the whole thing, poor darling.

  • Asharah October 25, 2013, 9:46 pm

    What annoyed the last time I was catching an early morning flight, they had a Dunkin Donuts about 20 feet from my gate, and all they were selling was coffee! Hello, there are plenty of people there that early in the morning that would kill for some donuts!

  • Me October 26, 2013, 1:30 am

    With the combination of no food served on a flight, tight connections and long waits in the airport, and limited post-security food selection in many airports it’s pretty much a free for all – people bring what they can get or are willing to eat, and everyone else pretty much has to deal with it.

    I regularly travel long haul flights – so that four hour flight where I should be able to last four hours without eating/bring a sandwich from home (according to many people) is sometimes that last four hours in a 24-48 gauntlet of travel. I eat what I can find between clearing security and getting to the gate, in the time I have available.

    I’ve also been on international flights which have served things like fish, curry, and kimchi, so even having the airline serve food is no guarantee that everyone will find the odors palatable.

  • Mojo October 26, 2013, 6:13 am

    It seems strange to me that he can’t go four hours without food. There are plenty of places to eat in an airport, either end. Maybe it’s this modern trend for having everything available, right now.

    I think you would have been quite right to ask him not to eat, if the issue had arisen. You have the right to ask, as long as you accept he has the right to refuse.

  • MichelleP October 26, 2013, 1:06 pm

    I’m with the OP that odors offend, but unfortunately that’s something we just have to deal with. I get airsick too, and odors make it worse. That’s what Dramamine and ginger ale is for.

    I have to disagree that extreme body odor is something people on a plane have to accept, however. @Angeldrac, I doubt you would call her “poor darling” if you were the one cramped next to her for hours.

  • hakayama October 26, 2013, 3:29 pm

    @Mojo: Have you, by chance, heard of hypoglycemia? It’s a lulu! After four hours, I’d have to be carried out on a stretcher, and THREE hours w/o food is my personal max. Odor or no odor… 😉 However, trail mix, little wrapped cheeses, nuts, etc. do the trick. Discreetly in almost all kinds of settings.

  • Jaxsue October 26, 2013, 5:16 pm

    @Mojo, sometimes having food available every 4 hrs is medically necessary and not wanting everything to be available, right now. I am diabetic and eat to keep my blood sugar under control. That said, I carry snacks that are easily portable. I take care of my own needs. Just want you to know that there are sometimes reasons for things like this.

  • Michelle Steffen October 26, 2013, 7:34 pm

    It’s not always just 4 hour flight though. Many times, you can be traveling across the country and have a quick connection. So it is not just a 4 hour flight but having eaten nothing more than 4 hours prior to that flight either, or you have either left early in the morning before anything has opened or are going to arrive later, where everything is closed.

    Most restaurants do not open in airports until 6 am, and many times they close at 9-10 pm. If you have a 5 am flight or are on a red eye, you are SOL.

  • Library Dragon October 27, 2013, 2:43 am

    Air passengers these days cannot escape food smells on planes. Airlines and airports encourage passengers to buy and bring on meals. I had a trip from Atlanta to Syracuse and sat on the Tarmac for two hours while a light was being fixed on the plane. We were taken bake to the terminal, given vouchers for food that we were to get and come right back. It was then another hour before the flight left. It was a plane filled with food smells.

    I’m am omnivore that lurves beef. It’s what’s for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Deli turkey meat? I really dislike the smell and rarely have it in my house. What is a mild odor to one person is going to turn someone else’s stomach. With inconsistent TSA policy, late planes, etc., buying a burger and fries at the airports may be the first meal a passenger has had in several hours.

  • amyasleigh October 27, 2013, 8:40 am

    JeanLouiseFinch (post #105) — in my understanding of things, observant Jews and Muslims are very rarely upset or offended by their neighbours’ consuming foods forbidden to Jews / Muslims; the deal is just taken to be, that adherents of other — or no — religions, are permitted to eat certain things which are off-limits to the Jew or Muslim. One less cause for worry, perhaps ! (I gather that high-caste Hindus might have ritual-pollution issues re beef; but — fortunately perhaps, from a practical point of view — such folk are not met with all that often in the Western world.)

    Regarding the OP’s problem: an awkward situation; but I’m basically in the camp that — air-travel matters being as they’re described by PPs — it’s not reasonable to object strongly to one’s neighbour having on the plane, food as relatively innocuous as stuff from McDonalds.

  • twik October 27, 2013, 11:01 am

    @Mojo – do you really think a four-hour flight means one walks straight from an airport restaurant onto a plane, and then straight to another restaurant once you get off?

    There’s going to be at least another hour added to that, based on lining up to get on, and then deplaning and getting one’s luggage. So, a minimum five hours. That’s if there are absolutely no delays – and how often does that occur? Then, quite likely, one will have to be running from one terminal to another, rather than sitting in comfort finishing a filling meal.

    I had to travel from Toronto to Seattle a couple of years ago. I boarded the first leg of the flight at 7:30, and if they hadn’t sold “snacks” on the third leg at about 4:30, I would have been eating the upholstery. I had no time to have a sit-down meal between flights – in fact, I didn’t even have time to pick up fast food while trying to get from one gate to the other.

  • Jackie October 27, 2013, 11:01 am

    While I have sympathy for the OP, the unfortunate truth is that unpleasant food smells are one of the unpleasant things about flying that we all simply have to deal with. One of the worst for me is yoghurt. The smell, in any setting, turns my stomach. Unfortunately, yoghurt is ubiquitous in Canada/the US, and it’s sold “to go” in handy little plastic containers that are easy to bring onto things like planes. When I am unlucky enough to be seated next to someone who pulls out a container of yoghurt, I simply have to look away, breathe through my mouth, attempt to distract my senses by reading a good book, etc. And also hope that the flight attendants come by very soon after to deal with the garbage – because even once the yoghurt is done, the empty container with its tiny remnants is sitting out on the tray, giving out the same smell, albeit with reduced intensity.

    Thanks to whoever gave the tip about Vicks in the nose – I had not heard of that before and will try it on my next flight.

  • Anonymous October 27, 2013, 11:41 am

    >>With inconsistent TSA policy, late planes, etc., buying a burger and fries at the airports may be the first meal a passenger has had in several hours.<<

    In that case, the real solution is to have more healthy and "non-smelling" food options near the gates–sandwich shops, fresh sushi that doesn't smell, GOOD convenience stores that sell things like protein bars and fresh fruit, etc. I read somewhere that fast food isn't good to eat during travel (especially air travel), because the pressure changes in the aircraft, combined with the amount of sodium in a typical fast food meal, can cause pretty severe bloating. So, this isn't really so much of a "rude" problem, as an "airport" problem. I try not to eat salty food when I'm travelling, for this exact reason. The only time I'll do that is if I'm already feeling carsick, and I need a bag of baked chips or pretzels to help settle my stomach. I don't even know why that works, but my high school band teacher did it on one of our trips. One boy in the band got carsick on the bus ride to the airport, and she gave him a bag of chips that she'd apparently packed for this express purpose (because she's one of those people who's prepared for anything, just like a Boy Scout), and he felt better.

  • Kit October 27, 2013, 1:12 pm

    I cannot WAIT till someone perfects a teleportation device already.

  • Dana October 28, 2013, 9:30 am

    I was travelling across the country last week and thought I’d add a bit of info:

    Many of the airport terminal restaurants in larger airports offer takeout packaging specifically designed for you to take your meal on the airplane with you. I see a few problems with this from fatal allergies (many airplines have discontinued providing peanuts and seafood since the related allergies are so unpredictable and potentially fatal) to the amount of waste the air stewards have to deal. At least with in-flight meals, the flight crew knew what to expect as far as the kind of garbage they’d have to stow.

    However, it seems as if this is going to be the new normal, particularly with so many air lines eliminating in-flight meals altogether. My two five-hour flights offered a choice between only a pair of 3″ shortbread cookies or 1/4 cup of cheese doodles. Certainly, people can eat before they board and after they arrive, but many travellers’ stomach’s are operating on different time zones, and their metabolisms are wonky due to sleep deprivation and the odd hours they’ve been moving around. My own trip took over 15 hours and spanned multiple time zones. There was no predicting when I would feel hungry or sleepy. (We packed granola bars and seeds.)

    I agree though. If you’re going to bring food on a plane, THINK first and choose wisely. It’s no different than co-workers who boil raw fish in the microwave and stink up the whole office. If chances are good that you’ll need a snack, try to think of what may or may not be offensive to those around you.

  • Dust Bunny October 28, 2013, 12:26 pm

    You bet your bippy I take food on airplanes. The alternative is to pay astronomical prices for lousy airport food, or make do with pretzels and shot-glasses of ginger ale on the flight (if they even still give you those. I haven’t flown in awhile). I’ve been taking pb&j’s on planes my entire life and don’t plan to stop now.

  • Janet October 28, 2013, 2:09 pm

    I usually buy some prepackaged snacks to eat on domestic flights, and do my best to avoid items that will be smelly to anyone near me. I will buy a drink after security though (made mistake of having a bottle bought ahead of time & it was taken from me at security in Europe). I also ensure sufficient layover times so I can grab a snack, sandwich or even a meal before boarding a flight that has no meal service besides a soft drink and a little bag of snack food. Flying overseas is different, I will still bring a snack in case I do not eat much of the offered items during the flight as some items are not that appetizing. I can get migraines if I do not eat something decent and also have a caffeine based beverage for good measure.

  • Anonymous October 28, 2013, 2:35 pm

    About the shot glasses of pop/juice/whatever on airplanes, I’ve found a way around that. When I fly, and the flight attendants offer me a beverage, I always request a “Diet Coke, no ice, no straw, and no cup.” If I phrase it in terms of the effort that I’m saving them (as in, they don’t have to pour Diet Coke into a cup, and add ice and a straw, before moving on to the next passenger), then suddenly, giving me a whole can of Diet Coke to myself sounds like a pretty good deal on their end. So, I get more Diet Coke, and the flight attendants expend less effort, and it’s a win-win all around.

  • Ellex October 28, 2013, 3:34 pm

    I’m not entirely unsympathetic. I have an allergy to fragrances (perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, etc). They give me terrible migraines.

    Would I prefer people to not wear their signature scents on an airplane? Yes. Do I think they’re rude for doing so? No. Maybe a little unthinking. But ultimately the problem is mine and mine alone. Much like you are aware that air sickness is an inevitability, I pretty much expect to leave the plane with a throbbing head.

    Also, I don’t know why everyone keeps harping on about “airlines don’t provide food anymore so we have to bring our own and sometimes it smells.” Airline food stank to high heaven too! Am I the only one who remembers the smell of the eggs they used to serve?

  • Tracy October 29, 2013, 8:02 am

    I can only assume that those who lecture flyers to “plan ahead” don’t travel often. No matter how carefully you plan, at some point it’s all going to go sideways. No, I would not intentionally bring McDonalds onto a plane. But when the best laid plans are undermined by travel delays and whatnot, we all end up doing things we would not intentionally do.

  • Moi October 29, 2013, 10:00 am

    As to those who say “plan ahead,” as though it’s the easiest thing in the world: I’m someone who travels for business. From September-May every year, I might be in my apartment a grand total of 14 days. I don’t buy groceries for that period as a result, since it would be a waste. When you’re flying internationally (even just from Canada to the States), you can’t bring dairy, wheat/grains, fruit, or vegetable products with you. Yes, you could try to smuggle them in, or “forget” they’re in your bag as many do, but since my livelihood depends on travel I’m not willing to risk my passport being flagged. Sometimes fast food is the only option at the airport when you’ve been delayed 3 hours out of Toronto after a 2 hour drive to the airport and now only have 1 hour to clear customs and make your connection to LA (been there, done that). Frankly, I’d rather spend the $2 on a burger than the $3 that Starbucks charges for a granola bar, or the bags of trail mix that are $4-$5 at the airport. Weighing in on people’s food choices to say anything but “that looks delicious” is inappropriate.

    OP, it sucks that you have that level of nausea when flying; it really does. You can tell your seatmate that you feel nauseated, you can ask a flight attendent to move… you can’t expect your seatmate not to eat.

  • EllenS October 29, 2013, 3:56 pm

    Call me callous, but I think this problem is self-correcting. If the smell of his food had made OP throw up….well, sitting next to throwup is a lot nastier than sitting next to McDonalds.
    It’s not etiquette, so much as it is Karma.

  • Katana October 29, 2013, 4:42 pm

    A little late to the party, but felt I had something to share. I also travel Canada to US when I’m on a plane. I take public transit all the way to the airport from a city a few hours away. While the train and some subway stations have really nice selections, once in the airport, everything is super expensive and the selection varies widely depending on which part you’re in. I ended up finding a thread somewhere about making nice lunches for airplanes. When I got to the airport I looked at my customs papers and felt my stomach sink. It’s on the paperwork: Are you bringing in [food]? So I spent most of the way asking everyone “Is my lunchbox ok to have?” and them saying “Ask at Security.” So, in the security line I mention it immediately to the screener and he pales. “What do you mean you brought food?” I told him I planned on eating it as soon as I found my gate and he let it go, but told me never to do it again. The only other option at the remote end of the terminal? A small juice place, or hiking back to just after security for some sort of $20 sandwich. I can sympathize with not wanting to be stuck with McD’s or odors as well (mint gives me a burning sensation). With the options running out though, carrying a nice scarf that’s been scented with something may have to be your best bet.

  • Kirsten October 30, 2013, 11:33 am

    Jewel – I’m sorry but when someone calls food ‘native food’ like it’s 1872, and sneeringly refers to ‘the international bouquet’, then I don’t see any tolerance for different cultures, or the fact that people in different cultures smell and eat differently. Your post said she complained about the local people and their food on planes, not just smell in general, with a nasty implication that they don’t wash enough. The fact she kept going there hardly makes up for that.

    Well, I’ve just eaten my ‘native food’ of Stilton and broccoli soup. Maybe now I’ll go and watch some native television in my native house, after taking a native bus ride home and talking in my hilarious native accent.

  • ZuZu November 4, 2013, 4:06 pm

    WHY oh WHY would someone want to travel to a place full of stinky food and unwashed people? Sounds to me like the problem is deeper than smells!
    That said, I am in airports all the time and I always carry food I’ve made at home. I would not trust airline food or airport food, but that’s just me. Do I want to smell McDonald’s food? NO! Do I want to smell sesame oil and shoyu –which I happen to love to EAT but the scent does travel, permeate and linger– NO! But I would not begrudge anyone a meal. If that’s what they want to eat let them have it.
    The scented hankie might not work either if someone –like me– is sensitive to strong perfume. I wish they had perfume/no-perfume sections like they used to have for smoking! I sure do not want to pay $200 for a bottle of wine and have the bouquet of my Silver Oak Cab smell like Wicked Wahine!

  • NostalgicGal May 29, 2016, 1:28 pm

    I had my health and diet massively impacted recently. One major logistic I’m still grappling with is if I leave ‘home base’ in avoiding the allergens I must, and eat on the schedule that I have to. I will have to make a four plane trip in a few months and stay a few days at the destination. I have an appointment with my doctor a few weeks before the trip to get medical papers to get my foodstuffs through all checkpoints and onto the plane. My luggage will have various cooking utensils and supplies, and I have been working with some authorities to get everything in order. So terminal food just can’t happen and I will have to deal with two days of ‘being on the road’ in airports and planes. I hope it goes well. If not it will be ugly. I am also working to make sure that what I take into the cabin will be ‘clean’ and non-offensive with appearance or odor. I’ll update you….

    • NostalgicGal November 23, 2017, 8:30 pm

      Update: after two transfer laden round trips, and one 50hr bus marathon trip since I said I’d update (50 hours and 4-5 buses each way) if you are going through a MAJOR airport hub, and get through TSA there are food options even if you are vegan celiac and allergic to things like grapes and lettuce. I have to admit at DIA I had to search the entire place to find one at the end of concourse B that served something I could eat before 10:30 am but. It’s not cheap. But. Embrace a longer layover in case of problems and search out the places you can eat. If you are doing a round trip, you will know on the way back where to find food. And I always sat down and scarfed it right there, so getting on the plane I didn’t have to subject anyone else in the area to my food. (I flew a different airline last month and they have those seats so tight front to back and side to side they almost ignited my claustrophobia. I am serious-if the one in front of me had reclined, I would have gone straight up and over and ended up in the aisle flipped out). On one leg of the last one, I found a place that had a 3 ring laminated binder with any food option you needed, look at the menu listed on that page for how they could make it to make you happy. They made me the perfect ‘fakewich’ and I had them make another to take on the plane… the first one was so good I got a hundred feet that way, found a seat and killed it, with no remorse. It also lasted me until I got to the next airport and got stuck….

      Food and luggage, I have a second set of items (like my beloved soypot) and just mail one ahead with stuff I need. Then mail it home. No more TSA issues. IMO, onions and highly aromatic and spiced food should not be in the close quarters of the modern aircraft…

      On the buses, if you had 3 hour or more layover at a major urban city IN the city, there are often good places like Whole Foods within a mile or so of you. Use the Map feature on your phone and go find. They have these lovely rectangular lightly insulated bags with end pockets and a nice wide strap that make a great day-bag to haul provisions.

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