Burgers On Airplanes

by admin on October 24, 2013

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.

{ 136 comments… read them below or add one }

Wild Irish Rose October 24, 2013 at 9:03 am

I absolutely HATE to fly, so I try to be as good a passenger as possible, keeping in mind the (dis)comfort of those around me. Bringing a meal onto a plane is just weird, and stashing it for the duration of the trip is even weirder. He must just not have gotten a chance to eat it in the terminal, and he may have actually been told by a flight attendant that he couldn’t eat it on board. That said, I think if you’re on a longish flight and a meal will not be served, do what you do when you go to the movies: take some snacks with you. :) A four-hour flight doesn’t really require a meal like a transatlantic flight would, so keeping a granola bar or something like that in your carry-on or your purse (I’m going to assume this guy didn’t carry a purse) would be a better idea than bringing along a McDonald’s meal and then having to put it away! I’m glad you couldn’t smell the food during the flight.

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SweetPea October 24, 2013 at 9:15 am

I’ve seen people bring food on the plane, and never really had an issue. If it’s a long flight, I can understand how someone might be hungry for more than the 15 pretzels they give. I would prefer they choose blander food, rather than something strongly scented, but the only time I’ve run into people bringing meals on the plane, the meals were eaten while we were still on the ground waiting for our turn to take off.

I don’t see this as an etiquette issue, but I’m glad you seemed to make it through the flight all right!

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Jewel October 24, 2013 at 9:15 am

My mother used to be a frequent international traveler to countries where daily bathing isn’t the standard like it is in the United States. Those smells were bad enough, but then airlines started eliminating in-flight meals ‘causing more and more travelers to carry on grocery bags full of native foods, like extremely pungent cheeses. She called the combination of unwashed body odor plus stinky food the “international bouquet” and would gladly have taken the smell of McDonald’s over that.

That said, I’m with the OP and the Admin that fellow flyers really need to be considerate of the “scents” they bring on board.

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Jay October 24, 2013 at 9:18 am

As long as it’s not something that’s likely to spill on you, I don’t see the problem. Warning him of your imminent need to be sick might have helped/been a good idea, but really, you can’t control what food another person chooses to eat, and it certainly wasn’t unreasonable of him to bring a meal on a 4-hour flight.

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Wendy B. October 24, 2013 at 9:21 am

I think instead of asking him to not eat his food, it would have been more acceptable to flag down an attendant and ask if there was a seat you could be moved to where you wouldn’t disturb him with your airsickness. You’re not the first, nor will you be the last, to have this problem and if there is room somewhere to allow you some breathing room, surely they’ll be happy to oblige.

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Lynne October 24, 2013 at 9:27 am

I personally think that if you have a sensitive stomach during flights, it’s YOUR responsibility to inform the flight crew of that, and not the other passengers’ responsibility to moderate their food choices to refrain from offending you. I certainly wouldn’t appreciate having my food choices dictated to me because someone else might not share my tastes.

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Allie October 24, 2013 at 9:28 am

This is a distinctly North American problem. Most of the rest of the world is accustomed to the odors of life. If you wish to stay in a sterile, odor free bubble, I suggest you stay at home.

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CaffeineKatie October 24, 2013 at 9:31 am

Sorry, but these days you have to grab what you can at the airport. Take a small jar of Vicks with you and put a little inside your nostrils–it blocks other smells and is good for motionsickness, too.

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AthenaC October 24, 2013 at 9:32 am

I have to agree with admin. $5 for a bag of peanuts is not sufficient nourishment for a 4-hour flight. And if you don’t want to pay an arm and a leg, McDonald’s really is one of your best options (although you still end up paying half an arm).

I think we would all be better off if we let go of any lingering expectations that flying will be any sort of pleasant experience. We get groped at security (to say nothing of the logistics of taking small children through security), we are packed in like sardines with no personal space, (sometimes) airplane bathrooms don’t even have changing tables (and even when they do there’s not enough room to change a small child), there’s not enough food available half the time (even if you did bring extra money), and there’s not enough water available (even if you brought a full water bottle for yourself). And then when you arrive at your destination you find out that the airline personnel arbitrarily decided to take the stroller you gate-checked to baggage claim (!). How I am supposed to maneuver a 2-year-old and a baby BY MYSELF without the stroller that I gate-checked (for a reason!) is clearly not their concern.

If we all adjust our expectations accordingly, I think the general mood of air travel would improve a bit; we at least will not be disappointed with the experience.

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Lisa October 24, 2013 at 9:36 am

It’s unfortunate that the OP gets airsick, but before they cut all the frills of air travel, they would serve you a meal on flights over two hours. This is nothing different aside from the fact that passengers are now required to serve themselves. I really don’t see how this is etiquette related, it’s just a set of unfortunate circumstances for the OP.
In regards to McDonalds, my DH and I were flying from LA to the UK on Christmas Eve. Everyone was seated and waiting for takeoff when they announced that we would be delayed as they did not have enough meals for everyone and had to drive to their food supplier for more meals. After about 20 minutes we see the flight attendants coming down the aisle with big McDonalds bags. So as not to delay us any further, the crew went out and purchased Happy Meals to make up the deficit. Shortly thereafter we took off and my DH enjoyed a McDonalds Happy Meal.

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Anonymous October 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

First of all, yes, I agree that it’s not polite to eat odoriferous food in close quarters. At the risk of splitting hairs, though, veggie sushi is perfectly okay to eat in situations like that, because it doesn’t contain fish (obviously), so it doesn’t really have a strong smell. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t bring a full meal on public transit if I could help it; especially an airplane, because you can’t open the windows on an airplane like you can on a public bus. Instead, I’d bring things like protein bars, fruit, pretzels, chips, or possibly a Ziploc bag of baby carrots.

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Lerah99 October 24, 2013 at 9:40 am

This is a hard one for me to make the call.
Especially since liquids can’t get through security, people plan to buy their food/drinks for the journey on the other side of security.
And that means their options for food & drink are limited to what the airport has to offer.
In my travels MOST airports, even the smaller ones, have a McDonald’s.

In the Letter Writer’s case, giving her seat mate the heads up that his food could result in her being ill is reasonable. No one wants to sit next to someone puking if it can be avoided.

On the other hand, I don’t think bringing food onto a plane in and of itself is rude. Unless you are traveling in first class, domestic flights very rarely serve meals anymore. If you are lucky, there is a snack cart from which you can purchase some food. So it seems only reasonable to provide your own meal while traveling cross country.

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Kovi October 24, 2013 at 9:41 am

Personally, I don’t think you really have the right to ask the guy to do anything. I’ve been on 4-5hr long flights where nothing is offered apart from soda – not even a snack. Partner that with many flights taking place right over meal times, and you have to expect people to eat something on the plane. And McDonalds makes pretty good sense, since they’re all over airports.

I get that you wish he would have grabbed a turkey sandwich, or something less odorous. But then we get into, ‘you really can’t tell someone else how to eat’ territory. I’d suggest just trying to rely on the medication you bring, turn away from the individual in question and breathe through your mouth. Also, try to focus more instead on a good book (if your motion sickness can handle it), music, or a movie, if it’s possible.

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Charliesmum October 24, 2013 at 9:45 am

I can’t get over the fact he bought it and then didn’t eat it. That’s just…weird.

I’m not sure what I would have done in your place, if the smell did make you ill, although I think telling him you might be sick would not be out of place, because I’m sure he wouldn’t enjoy sitting next to someone vomiting! I suppose you could also ask a flight attendant if you could move seats, or something.

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MyWorldand October 24, 2013 at 9:47 am

Hey before the next time you have to do something that is going to cause sea/air/car sickness, ask your doctor for a prescription for the Scopolamine patch. You stick it on behind an ear, preferably a half day before you will need it. One patch will last up to 3 days. It does not make you tired like the pills do. The only side effect I have was dry mouth.

Regarding what someone else brings to eat….my thought is that it might be easier to ask to change your seat

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Shalamar October 24, 2013 at 9:48 am

I’m with Admin. Unless you’re deathly allergic to the food that your seatmate is eating (peanuts or shellfish, for example), you don’t really have the right to ask him to go hungry because you don’t like the smell.

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AS October 24, 2013 at 9:49 am

All food has a smell. You cannot help it. You, OP, find a turkey sandwich to not be smelly, but some people find it smelly (I for one, do find any meat smelly; and I am not even a vegetarian). It is not your prerogative to tell any anyone what they can eat, or not eat, in an airplane. What you are doing is the right thing – to take enough dramamine and lemon drops. When someone is feeling nauseous, any thought of food can make them feel worse. The co-passenger might have brought back left overs from his meal; or maybe he meant to eat when he gets hungry. If he, or anyone in future flights, takes their “smelly” food out to eat and you feel sick, just ask for enough sick bags. Or if you feel really bad, request the aircrew to change your seat. Maybe you should start taking some music or something with you, if you are not already doing it, to divert your mind from the flight.

Some of the long haul international flights serve food in flight. Whenever they get the food trays out, the aroma fills the airplane. Certain long distance airlines (many US based carriers like United included) take pride in the wide range of food options that they offer. Someone with air sickness cannot tell them not to serve any food that has a strong aroma to any of the passengers! Most passengers would not be happy eating just Turkey sandwiches in a 15 hr flight journey!

I also don’t think that you should tell people not to wear perfumes. If you are allergic, just take some anti-allergens. I am allergic to some kinds of perfumes, but I am not going to go around telling someone I don’t know not to wear one (I know that you didn’t say that you are going to tell someone directly; but this is in reply to your message on this site). Some people put way too much perfume – which can be quite awful and can give a headache to even the ones who are not allergic. It might be good to refrain from that. But otherwise, it is up to them.

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Kirsten October 24, 2013 at 9:52 am

I do understand the surprise at seeing the McDonalds, but I don’t think he’s rude. By this level, the flight shouldn’t serve food at all, or only cold food. And if he’s been in the terminal, he may be limited to what food he was able to buy.

Expecting people not to wear perfume on a flight? I doubt that occurs to many passengers, and what if their anti-perspirant smells? What about their shampoo? Their breath? As for asking them to take a shower…whatever we hope, they may not have time/been able to, few people reek without a morning shower, and I do think that’s beyond your business.

If it makes you feel sick, that’s pretty horrible for you, but what’s he supposed to do if you feel sick? Not eat at all? On a flight where he’s hungry and he’s probably expected to eat something? If there are no seats for him to move to, he’d probably say, “Well, I’m sorry but I’m starving and you must have expected people to eat on a flight.” Or something along those lines.

It’s not that I think you’re being precious about this, just more unfortunate, in that perfectly reasonable behaviour makes you feel ill. Asking someone to stop eating or wearing perfume on a flight…sorry, but to me that’s going OTT.

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Cammie October 24, 2013 at 9:55 am

Ohhh, where in the spectrum of “polite food” does sushi rank? Below McD’s but above sauerkraut? Which is the more refined sandwich, the BLT or the ham and cheese melt?

There’s a old sketch on the Carol Burnett Show that depicts Tim Conway’s bag lunch on a “no frills” airline. So bringing food onto a plane has been a thing since at least the 70′s.

Consider yourself lucky that McD’s is the worst thing you had to smell on the flight. In my time I’ve had cleaning solvent, vomit, BO, and diaper blow-outs to name a few. The last thing I’d worry about is unspoilt food. But, you’d be polite to warn him about your delicate stomach before he started eating because nothing is worse than smelling the vomit of the person sitting beside you. Those bags are good, but they’re not leak proof.

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NostalgicGal October 24, 2013 at 10:06 am

I would say count yourself lucky the fellow didn’t take it out and gnosh it while you were sitting beside him.

I too have to deal with some motion sick issues but they are usually not too bad (though I will make sure I have the motion sickness bag located and handy to pluck) and get a window seat (I am usually of sound enough mind and body that I will ask for the exit row, as those rows do not have reclining seats so no getting smushed and I can usually get my window seat then-and yes, I do understand if something happens I have to deal with getting the hatch open)

If someone did sit there and want to scarf heavily spicy/oniony/pepper laden food, I would ask the stewardess/steward if I could exchange seats, at least until Mr/Mz Scarf finishes. Unless it’s a big enough plane and you can afford decent seats, air travel is now a ‘survive in tin can like a sardine’ and don’t expect much in the way of comfort, scheduling, and gods, if you can travel without luggage (mail it ahead) do so. Be kind to other passengers about the perfume/aftershave, personal grooming, bad breath, and foodstuffs brought with.

I know that a 4 hour flight might have had 3-4 hours before it, and will have a couple of hours after, but. In that time I could grab and scarf stuff like a bagel with cream cheese (which is a lot of dense carbs) after checkin and before boarding. I have issues where I have to eat, so defensive and proactive eating is part of the plan. Carry Fig Newtons. These are usually fairly neat, portable, and carry a lot of carb in a small space. 5-6 of those will tide you a long time.

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Ripple October 24, 2013 at 10:08 am

I don’t see how you can “police” what people bring on a plane to eat. Everyone has their own preferences and, although a turkey sandwich might be nicer to surrounding seat mates, some people may not like turkey or want something stronger tasting. However, if he had opened the bag, then I think you would have been fully in your rights to warn him or ask for a change of seats from the flight attendant. Your resulting odor would have been even more unpleasant for those around you.

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Green123 October 24, 2013 at 10:10 am

You’re right, OP. Your airsickness is not your neighbour’s problem.

There are far stinkier things one could bring on a plane than a hamburger and fries. Lots of low-cost airlines are now charging hugely inflated costs for very poor quality food (on the British carried EasyJet, for example, one can pay upwards of £5 for a simple cup of tea and a snack) and most people, quite rightly, won’t pay that – they’ll exercise their right to bring their own food on board.

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Justine October 24, 2013 at 10:17 am

It seems everyone brings food on board. I will make a turkey sandwich or bring granola bars or pretzels, just to tide me and my family over. As long as someone doesn’t bring something super stinky such as Kimchi I think it is just something to be expected.

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admin October 24, 2013 at 11:46 am

Fresh durian would be out of the question as well.

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Lo October 24, 2013 at 10:19 am

Actually, sushi prepared from fresh fish shouldn’t smell at all (though if he’d stashed it in a carry-on that might have a been a problem)

Though I agree that people should be sensitive to how strong their food is in confined spaces such as an airplane. I like a lot of strong smelling foods but I agree that a turkey sandwich is a much politer choices than a fried burger loaded with onions.

I’m very sensitive to this because years of “freaky eating” have made me immune to natural food smells. The smell of rotting or spoiled food makes me ill but food prepared correctly will never turn my stomach no matter how unwell I am to begin with. This caused a bit of a problem when I lived with a roommate who didn’t appreciate waking up to the smell of fried kippers in the morning. I tried to be as poilte as I could about it; I aired out the room when fish was cooking, even though it smelled wonderful to me. I even bought a sealed container to keep pungent cheeses in. I do feel like I should be able to eat whatever I like in my own home or at the office lunchroom.

An airplane, however, is a space where I think strong food odors are unfair to other passengers.

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LizaJane October 24, 2013 at 10:20 am

How do you know that his meal wasn’t to guard against his own air sickness? Granted, he could have brought something else, but how is anyone to know that the smell of a burger and fries is going to make someone sick?
If he had brought it out and you told him the smell was making you sick, and he’d said, “If I don’t eat, I’LL be sick.” What then?

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DGS October 24, 2013 at 10:24 am

I apologize in advance if this offends anyone, particularly, the OP, but I do think that OP would have been way out of line had he or she asked the fellow passenger to not eat his food or if he or she had commented on another passenger’s perfume, hair products or body odor. Airsickness is of course, a valid concern, but when one makes the choice to travel via plane, bus, railway or any other accomodation that is shared with strangers who are fellow consumers of that service, one has no right to make demands on those strangers about their dietary preferences or their beauty routine or hygiene.

Now, if this is a roommate/co-worker, etc., in a small, confined space – that is a whole another story. Let’s say that OP might become nauseous after smelling her co-worker’s tuna sandwich, carton of Indian food, fast food container or some other strong-smelling foodstuff. It’s perfectly reasonable for her to politely ask her co-worker to not bring in strong-smelling food or to eat it in a designated space (e.g. office breakroom) rather than at the co-worker’s desk. But on a plane? Sorry, can’t say a thing. However, you are perfectly within your right to approach the flight attendant and quietly and politely ask if it would possible for you to change seats, which they might be able to accomodate if the flight is not full. I was quite airsick whilst pregnant, and I had made just such a request of a flight attendant on a flight from Newark to DFW. The gentleman next to me had some take-out food from an airport Asian-themed restaurant, and the smell that I would have ordinarily found scrumptious, made me very ill. I walked to the back of the plane and asked the flight attendant if it would have been possible to change seats. The flight attendant was quite sympathetic and moved me to a different section of the plane, at which point, I promptly fell asleep and napped peacefully until the plane landed 3.5 hours later. Problem solved. I would imagine that if it had not been possible to move, I would have been very uncomfortable, but I would have had to tough it out or spend most of the flight going back and forth to the bathroom.

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Lisa October 24, 2013 at 10:25 am

I have to say, I have been guilty of this. Fast food is easy to grab at the airport, one of the more reasonably priced items, and my children are guaranteed to eat it. We try to consume our meals as close to take off as possible, but I’m sure some nuggets have hung around for a while.

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Michele Myroniuk October 24, 2013 at 10:35 am

Unfortunately, sometimes you don’t have a choice us to what to bring with you on the plane. If the connection is tight and there is only one option – your choice is that option or go hungry. Perhaps this was the case since the passenger decided to not eat the food…….

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psyche October 24, 2013 at 10:38 am

I was told the ettiquette rule was food was ok in enclosed spaces as long it didn’t stink up the area. Could be worse: he could have brought on board a durian fruit! It’s a fruit that grows all over Southeast Asia that is so pungent many places in that continent forbid you to bring it in anywhere, including airplanes.

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Nicole October 24, 2013 at 10:39 am

I was on a flight, seated behind a large family (12 or 13 people all together in 3 rows). After the plane took off, someone unpacked dinner for the whole family, corned beef sandwiches and garlic pickles. The whole plane smelled and I can’t stand the smell of corned beef! It felt like a long flight.

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Grumblebee October 24, 2013 at 10:40 am

I’m sorry Ms. Jeanne, but you’re quite wrong; sushi (that hasn’t spoiled!) has no odor. If you order sushi and it has a strong fishy odor, please don’t eat it.

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admin October 24, 2013 at 11:44 am

The visual sight of sushi would tip the scales for me if I happened to be airsick. It has nothing to do with smell.

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Mary October 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

If I have to bring anything on a plane that is more than just a snack, I try and make sure it is as odorless as possible. However, quite often I have been on concourses where there aren’t any cold sandwich options. What comes to mind are Quiznos and McDonalds bring the only options. Plus bringing a sandwich to the airport isn’t always possible.

In that case I try and eat my smelly meal at the gate even if it means eating my lunch at 10:45 just so I don’t have to bring it on the plane.

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MightHaveMissedSomething October 24, 2013 at 10:47 am

1) Sorry but no, you have no right to ask me to not eat on a four hour flight. Even if you find my food’s smell offensive.

2) Why would sushi be any worse? If it is not rotten it has almost no scent.

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Magicdomino October 24, 2013 at 11:05 am

I imagine some of the old much-maligned airline meals nausiated the air-sick prone. You could smell the cart coming down the aisle, and you weren’t always quite sure what you were smelling.

So many foods have an odor. Pretty much anything hot, onions, garlic, fish of any sort, the spicier cold cuts like salami. Most people would be fine with the smell of a freshly peeled orange, but I’m sure some aren’t. I’m told that hard boiled eggs have distinct odor, although I’ve never noticed it. Which brings up another complication. Some people like Yours Truly have a poor sense of smell, and honestly can’t tell if a sandwich has that much of an odor, much less that my seatmate will have a problem with it.

Perhaps others can recommend food suitable for an airplane, preferably something quickly available in the airport in case one is has a tight connection between flights.

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Pnut October 24, 2013 at 11:09 am

(Good) sushi doesn’t smell, so that probably would have been fine.

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Stacey Frith-Smith October 24, 2013 at 11:10 am

I really don’t know what passengers can do to make up for the singular lack of service from airlines today. Those who bring their own choice of food and drink on board can hardly be blamed, although I see the OP’s very valid caveat that some smells are just noxious when experienced secondhand. It may be incumbent upon the passengers who have sensitive stomachs to take the precautions that OP did and add that of directing airflow through the individually adjustable fans on top so that the odor doesn’t waft in their direction. If turned on high and positioned as a barrier of sorts between the offending scent and the passenger- it should prove very helpful indeed! Essential oils like peppermint, lemon, lavender or cinnamon in very small quantity on either a tissue or small fabric square may also help for those who can stomach these fragrances as an olfactory “white noise” equivalent. The air on planes isn’t really dead unless you are on the tarmac, so “gun” your personal fan, OP, and inhale whatever your stomach can tolerate to mask the problem. But you do have my sympathy…

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kansha October 24, 2013 at 11:12 am

i’m sorry, but if a plate of sushi smells up a plane as much as a bag of mcdonald’s does, something is wrong and the sushi should definitely not be eaten. properly prepared sashimi-quality raw fish should have no ‘fishy smell’ at all.

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Erin October 24, 2013 at 11:14 am

…if your sushi smells, something has gone very, very wrong…

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WendyW October 24, 2013 at 11:18 am

I say not rude. Of course, I have been that person eating a Whopper on a flight before. With an 8 hour flight ahead of us, DH and I bought a couple burgers to take in the plane. The only grumbles we overheard were other people wishing they had done the same. Same for the lady on another flight I was on who brought 6 dozen boxes of Krispy Kremes in board. She was rude in that it took 2 overhead compartments to stow them.

I think as long as the person you are sitting next to isn’t deathly allergic and you aren’t slopping food all over, you should be able to eat what you want. For me a plane flight us misery enough, I’m at least going to eat something I enjoy.

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LovleAnjel October 24, 2013 at 11:21 am

OP, your second question – please do warn your seat mate if you feel like you might be sick! Since it is very hard to not affect those in the immediate vicinity under those circumstances, it would be very polite to warn others. Trust me, airsickness when someone less than an inch away is also their problem!

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Isabelle Murray October 24, 2013 at 11:24 am

Well and sometimes there is very little time between connecting flights and the only option to feed yourself is to grab something quick on the way to your next gate and eat on the plane. I try to be mindful of what I pick but sometimes you have slim pickings about food choices. It is bizarre, though, that the person didn’t eat the food on the plane.

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Miss-E October 24, 2013 at 11:25 am

I don’t think that bringing food you like and have paid for onto a plane is an etiquette breach. BUT if I were sitting next to you OP I would MUCH prefer you warn me that you might get sick rather than just vomit halfway through my meal. That’s a lose-lose situation right there.

Sushi doesn’t really smell. Unless its bad or cheap fish!

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Alli October 24, 2013 at 11:29 am

Non airline food is almost certainly to be on every flight. If someone is sitting next to you with a particular smelly dish, I don’t think it would be out of line to ask them to consume it before the flight takes off. Just explain that you get extremely sick your afraid the smell will make it worse. The sound and smell of someone vomiting, makes me wretch. I would much rather eat my food immediately and lessen the change of smelling your sickness mid flight.

Unfortunaly, I don’t think there is much you can do if they are in front, behind or accross from you.

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girl_with_all_the_yarn October 24, 2013 at 11:46 am

Dear OP, thank you for being one of those people who doesn’t douse themselves in perfume before getting on the plane.

I am horribly allergic to artificial fragrances, and I cannot tell you the number of times my sister – fully knowing that she would be spending several hours in a car or in the adjoining seat of an airplane with me – has put on a gallon of perfume anyway and told me to “get over it.” It’s gotten to the point where I won’t travel with her anymore.

I hate having to get on an airplane and sit next to someone who doesn’t think that their perfume will affect the people around them. It’s hard to ask someone to switch seats with you because inevitably, the perfume wearer will be insulted, and you’ll be sitting there unwell for the whole flight.

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mark October 24, 2013 at 11:47 am

I think you are kidding yourself if expect other people to go hungry for four hours just because you get airsick. I think it would be definitely rude for you to complain about the burger and fries. A burger and fries aren’t that bad as fair as smell goes anyways. If you have a food allergy to the food like a a peanut allergy. By all means let them know.

I mean you can turn this on its head. Maybe the etiquette problem in this case isn’t the person eating their food, but rather a person who is likely to throw up because someone is eating their lunch. Maybe the correct etiquette in this situation is for that person not to fly. (I’m not completely serious here, but if the standard is that someone is inconveniencing you by their lunch choice, then the same standard should be applied to you inconveniencing them by your airsickness.)

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Calli Arcale October 24, 2013 at 11:57 am

McDonald’s is so ubiquitous that you’re really just going to have to get used to occasionally smelling that. With meals no longer served on board, people have to either eat in the terminal or eat on the plane or go hungry. Especially business travelers, who often have tight connections or are jumping straight from the office to the airport. The airplane may be the longest stretch of time that they are actually able to sit down that day. Would it be better if you didn’t have to smell it? Sure. It would also be better if you had more legroom and armroom, so you weren’t bumping into each other with every movement, and the guy in front of you wasn’t reclining his seat into your lap. But this might be the only sleep he’s gotten in the past 40 hours, or he may have medicated himself to allow him to sleep through the flight instead of vomiting through it; either way, yes, it inconveniences you, but it’s just part of the general “fun” of airline travel, and you will have to tolerate it.

Airliners force us into one another’s comfort zones. There is just no way around that, I’m afraid. We can all do our part to try to minimize the discomfort we cause our fellow sardines in the can, but we also have to accept that some discomfort is going to happen anyway. It’s a bummer, but there it is.

That said, when it comes to McDonald’s, my preferred practice whenever possible is to get through airport security well before my flight, allowing me time to eat in the terminal before boarding. It’s not that I don’t like eating on the plane; it’s that I like to have everything securely stowed in my carry on luggage at the time of boarding, and though the gentleman in the story was able to put his burger into his bag (ewwwwww), I’ve always got mine much too tightly packed for that. ;-) I don’t want to have to juggle a bag of food, a drink, and my luggage. I have occasionally brought a meal onto the plane, usually when lunchtime fell during the layover and there just wasn’t time to eat it before boarding. But I try to avoid that when possible.

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MightHaveMissedSomething October 24, 2013 at 12:02 pm

I’d definitely pull out an e-hell classic to shut you down if you asked me to throw out perfectly good food because you didn’t make better arrangements to mitigate your own (and well documented) stomach issues.

You: Please don’t eat your food, the smell may make me throw up.
Me: I’m afraid that will not be possible.

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Jinx October 24, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Even if it was only a short flight, we don’t really know the rest of the other passenger’s story… maybe he didn’t have time to eat and was rushed before boarding and starved (but saw OP looking green and stashed his food). Maybe this flight was only part of a long series of legs, and he thought he should get food while he could, because he might not have time between his next flights, so he was saving it.

While I agree that certain smells are terrible (body odor, tuna sandwiches), I think that most people wouldn’t think much about bringing mcdonald’s onto a plane (especially considering the few options available in an airport).

I agree that the best scenario would be for the OP to ask the flight attendants for assistance finding a new seat. I mean, even if the person sitting next to you did have terrible BO, it’s really the only thing you can do.

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Vermin8 October 24, 2013 at 12:08 pm

I do sympathize with OP (my personal problem is someone who has been smoking). However, if the 4 hours coincides with a meal time then eating early or waiting may not be the best choice for many people, even if they don’t have a particular health problem like diabetes.
And about the turkey sandwich – ironically I remember being in an airport looking for a sandwich to eat for lunch. I found one turkery sandwich at an airport deli – 2 slices of regular bread, a couple slices of regular lunchmeat turkey that could be purchased in a grocery store with no condiments (and they said they couldn’t provide any when I asked). The price was $6-8 (American – don’t remember the exact price but it was in that range). To put that in perspective for non Americans I could have made the same sandwich from ingredients purchases at a grocery store for less than $1. I could have bought 2 Mickey D’s burgers outside the airport for $2 (it would have cost more in the airport but no where near the sandwich’s price) – and the burgers would have filled me where the sandwich would not have.

So I agree with previous posters that your best option would have been to let a stewardess know that his food was making you ill and was there another seat?

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gellchom October 24, 2013 at 12:12 pm

This discussion reminds me of a routine by the comedian Louis C. K. He was commenting on all the complaints people have about air travel: “The seats are too crowded!” “I have to pay to check my bag and for my meal!” “I hate going through security!” “There isn’t enough room for my carryon in the overhead compartment!”
His response: “YOU ARE FLYING!!! You are sitting on a chair 35,000 feet in the sky! You are going across a continent in 5 hours! And you’re whining about that you had to pay for a sandwich?”

It’s conventional to complain about the inconveniences of air travel. Rise above conventionality. Get some perspective and remember that this is transportation — miraculous transportation — not a spa. If you are so sensitive that you simply can’t bear it, pay for a business class ticket.

In the OP’s case, I agree with most of the other posters: no, it’s not rude for people to bring food or wear perfume on airplanes, and the thing to do here would have been to ask the flight attendant if you could move at least temporarily, or, if that’s not possible, warn your seatmate with the food — nicely (“I’m so sorry, but I’m afraid I get airsick very easily, especially if I smell food.”).

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