Travel etiquette tip: Please, please, please don’t wear fragrance on planes.

patchouliThis week I flew Delta for the first time in like fifteen years. (It was weird yet fine, but that will be a post for a different day.) As I was walking down the jetbridge, wondering what the flight would be like, I heard something tinkling in front of me. It took me a moment, but I realized it was the lady in front of me. She had tiny bells on her belt, and they jingled every step she took. It was actually kind of cute, and since she was probably ten feet in front of me wasn’t super annoying. A few steps later, I realized something else was emanating from that lady—the super strong scent of patchouli. For those of you that are unfamiliar, it is hard to describe except to say that it is a pungent, powerful, earthy scent. Unfortunately for me, this type of fragrance, especially patchouli, gives me instant headaches. Like, bam. Headache.

I prayed as I got on the plane that she wasn’t sitting next to me, because if that were the case I would be sick the rest of the day. Turns out that she was about seven rows behind me. Once I sat down and took some ibuprofen, my headache subsided and I forgot about her. Until that moment when the plane switched over to its own power, the lights dimmed and the air stopped blowing. It lasted only about 20 seconds, but in that short time I could smell the patchouli again. This time it wasn’t just me—people all around me were suddenly sneezing, and I heard the lady behind me saying, “What in the world is that smell??” As soon as the air started I couldn’t smell it anymore, thank goodness. But man I feel for the people in her immediate vicinity.

While I’ve said it before, this definitely bears repeating. Please, please, please don’t wear fragrance while flying. It can literally make other people ill, especially in such close quarters. There would have been no possible way I could sit next to someone wearing that much scent for a flight. And I know several people who are even more sensitive than I am. Personal expression is great, but when you are traveling with a hundred people in a very small space, please be cognizant of others’ personal space.

Readers, ever experienced anything like this?



  1. Worse. I once was seated next to someone with such intense body odor that I thought I wasn’t going to be able to breathe. Luckily, it was awhile ago – when planes weren’t so full – and I discretely asked to be moved. I still haven’t forgotten that overpowering truly awful smell.

  2. Please announve your allergies before boarding. My family of 4 took a JETBLUE flight for a Spring vacation. Immediately after boarding we gave peanut candy to my kids. Some of the candy went on my son’s shirt and pants.
    The cabin doors closed and the cabin crew announced it would be a peanut free flight because a passenger had an allergy. I pointed out my son’s shirt and the cabin crew began a conference with their medical headquarters. They asked us if we could deplane and I told them I would gladly do so at our destination. The allergic passenger flat out refused. We were then told to remove my 12 year old son’s shirt and pants, wipe him down with alcohol wipes and have his clothing travel in a sealed plastic bag.
    Amazingly, upon arrival, the allergic passenger was asked to remain seated till we had deplaned but, NO, the allergy was no longer a concern because she had to rush to her Motel.

  3. I get an instant migraine headache when I smell any type of perfume, cologne, cigarette smoke or the strongly scented laundry detergent or fabric softener. If the smell lingers I get very nauseated.

  4. Many years ago, I was on a flight next to a woman wearing strong perfume. I had a migraine during the flight, and was basically just shallowly breathing and waiting for the flight to end. Unfortunately, when we landed there was some issue that caused us to have to sit on the runway for over three hours. It was hot and they weren’t circulating the air. I spent much of that time dry heaving. It was one of my worst flying experiences.

  5. It is pushed on us in airport duty-free and inflight, I always spray some on before a flight to distance myself from other odors in the cabin. Try some balm under your nose that will assist you in smelling perfume.

  6. Finger nail polish on a flight is about as bad as any of the perfume. I don’t have allergies to perfume very much but in closed quarters it can be bad. Body Odor can be worse however.

  7. The lady behind me wash putting on finger nail polish. I talked to her about strong smells (and semi-flammable liquids) in small places. She seemed genuinely surprised it was a problem.

  8. Argh one of my worst hates. That and bad BO and death breath. Often though, I think the worst smells are caused not by not showering, but by not washing clothes often enough – particularly in warm weather.

  9. I agree with all of the smell issues – perfume, cologne and general body odor. But do not forget people who use body wash, strong smelling shampoo or that all-in-one crap that men use now because some female told them it smells good. It doesn’t and that gives me a headache as well.

    However, the very worse situation I faced were flight attendants (twice – one female, one male) who wore scents. And the guy kept going by my area at least every five minutes and at one point had touched the side of my seat. I was really sick by the time we landed.

    You would think THEY would know better, but no!

  10. Agghh – flight attendants wearing scent is the worst. This is an instant migraine trigger for me.

    I once wrote to United about it, and received a very tepid reply.

  11. Bring on the body odour please. In consideration of those with allergies and asthma please refrain from wearing scented products when flying. Your scented deodorant gets stronger and stronger when we all sit together and it gets warm on the plane.

  12. I can not stand the smell of patchouli, it reminds me of every stoner from my high school

    Do wear a fragrance-free or light-fragrance deodorant, but leave the eau de parfum in your bag

  13. Yes! You are absolutely right, thank you for raising this.

    Fragrance causes me breathing difficulties, sometimes migraines, facial paralysis and loss of speech. Body odour doesn’t, so I’d prefer someone was a bit stinky than for perfumes and aftershaves that make me very unwell.

    It’s an easy thing for people not to do, and very difficult to avoid on planes. Go fragrance-free please!

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