Travel etiquette tip: Don’t paint your nails on a plane

After a months-long hiatus due to pregnancy and maternity leave, I recently started traveling for work again. My first flight was not as smooth as I would have hoped, for a number of reasons (a story for a later time). Needless to say, as I finally made it to my seat I was feeling pretty flustered and anxious. That started to abate as the flight took off on time, I finally got to eat my breakfast, and I started working.

Then I noticed something smelled…off. Not bad yet, just off. I kept working, trying to ignore the building pressure behind my eyes. But soon the smell got stronger, and worse. Looking around I tried to find the source of the noxious order, noticing that the guy across the aisle was also trying to find out what was going on. A few rows up, I spotted the culprit: a woman painting her fingernails. Clearly she had no clue that she was disturbing people as she calmly painted both hands, finishing in about twenty minutes. By this time I had a raging migraine, with accompanying nausea. Not a great way to start my first business trip in months!

Friends, please, please don’t paint your nails on an airplane. I love nice-looking nails as much as the next girl, but there is a time and a place! And while I’m at it, don’t spray fragrances. Don’t even wear fragrance! There are so many people with scent sensitivities that can be completely debilitated by these thoughtless actions. When you are flying, you are sharing a small amount of space with a lot of people. Please be cognizant that your actions affect others! I know I talk about this part of travel etiquette a lot, but it seems to be happening more and more often.

For those of you with scent sensitivities like mine, keep a pashmina or scarf handy that you can breathe through to block the odor. Another suggestion—a flavored tea bag (I like mint). And of course, a bottle of Excedrin Migraine!

Readers, have you experienced any crazy smells while flying lately? How did you handle it?

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  1. I shudder to admit I did this when I was 20 years younger. I was completely unaware of how bad it must have smelled. I cringe when I remember it.

  2. I agree that anything nails related on an airplane should not be done. Painting, clipping, chewing, etc. However, to tell people not to wear perfume is stupid. What would you rather have? A plane full of B.O.? Your premise doesn’t sound bad on a 6AM flight when everyone just showered, but what about an 8PM flight out of EWR in the summer? I will gladly take right guard, any cologne, perfume, or other “nice” smell than the stench of B.O.

  3. When that happened on a small regional jet, the flight attendant immediately approached the woman and told her to stop — thank goodness!

  4. @Captain Kirk that is a reasonable question. However, while BO obviously doesn’t smell nice, it doesn’t trigger migraines for me the same way chemical scents do. So if I have to pick one over the other, I pick BO. I must have been lucky though because it’s been rare for me to smell so much that I actively notice it. Scents, on the other hand, can affect me five or ten rows away.

  5. I had an entire bottle of black nail polish thrown on my back one time in an airport. I was sitting at the gate minding my own business, and the woman behind me was letting her 4-5 year old play with nail polish. Not sure how it happened, but the whole bottle ended up on my back, soaking through and ruining both shirts I was wearing. Airports/planes, nail polish and small children do not mix well!

  6. I too was on a plane on which a woman starting to polishing her nails. A flight attendant immediately told her to stop. Nail polish is evil!

  7. I get a instant migraine when exposed to strong smells. There are alot of us that get very sick from smells. I can’t walk down the laundry detergent and fabric softener aisle in the grocery store without getting nauseous and a migraine. The nail polish would have made me sick too.

  8. @CaptainKirk FYI, perfume does not cancel out BO. Quality deodorant (not Lynx!) or anti-perspirant or a shower is the only solution. What you get when person tries to cover it with scent is a nasty, rotten fug.

  9. Grow up. I agree with the nail painting-why slosh solvents around in a plane?- but I wear perfume daily and am not about to stop when I fly just because someone 7 rows down might dislike it. Stop being so bloody self-absorbed. Take a migraine pill and stop whining. I have sat next to enough PAX farting every 5 mins to need the perfume. Americans have become a nation of princesses obsessed by peas. It takes all sorts to make a world. I am sick of being seated next to self absorbed whiners if it comes to that. Oh and don’t dignify it by calling it an “allergy” when in fact a sensitivity to smells is NOT an allergy. To a biologist this is utterly maddening.

  10. Wow, just when I thought I’d heard it all. Can’t even believe someone would do this. If someone was next to me doing this I would have to say something. How rude!

  11. Seriously??? There are a lot things people have issues with, but sensitivity to your nose is one no one cares about! There are millions of odors that offend people, so would you like to list those and be a nazi police of what people shouldn’t do and wear????? Yea, the dude next to , .like he hasn’t bathed im.days, so I tell him don’t fly? Get over yourself and deal with it! So what, the woman painted her nails, sheeesh! Mayb you shouldn’t come out in public because God knows what’s going to offend you! And dont wear fragrances on the plane?????? Why because you have a sensitive nose…NO ONE CARES!

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