Have You Ever Sat Next to an Unbearably Smelly Person on Public Transportation?

I read a news report this weekend about a family who was ushered off of a flight in Miami due to smell issues. Apparently, several passengers reported their collective body odor to be unbearable, and per American Airlines guidelines, the airline asked them to leave. They were compensated with a hotel room and a flight the next day, presumably after showers and a hearty dose of deodorant.

First, I want to say that I feel sorry for the family. I was not there to smell them, so it’s certainly possible that they smelled fine and more nefarious motivations were in play. I certainly hope that was not the case.

However, I think it is possible that the other passengers were motivated by nothing other than a desire not to be stuck on an airplane for a few hours amidst a terrible odor. While the family says they thought the smelled fine, I think that’s the type of thing that you just have to take someone else’s word for.

I have a fairly sensitive nose, so I’m curious what I would do if someone sat next me or nearby whose smell I simply could not bear. While I can’t remember an exact incident, I’m sure it has happened at some point, whether it was an objectively foul odor or simply an overdose of perfume/cologne.

I’ve definitely had this happen with people I know–friends, not strangers. I’m still not sure if it was a lack of showering, an inability to wash their clothes, or something else, but I’ve never really figured out if there is a friendship-retaining way of telling them.

Have you ever had this happen to you? How did you respond? Do you think it’s justifiable for someone to be asked to leave a plane, train, bus, etc as a result of their offensive odor?


5 Responses to “Have You Ever Sat Next to an Unbearably Smelly Person on Public Transportation?”

  1. Stephen says:

    I’ve had the opposite end of the problem several times – Sat behind someone who’s perfume/cologne was strong enough that I struggled to breathe for the entire journey, and entrances to department stores in the perfume department I just can’t enter via (and some body product specialist stores at all)

  2. Candy Mercer says:

    I am also of the chemically sensitive class, I have physical reactions akin to panic attack feelings when I am by certain scents. I would ask to be moved in an airplane situation. IN personal situations, it has to be handled with very great delicacy, but has to be done. I try to keep it lowkey, and let the person have space to apologize though I do not think that is necessary if they did not know. I tell them I appreciate it, and apologize for being a “diva” trying to use some humor to lighten it, cause people do get very upset over this issue. But I HAVE to have my house scent free, chemical free, as much as possible.

    body odor…man…this one is more challenging. a plane is much different than a bus. I would still try to put it on me, i am sensitive and this is making me feel bad. I might medicate if necessary just to stay calm even though body odor is just unpleasant, it could make me nauseous under the right conditions due to my illness.

    i did have to ride the bus in the last week or so and had to sit next to someone who was very smelly. like bad. more like dirty socks than sweat. I did move as soon as i could just because it was so aversive. i dont think i got judgy – i am wondering that now – i was more concerned about me than him. and i hope my move was seen as a move toward a more comfortable seat, and not just escaping him, as he was also a large man, and i am large and there was not really room for me, so that is my story i am sticking to, but it really was the smell.

    sometimes my ex who showered all the time would wear a smelly shirt, cause synthetic fibers really hold body odor, and i would delicately point out i think his SHIRT smells, not him.

    • Jamey Stegmaier says:

      Candy: That’s a very empathetic approach to this type of situation. And that makes sense about the bus–you’re not stuck in a bus (or on a specific seat) in the same way that you are on a plane.

  3. Bob Wieman says:

    I’ve certainly been around people in business situations with overwhelming odor. There have been some public transportation situations, but either they’re cases I could just move or they weren’t too long / too extreme and I could just bear it.

    A flight, with your own family, I can see making a complaint if it were bad enough. But it’s a complicated situation.

    What if the smell is because of something out of their control? A kid throwing up, for example? I would tend not to complain then.

    It seems so subjective and so situation-dependent. Which is true of most “how much do you tolerate before you call the authorities “ questions. It’s a wonder so many plane trips go _without_ a hitch.

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