Tough But Fair
Posted on February 19, 2010 Posted by John Scalzi 70 Comments
Dude kicked off a flight because he was too smelly. And you know what? If you reek so bad that more than just the people next to you notice, that’s not at all unreasonable. You’re all in a flying tube with recycled air for hours. Other people shouldn’t have to marinate in your feculence.
I’ve been on a couple of flights in my time that could have benefited from this policy, I’ll tell you that.
Now if only this can be applied to conventions…
If only the New York MTA had this policy.
A tip to people visiting The Big Apple – if all of the subway cars on a train but one have a good sized crowd in them, but one car has only a single person in it, don’t get in that car.
You know where I’d like this rule applied? Elevators. At my job, they should even post a sign in the corporate gym – “No person may ride the elevators at BigHugeCo facilities after workout until they’ve showered.”
The scary thing is I work in an office, and if you get a good crowd in an elevator, there’s at least one person who leaves everyone else holding their breath.
Many conventions programs do remind people to shower (and eat, and sleep).
LO! @ #2. As a fellow New Yorker who takes the 4 train to work every day, I can unfortunately vouche for that statement.
And I’ll add: If you see a crowded subway car but one bench onboard is suspiciously devoid of occupants . . . there is a reason for it. And chances are good you don’t want to know that reason, so stay far away.
Feculence, what a word!
At its most basic, simplest, and easy-to-understand level, this is one reason doctrinaire Libertarianism doesn’t work—no one is an island, isolated from others.
(I know, this may sound like a stretch—but at the basis of a lot of screeching Libertarian schtick is the battlecry that individuals have the right to live any damn way they choose, irrespective of what other people think or feel.)
We all more or less live in each other’s bailywicks (sp?)
I was recently on a flight where a passenger was kicked off for cussing at the flight attendant. Apparently he (the passenger) had been a jerk to all the boarding personal, and when the flight attendant asked him to turn off his phone he replied, “Why don’t you get the f*ck off my back?” They booted him off immediately. It was awesome.
Provided they throw the woman off sitting in a cloud of lavender perfume, and the guy who clearly showers with Axe or Old Spice, then I can buy into this.
If someone can be kicked off for offending people, without threatening them in any practical sense, then you are heading into a bad area. Assuming the person was not showing symptoms of being a biological hazard, I am not thrilled with the idea of having someone thrown off for that reason. How many other annoying things do people do on flights that don’t result in expulsion? Can a baby be thrown off a plane? Someone who is suffering from intenstinal problems? Someone who has a medical condition that creates an odor?
As for the other examples, I can see the swearing guy getting booted off a plane because you are going to be isolated from help and he might become a safety hazard. However, the subway comments indicate you don’t think the poor/homeless have the same rights to travel as you do. If someone is waving a knife around or slapping people, OK avoid him or get security. However, some people just don’t have access to hygeine facilities. If I have to tolerate some business jerk talking on his phone and people listening to rap/bollywood showtunes at such high volume on their headphones that I can understand the lyrics, then let the homeless guy shout and smell all he likes.
Chris @9: I completely agree. There are people whose scent makes my eyes water and they probably are an actual health hazard to people with some allergies.
John Scalzi @ 4:
I’ve sometimes heard this referred to as “missing the middle twenty” (or thirty or forty), as a reference to a supposed gap in someone’s otherwise presumed adequate-to-high IQ.
(Yes, I know, that doesn’t technically make any sense, and IQ is only a very rough approximation of intelligence, but it’s just a colloquialism, ‘kay?)
“If someone can be kicked off for offending people, without threatening them in any practical sense, then you are heading into a bad area.”
Eh. A plane is not a forum for individual expression, it’s a method of transportation. If you’re telling the plane personnel to fuck off or stink so badly that people around you are getting nauseated, I don’t think it’s out of line to bump you off. We can argue where the line is, of course, and there are times when the power to remove people is used capriciously and stupidly (see the recent fracas with Kevin Smith being kicked off a Southwest flight). But in the end I’m comfortable with the flight crew determining who can and can’t be on a flight.
Now we only need to implement this on buses and trains.
(Extra points for kicking off people who smell like a burning tobacco factory.)
I recall one year on my way to GenCon, I was bombarded by the odor of a nearby gamer in the terminal. I knew he was a gamer because he was wearing a gamer shirt. My initial though was, ‘Dude, it’s fucking Wednesday, and you already smell like that! I can only imagine what your stench will be like at 2pm on Sunday.” Fortunately, i was not seated near Mr. Foul Body Odor on the plane. I’m still amazed that he felt no need to bathe or apply deoderant on the day he’d be traveling across the country via plane. But then, gamers are known for their social ineptitude.
If someone is odoriforous because of a medical complaint, then they should carry a note from their doctor to show staff to prevent being removed from public transport. If you genuinely can’t help it, you should not be discriminated against.
But if you are stinky because you don’t bathe or wash your clothes it’s a whole nother issue.
I had to travel on a Canberra bus several mornings in a row with an elderly gentleman who smelled like he’d just crapped his pants. He wore the same clothes every day. He stank out the whole bus to the point that the driver would open the doors in transit to try to blow the smell out. People would go to get on the bus at later stops, take a sniff, and decide to wait for the next bus, even if it meant being late for work. Eventually, after about 4 days, the driver just refused to let him on the bus any more. Passengers cheered.
I had to work with a guy like that. I have no idea how he got hired. He was a body builder and was convinced that “chicks dig the pheromones in sweat” and so never showered after workouts. (Or ever, it smelled like.) How he squared this behavior with his complete lack of success with women, I have no idea.
Having worked in San Francisco for 15 years, I am well familiar with the “homeless guy” smell. That is nothing compared to this guy. I’ve done the thirty minute train ride sitting next to the homeless guy before, but five minutes across a conference table from this guy had me ready to pass out.
For some reason, he was at the top of the list when layoffs hit.
Your freedom to move your hand ends at the tip of my nose… and so does your freedom to avoid bathing and/or sluice yourself with Chanel/Brut knockoff, in my opinion. Dumping this guy wasn’t an incidence of the Tyranny of the Majority, but rather a defense against the Tyranny of the One.
Dunno. A lot of the smelliest flight passengers are long-haul flyers, crossing several time zones. The best airports have showers for flyers. They don’t all have them, I don’t think. I don’t love being stuck next to someone who’s on their way to the midwest from Asia via Amsterdam and smells like it too, but it isn’t really their fault.
I think every house needs a built in stench-o-meter which informs these nasty people they need a serious bath, and time with some industrial strength deodorant before they even consider leaving the house. Ick. gross…
Oddly, given time, this problem should breed itself out of the human population, unless there is a sufficiently large number of females who, for some reason, prefer to breed with such individuals. I will not comment on their preferences, but sincerely recommend professional help.
I live in Germany, where there is a large enough portion of the population who has not caught on to the idea of improving relations with their fellows by masking odors that might be offensive to ensure that I meet enough of them. I’ve even taken the risk of asking them if they are aware that such usage alleviates the problem, and the reaction is invariably quite hostile. I’ve been lectured by several individuals on the evils of doing such, as such materials must be tested on animals, and hence anyone who uses deodorants is a horrible, nasty fluffy bunny killer who deserves to rot in hell.
They fail to understand that those fluffy little bunnies were bred to serve that purpose, and would not have existed otherwise. For such individuals, their moral superiority in not supporting the state-monopoly-capitalistic-bunny-murderer-system defeats any counter-arguments.
They still stink. But it’s a natural stink. Completely without animal testing and completely ignorant of the fact that there’s plenty of deodorant out there that doesn’t involved the slaughter of helpless, fluffy bunny rabbits.
Me, I want them pummeled. It’s particularly nice to go to a restaurant and then lose your appetite because someone comes in and sits down who smells so bad that your entire body says “run for the hills”…
So would a plane with a majority of vegetarians be allowed to kick off someone who smelled like they’d just been hitting the In-N-Out Burger before they came to the airport?
@19 – I agree with you that many long-haul flyers don’t always have a choice when it comes to their body odour. However, in this particular case, the guy was getting on a plane leaving from Charlottetown P.E.I., which is a tiny airport in an equally small city (it only has a population 0f 32,174, according to the Wiki page). There may be a very slim chance that he was connecting from another flight through Charlottetown, and thus didn’t have time to clean himself up a bit, but I really doubt it.
Keri @ 15:
I think I know that guy; or at least someone just like him. Tell him the next time you see him that he owes me money ;-)
Lillith @ 16:
This being a Jazz flight, they would be governed by the Canadian Human Rights Code. This is definitely not what it would say.
My gut tells me that this was not an issue of someone who smelled because of a medical condition. That could potentially get Jazz slapped with a Human Rights Complaint and Air Canada, their corporate overlord, has been hit with more than a few by passengers.
Having said that barring disability, if a person on a flight smells really bad, then the flight has a legitimate reason to deplane the illegitimate person until they shower.
For the reasons set out (very eloquently) by PrivateIron, the considerations might be a little different on Public transit.
The homeless fly.
Social services has been known to bus or fly their problem homeless to other states. They call ahead to check out and insure services. Make it another state’s problem.
Hawaii’s got some of the highest cost of living out of all the states.
I believe it takes a certain level of stink to get yourself kicked off a flight. As a resident of the True North, however, I think you have to achieve a significant level of ultra-stink, possibly even meta-stink in order to offend a plane load of Canadians to the point where they’d actually complain enough to get you kicked off.
Truly the world is full of (unfortunate) wonders.
The whole issue of smell is very subjective. I find many people to be offensive to my nose. It is not just perfume/aftershave, it is the soap they use on themselves and their clothes, it is the beer they drink, and it is the dried plant material they inhale. And don’t get me started on body scents from being pregnant, not being pregnant, lactating, feeling threatened, trying to be dominant or just being horney. People stink.
And I have been on the other side of it with my employment being threatened because people complained about me. And the funny thing is that I have been to doctors who could not do anything because they could find no order. A vet friend of mine once speculated that my problems were all pheremone-based. She thought I smelled like an un-neutered tom cat and that many of the hostile reactions to me were because I was a challenge to the status quo. This idea also explained why some women, and many cats, found me very attractive.
BTW, before any one says anything, I do shower at least once a day and wash my clothing.
Excellent. I hope “they” keep going in this direction.
John @ 13
“But in the end I’m comfortable with the flight crew determining who can and can’t be on a flight.”
I’m a little skittish of such pronouncements since last month when a flight from LaGuardia in New York to Louisville, Kentucky made an emergency landing in Philadelphia because the flight attendants were worried that one of the passengers – a late teens man of Eastern Mediterranean decent – was praying too loudly and kept fumbling with small boxes that appeared to be strapped to his body… It was a Jewish man and his phylacteries saying his morning prayers.
He was flying on Jazz Air? I thought it would be BOAC. As in “What awful BO! Somebody turn on the AC!”
The most deliciously perfect word I’ve seen all year.
Scalzi, thou art like unto a god!
Or one of those word-using guys…damn, what are they called? Wait, it’ll come to me…
Conventions may remind the members to eat, sleep, and shower, but how many seem to think that the 5/2/1 Rule doesn’t apply to them?
As for the Kevin Smith thing, that is going to come back to bite Southwest on the ass — if it isn’t already. The difference between removing Kevin Smith and removing your average overweight (in their eyes) flyer is that someone like Kevin Smith has the ability to call attention to Southwest’s policy with far more ease. The average flyer might file a lawsuit; Kevin Smith can try them in the court of public opinion much quicker, and without having to hire an attorney.
“I live in Germany, where there is a large enough portion of the population who has not caught on to the idea of improving relations with their fellows by masking odors that might be offensive to ensure that I meet enough of them.”
This is one of the few downsides of the anti-smoking crusade. Tobacco smoke masks *a lot*. Without tobacco smoke in the air, you can smell everything else, including the few really vile-smelling people.
I was once stuck on the Eurostar in front of a man who was, well, fragrant. Dressed impeccably, but oh my did he smell. I had the impression that rather than bathe, he just used cologne to cover up the smell and the result was body odor overlayed with an obnoxious floral scent. Hard to describe, impossible to forget. I discreetly found an attendant and asked if there was a way to move, but the train was apparently full. It was suggested that I try the bar car. Also packed. I wanted to cry, it was so bad. So yeah, I don’t have a problem with this.
Eh. A plane is not a forum for individual expression, it’s a method of transportation.
You’re quite right, John. Airlines are also part of a highly-competitive, narrow-margin (allegedly) service-based industry.
Now, I’ve got no problem being bounced from a flight if I’m (say) verbally or physically abusive, or lose my mind and make a gag about my Semtex undies being too tight.
But, personally, I’m offended by the smell of people who think perfume/cologne has to be shared with the whole damn room. (And believe you me, when a twenty-year chain smoker like me is nauseated by the Chanel reek from the other side of the aisle, I can’t be the only one who notices.)
Babies and small children? Don’t even get me started…
BTW, John, I’m a nervous flier. I sweat — a lot. You might find that offensive (and I do carry a clean shirt and vest if a change is necessary), but I’d change places with you in a heartbeat.
Glarkware needs to make more of their “courtesy cards” for this situation. They had stfu cards you could hand to noisy people as you left the movie theater.
Anthony@33: I dunno. Tobacco is one of my own personal top three offensive smells. And when it’s the stink of stale tobacco permeating a person’s breath and clothing it goes straight to the top of the list.
#7 Mark – I too have wondered about that, so here you go:
“BAILIWICK – In general use, ‘bailiwick’ has come to mean your own province, particularly one in which experience or knowledge gives you special authority or freedom to act. However, it has had a very definite legal sense for centuries: the area of jurisdiction of a bailiff (sheriff’s assistant). It goes back to Middle English ‘bailie,’ meaning ‘bailiff,’ and ‘wick,’ meaning ‘village.’ If you trace the origin of bailiff back to Latin, the poor chap suffers a loss in dignity since ‘bailiff’ is derived from ‘bajalus,’ the Latin word for ‘porter.'” From the “Morris Dictionary of Word and Phrase Origins” by William and Mary Morris (HarperCollinsPublishers, New York, 1977).
I cringe at the thought of a flight to Europe (8 hours) or Japan (12 hours) next to someone whose idea of hygiene is a shower once a week, whether they need it or not.
When all else fails, a small amount of Vick Vapor-rub just under the nose, goes a long way to mask such odors.
Mark at 7: You misunderstand Libertarianism at a very fundamental level. Being able to do what you like is a two way street. The passenger has no obligation to bathe but the airline company has no obligation to transport him.
Libertarianism philosophy is to limit the power of government, not that of individuals.
Anton at 18: Well put.
Sounds similair to the complaints about fat people & airplanes. Technology to the rescue: when you book a flight you can indicate whether you mind sitting next to fat and/or smelly people. The computer can assign seats (and even re-assign them if there are complaints during boarding).
I expect a large difference between the number of people who claim they don’t mind, and the number of people taking the non-fatty non-smelly option (esp. after the first category has been wedged between two fatties on a couple of flights).
“However, the subway comments indicate you don’t think the poor/homeless have the same rights to travel as you do.”
They’re not TRAVELING.
They’re using a rolling shelter.
The reality is, the airline had to balance one passenger’s rights against the near-certainty of a plane full of upset people. In other words: By allowing ‘stinky’ on the plane, the crew would be dealing with something that would escalate into an angry mob, with no means to disperse or mollify them, for a good part of the day.
A distracted flight crew and rising passenger tensions on an airplane is a recipe for trouble in one form or another. It’s that simple.
They didn’t make the ‘right’ choice. They made the only reasonable choice they had.
The comparison with homeless on a subway, er, stinks. On a subway you can walk away from the problem, or even to another car. Which is exactly what people do, as a couple of earlier commenters correctly pointed out. (Subway riders are NOT trapped in a confined area for HOURS, either. Their trips are much shorter.) At worst, you get off at the next stop and wait for another train. Or a cab. None of those options exists on the plane.
The clown reflexively posturing about the guy’s “rights” is the sort who is deliberately blind to the inevitable reality of the (bad/disruptive/dangerous) behavior of the other passengers if confined (trapped) with this guy. He also could care less about the legitimate concerns of those responsible for the welfare of the passengers on the flight. All he cares about is posing as a Morally Superior Person on a website for a few seconds.
@ 31 Andrew: lexiphanes
This could explain the half-full flights in and out of Berkeley, Portland and Santa Fe.
My goodness, the hysteria and rage. The pummeling and kicking and tossing and banning at the smell of an unwashed human.
You’d think that we’d all been squeaky clean and odorless for the past 6000 years, instead of seeing anything more than the Saturday night bath or the regular use of deodorants come into common use in the past 100 years or so.
I wonder how the human race ever grew so numerous, what with all the women running in horror from smelly men for almost all of our existence.
Maybe I now want to fly SouthWest, to avoid larger fellow passengers? They will be doing the job removing them!
“The pummeling and kicking and tossing and banning at the smell of an unwashed human.”
Heh. I don’t think the issue was the fellow was unwashed. I think the issue was that the fellow was apparently actively fermenting. It’s a slightly different thing.
Bill Quick @ 46
Humanity is safe…
I have made many long international flights and always kept a small deodorant in my carryon. I don’t think I can do that now. Last month I traveled to San Juan behind a man with the worst flatulence I have encountered in many years. My frau was getting sick from the smell. I turned all the air jets forward to blow his smells back to him or to someone else. Once, returning from Gatwick to St. Louis, I gave my business class seat to my wife, and took her seat in coach. I had a morbidly obese woman sitting half on my lap the whole time. I don’t think superfat people should fly unless they buy the extra seat (as in Southwest airlines) or buy a business class seat. I don’t want your flab in my lap.
Took a red eye from LA to the east coast during an airline workers strike years ago. Door was just getting ready to close when a group of what appeared to be migrant farm workers boarded.
And me sitting with a center seat between two empty seats…watching two of these guys walk down the aisle and seeing people in the aisle seats lean away from them to escape the fetid stench following them made me want to run to the back of the plane.
That was quite a flight, seated between these two. If I’d known how to speak Spanish, I’d have inquired what possessed them to think that rolling around in sheep dung and then boarding a plane was a good idea.
what is the over under that the ACLU will help this guy sue the airline? Smelling badly can be argued to be a first ammendment right?
As it happened in Canada, I would suspect the ACLU will not be involved in any way.
1. I sat On a 4-hour flight next to a young man of Indian or Pak descent and de-scent (sorry) was so heinous I couldn’t get it off me despite not actually coming into direct contact with him. He was a nice man and all, clearly educated and possessing good manners otherwise. I nearly wretched though and could still smell it onmy hair, washed jacket, etc the day after. I didn’t complain at the time frankly b/. He was nice and I considered the liklihood that the airline would do anything as nil. So the smell seemed like a cultural norm to me, not an individual lapse.
2. Screw Kevin whatshisname. Big fat baby. The flight attendant was a hero. This guy is a bully with a megaphone, typical Hollywood BS. Screw him.
3. While smell is subjective, there are ways to calibrate people for skill in being objective. It’s too simplistic to say it’s Just subjective.
4. Iove the ‘courtesy card’ idea for safely communicating things like this without unnecessarily embarassing people or risking unwise confrontation.
Damn that hygiene-sanitation industrial complex! What have they ever done for us… besides extending life by decades and improving health by orders of magnitude?!?! I tell you, its the inherent fascism of middle-class bourgeois noses! Down with smellism!
Re the Kevin Smith situation: What a lot of people aren’t reporting is that he evidently did buy two seats for his original flight “for comfort” because of his girth, but then took a seat–a single seat–on standby to catch an earlier flight. He was then booted from that flight after flight attendance considered his presence in the single seat to be a safety risk. (Linked here, among other places: http://blog.nj.com/jerseyblogs/2010/02/kevin_smith_vs_southwest_airli.html)
So if he’d just been patient enough to wait for his original flight, none of this would have happened.
(And yes, I’m a Kevin too, but obviously not that one.)
@44 Simon: Good word! But I was just screwing around; the punchline is “Oh yeah…’writers’. “
As a current smoker who keeps trying to quit, one of my biggest difficulties is the incredible stench of some people and public places. I endeavor to not offend-I don’t blow smoke in people’s faces, I bathe, wash my clothes-but I find myself lighting up in self defense. I’ll try using Vick’s Salve as a shield next time-every bit helps. But in all seriousness, I don’t know how non-smokers can stand the stink!
Not true. Yes, he often buys two seats. It has nothing to do with his “girth”. You are adding to his own words on this.
These are cheap flights and he likes to have space next to him. Doesn’t mean he can’t fit in a seat.
Big difference. Pardon the pun.
I agree with you 100%. Personal hygiene is such a basic part of courtesy and common sense that I fail to comprehend how anyone can neglect it. Like anyone else with a normal childhood, I was taught the importance of personal hygiene by the time I was, say, 10 years old. Neglecting personal hygiene is inexcusable.
“Heh. I don’t think the issue was the fellow was unwashed. I think the issue was that the fellow was apparently actively fermenting. It’s a slightly different thing.”
I suppose it’s possible, John. But as an ex-smoker (ten years now, yay, me), I grew accustomed to the sort of “smellist” hysteria that would see somebody coming up from ten feet away in a park to yell at me that my evil smoke was choking him to death. I’ve also had folks at work complain loudly that my one spritz of Prada cologne was causing them to experience near heart stoppage.
I grew up in a different time, when folks weren’t quite so professionally sensitive and outraged. My great uncle was a farmer, and in the summers I sometimes helped out. So after dealing with hog wallows, outhouses in an Indiana August, and other such smells, I guess I view with a somewhat jaundiced eye the cries that some human’s body odor is a deadly assault on human senses.
I think what bothers me most about this thread is the barely concealed whiff of hysteria about offensive odors that is wafting through it. In fact, I suspect that many of these folks think that there oughta be a law….
I love that. Great points, Bill Quick.
Well, not everybody likes tonka beans…
The perils of travel in “The Nanny State”
More & more people are never taught
personal responsibility, and respect
If you’ve recently eaten some beans
To travel you’ll need other means
The reason in part
Is that if you fart
It can bring on some ugly scenes
Illegitimi nOn carborundum
I was on a flight and went to the bathroom, where someone had been ill. I mentioned it to the flight attendant in hopes that they could do something about the air. She said “I have some coffee here,” and waved an unused filter pack of grounds under my nose.
The bad smell was completely gone out of my nose.
It’s a great trick for a bad situation.
A fellow I worked with had an aroma of … say he ate five pounds of Limburger cheese and then barfed on himself and crapped his pants at once. He had no clue. He was so used to it that he thought that everyone else was crazy and out to get him. In other words, our gross was his normal. There are people like that out there, and they are a definite menace to civilized people, if not civilization itself. The flight crew did the right thing, by God, and the airline should add this event to its procedure. Thank you.
#61 Bill Quick – I was a zookeeper for a while, and I can pretty much deal with any stink you can find. When you have been urinated on by non-human primates, llamas and lions; cleaned up after tigers with diarrhea, and the other various and assorted bodily fluids and solids that only large, exotic animals can produce; it takes a lot to make you cringe. Body odor in and of itself is not offensive to me. However, I have found myself (as in the Eurostar incident) in situations where it was not so much an odor, as a combination of odors that left me physically ill.
While yes, it would be nice if we were all much more tolerant, there is a limit to what one should have to endure. My ill fated train ride left me with a migraine, which was not what I was hoping for on my first day in Paris. Think also of the folks traveling on business who would prefer not to walk into a business situation with second hand stink. Why is it that everyone else has to deal with the quirks of one individual?
If you know anybody in the airline/aviation industry, ask them about this one. They’ll tell you this has happened many times before. Still, this guy must have really really stunk. He wasn’t on any long marathon series of flights either — the farthest you can fly from Charlottetown is probably Toronto. Although the story doesn’t say what kind of plane it was, it was probably a realtively small one, which might have something to do with the reaction of the passengers and staff. I doubt that there are any Jazz flights from PEI to the U.S. Although Jazz indeed looks good in this story, Air Canada is truly a service-challenged airline that I try to avoid.
Anybody remember the Seinfeld episode where he took his new BMW to the mechanic and it came back with “the smell?” Pretty funny. And its true that in many cases BO is a cultural thing. It is not a wealth thing.
@43 I did not make up the homeless analogy; I was reacting to other people bringing it up in previous comments. As for morally superior, as the Elliot Ness parody in the Simpsons said: if it wasn’t against the law, I’d shoot anyone who looked at me cock-eyed. And I think I listed some people who I would just as soon shove into a jet turbine as travel with. With regards to the original comment by Scalzi, he graciously allowed that we might argue where to draw the line. He drew it one place, I drew it another and 50 different people here drew it about 50 different places. When you get that kind of subjective diversity of opinion, you should stick to some objective, conservative criteria on whom you ostracize.