I’ve got this selfish guilty pleasure. No two ways about it, it’s simply not nice: I fart on airplanes. Routinely. In fact, there are times I go out of my way to fart on airplanes. If you’ve ever been around one of my kind, I understand how that might make you feel: disgusted, confused, outraged, demanding answers.
Why would someone do that, you ask? Hard to say, really. But, it’s probably simply that an aircraft cabin is the ideal location for clandestine flatulence. Proximity renders the amount of potential transgressors unusually high—as many as 10 possible guilty parties per given seat assignment. Plus, that profoundly subtle droning of flight and cabin pressure essentially knocks out auditory perception. The offender generally has fart blanche, as they say.
And, of course, there is the captivity. No, there is no escaping. There is only the bathroom, which, I would be remiss not to say, will do little to assuage olfactory hardship. Sure, evacuating the aircraft is an option, but rarely an attractive one. You’re pretty, pretty, pretty much stuck.
Given the above, there really is no comparison. As Sinatra said, in reference to farting on airplanes, it’s rarified air up there.
Typically, nothing comes of this callous act. Sometimes, momentary confusion from left and right, front and back. Ordinarily, nothing out of the ordinary—aside from the run-of-the-mill perturbation. But, the perturbed know there is no recourse. Nosing out the miscreant is next to impossible, and what good would it do? Few things in life could be more awkward than sitting next to a complete stranger who you’ve just wrongly (or worse, rightly) accused of flatulence, for upwards of 12 hours. No, generally, nothing happens.
Which brings me to the present day. Not too long ago I had my seminal farting on airplanes moment. My magnum flatus, as they say. I was on a rather long flight, the details of which I will not divulge for fear of reprisal. It had been a particularly extended gate-wait and I had indulged in an unfortunate contrivance that the purveyor insisted on referring to as “food.”
The following is (relatively) true.
It began around cruising altitude. I remember because I had just been granted permission by the flight attendant to undo my seat belt—a symbolic act, as it were, which became the undoing of the couple sitting to my direct right. I, in seat D, the man in E, the woman in F. He had short but shaggy blonde hair, in what I can only refer to as the extraordinarily rare adult mushroom cut. “The Warhol” is really the only way to do it justice. He had a look and air that suggested a future full of facelifts. He was chubby, but unaware of it. He V-necked. He seemed like an excessive hand-sanitizer and watcher of reality TV. I’m also sure he outwardly disliked homeless people. That kind of person. She was quiet and fortunate to be seated in seat F.
Shortly after we reached cruising altitude, he unglued himself from Candy Crush and shot up. Staring straight ahead, he remarked in an overtly frantuppity manner:
“Is that a fart?”
She whispered, “Honey, what? I don’t know. I don’t smell anything. What do you think it is?”
“Uhhhh… I think it’s a fart, babe. Pretty sure I know what a fart-uh smells like.”
The source of his conniption receded into compressed air and he returned to Candy Crush. For my part, I continued to pretend-watch a muted Japanese game show.
Moments later, I struck again.
“Oh no. Oh no. Babe. I smelt it again.”
“I smelt the… I smelt the goddamn fart, babe.” He stammered. I composed myself.
“Honey, honey. Calm down. I honestly don’t notice anything. It’s fine. Honey, it’s fine.”
“So… so god— so fucking rude.”
Again, the elusive essence dissolved into parts unknown. He squeezed his iPhone and continued to savagely rearrange jellybeans and lemon drops. For my part, I shook my head in distaste and subtly pinched my nose to discredit any theories against seat 31D. Classic move, of course. Inside, I laughed hysterically, or was it manically?
I allowed approximately three minutes to pass and began to read a book. The man in 31E, after hyperventilating for some time had pacified himself and was watching something on his computer and doing that thing where you laugh explicitly loudly to get the attention of other people—usually to bait them into asking you what you were laughing at so you can tell them about it. However, I had a sneaking suspicion he was doing it to take some sort of passive-aggressive revenge on the farter—aka the person sitting next to him—aka me. Well, I can’t stand when people do the attention-grab-laugh, whether grounded in need for validation or vengeance. So, I returned to the fray. This time, more ruthless than ever.
“Goddamn fucking shit fucker son of a bitch.” He flailed.
“Jesus Christ, honey what is it?”
“What do you mean ‘what?’ Someone’s farting and they’ve been doing it since we got to goddamn cruising altitude.”
“Shhh, honey. Relax. People will hear you.”
“Good! I hope they hear me. Hey! If whoever it is keeps farting, you’re being so rude. This is so ridiculous. I can’t believe this is happening.”
“Please, Jeffery. Please, don’t let it bother you.”
“Well, it does bother me. I can’t be expected to stand for this. The farting has gone too far. Too far, Allison.”
At this point, I reasoned to end the game, which had begun to feel vaguely punitive. I focused inconspicuously on the book, headphones still in. Things had escalated beyond my wildest imaginations. Jeffery was right. The farting had gone too far. But, of course, there are times in life when body and mind do not see eye to eye.
“Oh god no. No way.” His hand shot up to the control panel and he dinged wildly for the flight attendant. A minute later a man arrived. But, of course, the dust had cleared.
“Yes sir, how can I help you?”
His wife/girlfriend/babe shook her head and stared out the window.
“Excuse me, but someone has, uhh, been ummm, fart-ing non-stop since cruising altitude.”
I could not see the attendant’s face, but I imagine he, like myself, was going to great pains not to burst into rabid, uncontrollable laughter.
“Well, sir. Well, I’m sorry.”
“Yes, I assumed you would be. Not as sorry as me though.”
“Sir, please. I don’t believe there’s anything I can do. And besides, sir…”
“What? Besides what?!”
“Well, besides, sir… I—I frankly do not smell anything, sir.”
“Yes, of course not! It’s a fart. It goes away, you know. But, it comes back!”
“Well sir, if in fact it does comes back, please alert the cabin crew.”
Jeffery put his elbow on the tray table and ran his hand through his adult mushroom-cut. Defeat flashed across his face. No one believed him. No one cared. No one smelled anything. I, sitting there, clenching my secret tight, began to feel something like remorse. After all, it was my raw, cold-blooded lack of compassion that had brought so much woe, so much distress to row 31. I felt bad then. This time, in the end, it was wrong. What I did to Jeffery that day was wrong. Frankly, I was a bit scared. Might I be violating international law? Might I be compromising the integrity of the Clean Air Act of 1963? In a shocking change of events, the karmic tables had turned—I deserved it. I vowed to stop by any means necessary. I even decided to give him full domain of the armrest.
Now the joke was on me. The flight had only just begun. There was no escape. I flew too close to the sun. There was a whole ocean left to go and I’d already played my hand. I’d have to hold it.