Fragrance-free Flights Please!

A fragrance-free flight would be impossible. How could you stop people from wearing perfume or aftershave, using scented soaps, body washes and hair products, or washing their clothes in strongly scented laundry products? You couldn’t. If someone is sensitive to synthetic fragrances, being on a plane is difficult.

But several airlines have made an already bad situation much worse by spraying “signature scents” in their airplane cabins.

This leaves us travelers sitting in a chemical soup of fragrances from fellow travelers, pesticide residue from when the airline sprayed the cabin and now harmful chemicals from the airlines “signature scent”. Better would be to create good air quality by filtration and more fresh air.

Airlines are Spraying Fragrances on Their Planes

The airlines call them “signature scents” and say they are part of building their brand and enhancing customer experience. Luckily, for regulatory reasons, they can’t use scent diffusers (plugin air fresheners) on the planes but they are using them in their lounges and terminals. In the cabins they are spraying the scents and infusing the hot towels with the scent.

Airlines using signature scents: Delta, United Continental, Turkish Airlines and Air Canada rouge. Spain’s Iberia and Alaska Airlines are about to start using them.

Two airlines tried this and then changed their minds: Quantas and British Airways. I wrote about British Airways in 2011 – British Airways – Please Don’t Pump Fragrance into Your Planes! Many people complained and they did not continue using fragrance.

Airlines say they are being subtle with these fragrances, so passengers who are sensitive won’t notice them. We may not notice them at first but after a few hours we will notice our symptoms.

People packed together for a 10 hour flight in Business Class, which has a lot more room than economy
People packed together for a 10 hour flight in Business Class, which has a lot more room than economy

Many People are Affected by These Synthetic Fragrances

In March 2009 a study in the “Journal of Environmental Health” (see resources) reported that 30.5% of the American population found scented products irritating.

  • 30.5% reported irritation being near someone wearing a scented product
  • 19% reported headaches, breathing difficulties or other problems when exposed to air fresheners or deodorizers
  • 10.9% reported irritated by scent from laundry products, fabric softeners, or dryer sheets that are vented outside

The percentages were higher among those with asthma or chemical sensitivities.

Yes, people are affected by these synthetic fragrances. For more information about fragrances, read my post – Fragrance-free Vacation Rentals Please!

What Can We Do?

  • If your airline uses synthetic fragrances, write to them and ask them to stop doing this.
  • When you travel, carry handkerchiefs that you can use to cover your nose and mouth, so you don’t breathe in the chemicals. If you are very sensitive, consider using a face mask.
  • Tell your friends that you are sensitive to fragrances. People need to understand that this is an issue. You may find others that feel the same way you do.
  • Don’t buy any personal products or cleaning products that list “fragrance” or “parfum” on their ingredients.
  • Don’t use perfume, cologne, aftershave, air freshener, scent sticks, scented body wash, scented soaps, etc. Do yourself a favor, do the planet a favor and help out the people sitting beside you on the plane.


I apologize for using a photo of a long distance cabin in business class, but it was all I had. Because we are both sensitive to fragrances, we use our miles to upgrade on long haul flights so we are not as crowded together in the cabin, giving us a little more space from our fellow travelers.

Published by

Pauline Kenny

Pauline Kenny and Steve Cohen are US expats living in Dorset. We moved to the UK in 2010. Read about our move. If you would like to talk about travel, please join us on the Slow Europe Travel Forums.

8 thoughts on “Fragrance-free Flights Please!”

    1. I thought I smelled a fragrance while stepping into a 767 cabin. Delta is infusing their aircraft with mild scents. It is not like an asthmatic can step out for fresh air at 30,000 feet. This scent marketing is so wrong. Even the Hyatt hotel we stayed in had scents. This is not healthy. I bring along oral steroids to use in these situations. This is not healthy either. Why are there so many things that smell today. Why do we have to be bombarded with this. They worry about the ozone layer. What are these smells doing to us and our environment. My suit cases still smell from the hotel room and I washed my clothes and the smell is still there. What is this world coming too.

  1. Thank you for addressing this issue. I have a severe fragrance allergy and thus cannot fly anymore. Last time i flew 10 years ago from Toronto to Amsterdam i was almost unconscious for the whole trip I cannot remember a thing about flying there and back. Now my dad is very ill and would love to see him but alas not possible anymore. Anyway Thank you for supporting fellow sufferers.

    1. Hello Liam. I had a health technician suggest tell me to buy a mask & I did. It’s the kind that body shop ppl wear. When I have to go out in public & I smell scents, I wear it. Perhaps you could buy one & wear it on the plane to go see your dad. It works for me. I bought mine at Canadian tire but have seen similar ones at Home Depot.

  2. Top airline management should check to see who is receiving kickbacks from the fragrance industry for ordering these scents that most customers do not enjoy.

  3. The thought of traveling from US to Europe is frightening to someone with MCS or fragrance sensitivities. Does anyone know of a carrier that restricts the employees from using fragrance? I can’t breathe through masks so it’s not a solution for everyone.

    Some puke all over a perfumed stewardess might encourage more consideration to people with this type of disability.

  4. Do not buy any of the 3M type masks at Home Depot (those have a chemical smell). Do try a one way respirator valve mask like the Cambridge washable anti pollution cotton mask under $30 on Amazon or disposable charcoal masks that are individually cellophane wrapped for about $15: BFlower Four Layer Green Color Disposable Charcoal Activated Carbon Mask Filter – 50 Pieces. Helpful for enduring passing fragrances and airplane exhaust on runway, but really need to be held closely to face. Sadly, these are uncomfortable for long term wear. I also suggest traveling with a ziploc containing a natural scent that is soothing to you as a mental distraction. (I understand that offending chemicals trigger symptoms and that no Genie is going to put those back into the bottle, however, a masking fragrance may help you cope in the aftermath. I use coffee beans, peppermint or sweet orange oil.)

    Sadly, the marketplace that has spawned Mr. Clean and his toxic relatives will never respond rapidly enough to alleviate our suffering in my lifetime. I believe that MCS will have to be recognized under disabilities acts to affect public policies.

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