Why do I get gassy when I fly?


Blast Them Out Loudly, and Boast of Them Proudly
Everyone just sit back, relax … and let it go.
Everyone just sit back, relax … and let it go.
© Pietro_Ballardini/iStockphoto

Although there isn't much you can do about the change in pressure from being on the ground to the change of pressure we experience when you fly, there are some coping strategies you can try to help minimize the amount of gas building up in your gastrointestinal tract. The secret? Well, first, stop swallowing so much air.

It's true, you swallow air as you eat, drink and talk. And, that gum you chew to help pop your ears during takeoff and landing may relieve the pressure in your middle ear, but you pay for it in air biscuits. Even the anxiety of flying can make you swallow more air, although you probably won't notice until you're hit with the social anxiety of whether you'll be able to hold it in.

While 20 percent of your intestinal gas comes from the air you swallow, 80 percent comes from the foods you eat [source: Escherich and McCarthy]. Airport dining may offer better options — or, depending on the airport, at least more options — than in-flight offerings. But regardless of where you grab a bite the day before and the day of travel, there are some foods, healthy and unhealthy alike, that are just more associated with bloating and stink bombs than others. Some fruits and vegetables may be difficult to digest, including the well-known fart-producers beans, cabbage and broccoli. Dairy and wheat may also cause bloating and gassiness, if you're sensitive to lactose or gluten. Yes, cheese, in fact, can be blamed for our cutting the cheese. Fried and spicy foods also bring on the bloat.

It also pays off to pay attention to what you choose from the beverage service. Carbonated beverages — including beer and soda — are pretty self-explanatory gas producers. It's carbon dioxide gas that makes carbonated drinks fizzy. Artificial sweeteners also contribute to jet bloat and increased gas problems because we're unable to digest them well (or at all).

For most of us, keeping intestinal gas in won't cause any problems other than discomforts such as bloating, indigestion and heartburn, but it's better to let it out. Well, at least for you it is; your travel companions may think otherwise. But they're probably farting, too.

Author's Note: Why do I get gassy when I fly?

Before I did this research I knew two dumb jokes, and now I know three. What do you call a person who doesn't fart in public? A private tutor.

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Sources

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  • Goldberg, Billy and Mark Leyner. "The Body Odd: Passing Time by Passing Gas, Plus Fun Fart Facts!" NBC News. March 19, 2008. (June 25, 2015) http://bodyodd.nbcnews.com/_news/2008/03/19/4380042-passing-time-by-passing-gas-plus-fun-fart-facts
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  • Popken, Ben. "Let Your Flatulence Fly, Scientists Urge Passengers." NBC News. Feb. 20, 2013. (June 25, 2015) http://www.nbcnews.com/business/travel/let-your-flatulence-fly-scientists-urge-passengers-f1C8431651
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