Flatulence & Mid-Air Turbulence

May 2, 2018

The International Business Times recently carried a news item where the pilot of a low-priced Dutch airliner that belonged to Transavia Airlines had to make an unscheduled emergency landing in Vienna, following a scuffle between two passengers that broke out in mid-air, the reason being one of the passengers helplessly breaking wind in the confined space of a pressurised cabin.

The Dutch airliner was on a flight from Dubai to Amsterdam when the pilot decided to make an emergency landing, and where the police intervened with dogs to deal with the issue. When the police boarded the plane, they were able to detect the reason for the altercation as  a passenger was unable to contain his urge to fart. Despite the pilot’s intervention to convince the passenger that he should stop farting, the latter helplessly kept on breaking wind! It led to a heated argument, which compelled the pilot to make the force landing in Vienna. The Austrian police, who escorted the passenger off the plane, however, was unable to bring any charges against him as the passenger had not broken any Austrian laws!

Apparently, the co-passenger seated next to the victim could not bear the obnoxious smell that assailed him. He initially had objected to the flatulent passenger, who had not paid any heed, but helplessly continued to repeat  the objectionable malignant farts loudly.

This was not the first incident where an in-flight cabin crew had experienced a disturbance in mid- air of this nature.In July 2017, an American flight had to evacuate the plane at North Carolina airport when a passenger reportedly broke wind so violently that it caused nausea and headaches among fellow passengers! In both cases it was not very clear if the victims were suffering from a medical condition. Certain health conditions can cause flatulence, such as, indigestion, constipation. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) et al.

Flatulence or Aerophagia

Flatulence is a condition of excessive air swallowing, which enters the stomach infrequently. The initial indication of flatulence becomes prominent when the stomach gets filled with excessive gas in the absence of any signs of burping. When air enters the stomach, it happens indistinctly. According to psychiatry excessive swallowing of air could also attribute to anxiety.

Flatulence is derived from the Latin word Flatus,which means “blowing or breaking wind”. In medical terms it is defined as ‘the gas generated in the stomach or bowels, and expelled through the anus, or in ‘a state of being flatulent’. Colloquially, flatulence is referred to as ‘farting’, ‘trumping’, ‘tooting’, ‘passing gas’ et al.Non-medical definitions of the term flatulence include “the uncomfortable condition of having gas in the stomach and bowels”.  This may be due to buildup of intestinal gas in the colon during peak sleep in the peristaltic, creating wavelike movements that push the contents of the canal forwardin the first few hours after waking .

In medical terms, the number of flatus episodes per day for a human being could be variable, the normal range is given as 8–20 per day.  It is considered that gas moves along the gut independently of solids and liquids, and this transit is more efficient in the erect positions compared to supine position than lying on bed and sleeping. It is considered as a normal biological function for humans to pass flatus through the rectum, although the volume and frequency may vary greatly between individuals and the type of food one consumes.

Intestinal gas passing through the rectum carries a characteristic feculent smell, which also may vary in concentration. The noise and the smell associated with flatus leaving the anus can cause embarrassment or amusement in many cultures.


The friendly bacteria in the guts generally help to digest food. Such bacteria could also produce gas as a by-product of digestion. Usually food such as beans, lentils, cabbage, onions, wheat flour products, and other food rich in starch are said to be often linked to intestinal gas. It can also be associated with chewing gum, smoking, consuming aerated drinks, gulping the food too quickly and by wearing loose dentures. However, excessive flatulence can be most embarrassing and makes the victim who farts feel uncomfortable around others. General symptoms related to intestinal gas is associated with pain, bloating and abdominal distension, excessive flatus smell and gas incontinence.

Researchers investigating the role of sensory nerve endings in the anal canal speculate that their role may be to distinguish between flatus and faeces,thereby helping to detect a need to defecate or to signal the end of defecation.

The sound of flatulence varies depending on the tightness of the sphincter muscle and velocity of the gasbeing propelled. The auditory sound of the flatulence outburst can also be affected by the anal embouchure. Among humans, flatulence occasionally happens accidentally, such as incidentally to coughing or sneezing or during orgasmin women; on other occasions flatulence can be voluntarily elicited by tensing the rectum or “bearing down”  on stomach or bowel muscles, and subsequently relaxing the anal sphincter (the ring of muscles surrounding and serving to guard the opening) , resulting in the expulsion of flatus.

Variety of stories.

There are variety of stories on flatulence in the internet. One such posted anonymously is reproduced here to illustrate how difficult it is for the victim to embargo the urge,  and how uncomfortable and awkward for the people around the person who cannot control flatulence .

Mr. X’s experience surrounds inside a mosque, during prayer time, where a young boy aged about 12-13 was sitting in front of him when the prayers commenced. Those who are familiar with Islamic prayers will know that during prayer sessions, devotees have to do sajda (prostration)- that is to bow down to show their respect). So, when the first time he had to bow down, he heard a small explosion.He wasn’t too sure as to what had happened, and didn’t want to distract himself, so he continued with praying.  At the second sajda (bowing down), the explosion was even louder accompanied by some unpleasant odours. Clearly the kid had eaten more than his share of baked beans for breakfast, and continued farting away to glory,  he assumed.

Unfortunately, the boy was farting about 15 inches away from the person’s face, and on  the third blast off, he didn’t want to do his sajda and pleaded with Allah to  forgive him  that he could not  concentrate on his prayers that afternoon. He also ensured that others around him knew that he wasn’t the reason for their misery as well.

Rebecca Lytle,  a Freelance writer, observer, witch in August 2015, said that fart humour, like some many other things, begins at home. Her dad had been all his life in the habit of farting in small, enclosed spaces such confined rooms that people gathered and inside elevators etc where people who could not get away, and such, farts were almost always of the SBV (silent but violent) variety, and they stank so horrible!!! When the smell hit, and people’s eyes started watering and their hair started melting, her dad would grin broadly and caution everyone, “Now y’all sniff lightly, so there’s plenty for everyone!

Flatulence or farts are just the ghosts of things people eat!

pic. credit International Business Times


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