World Duty Free at Vancouver International Airport. Image via Vision Travel.

World Duty Free at Vancouver International Airport. Image via Vision Travel.

APEX Insight: Accommodating the needs of scent-sensitive travelers is a delicate matter and difficult to enforce. In Canada, public policies on sensitivity to perfumes and scents are changing to better protect individuals affected in work environments and certain public spaces including in airports, and YVR is leading the way with the introduction of a “Fragrance Free Route” to accommodate scent sensitive passengers.

Signature scents are in vogue and perfume is a popular duty-free item, but some passengers find fragrances more irritating than pleasant.

For some, fragrances may trigger “protective throat closure, burning eyes and nose, or headaches,” says Dr. Karin Pacheco, associate professor of Occupational and Environmental Medicine at National Jewish Health in Denver, Colorado and chair of the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology’s Environmental and Occupational Respiratory Diseases interest section.

A recent study on the fragrance sensitivity in the American population determined:

  • 5 percent found scented products on others irritating
  • 19 percent reported adverse health effects from air fresheners
  • 9 percent reported irritation from scented laundry products that were vented outside

The percentages were higher for individuals suffering from asthma and chemical sensitivity.

In 2010, the City of Detroit changed its employee handbook to discourage the use of perfumes, deodorants and cologne, after a complaint made by a city employee who suffered from chemical sensitivity.

But, in North America, Canada has taken the lead on policy. Halifax is considered the “most scent-aware region” in North America. The Regional Municipality of Halifax, the provincial government, businesses, public transport and a number of public places and institutions have adopted voluntary scent-awareness policies. The University of Calgary, University of Toronto and McMaster University have established similar policies on their campuses.

Vancouver International Airport recently joined the effort by establishing a safe-zone for passengers traveling through its duty-free shops. Working with World Duty Free Group, it has clearly marked a dedicated fragrance-free path through the shops using decals. “We want our passengers to have the best experience possible while at YVR and felt this was important to offer for people who may have fragrance allergies or sensitivities,” says Tess Messmer, communications specialist for the Vancouver Airport Authority.

“We want our passengers to have the best experience possible while at YVR and felt this was important to offer for people who may have fragrance allergies or sensitivities.” – Tess Messmer, Vancouver Airport Authority

Kiruna Airport in Sweden, part of the Swedavia Swedish Airports Group, offers escort assistance so that passengers can avoid passing perfume shops “as much as possible.”

Addressing passenger needs in the confined space of an aircraft cabin is more difficult. Airlines cannot turn away paying passengers solely because of strong perfume or cologne.

Allergic Living made a chart of airline policies for travelers from 13 major airlines. Though none had established fragrance policies, some airlines and told the publication their flight crew do their best to accommodate seat changes when possible.

In the air, as on the ground, solutions to this issue involve raising awareness and asking that individuals consider their fragrance choices if their activities will bring them in close proximity with strangers. In the meantime, fragrance-sensitive travelers might want to consider using Seateroo, a new mobile app that allows airline passengers to swap seats with one another – whether they’re looking to score a window seat or steer clear of an “aromatic” passenger.

Marisa Garcia was once locked in a hangar in Oberpfaffenhofen while fine-tuning Gandalf’s new seats. Seriously. The firemen got her out. Writing is less confining, but she has lovely memories of those hands-on days.