The Sensory Experience: Smell

Image via iStockPhoto

APEX Insight: A lot of science goes into what we hear, see, touch, smell and taste in the airplane cabin. In this multipart feature, we take at recent developments targeted at each of the five senses.

Smell is perhaps the most subjective of the senses: A rose’s scent may be pleasant to one person, but migraine-inducing for another. But when body odors, the waft of cologne and food aromas combine with an airplane cabin’s recirculated air, most would agree, it can feel downright noxious.

In May, a Transavia flight en route from Las Palmas on the Spanish Canary Islands to Amsterdam was forced to make an unscheduled stop in Faro, Portugal, after passengers reportedly fell ill due to the smell emanating from one of their seatmates. This was not the first time a foul stench prompted pilots to make an emergency landing. The same thing happened on a Transavia flight from Dubai to Amsterdam in mid-February, when a passenger refused to stop passing gas and an altercation ensued. Official numbers around this issue are difficult to pinpoint, but a 2017 Bravo TV JetSet blog post found that odors were behind 34 of the 185 domestic emergency landings made in the United States last year. 

“[Nanoe] creates electrostatic water particles that are about 15,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, so they easily penetrate clothes and fabrics” – Gary Kaplan, Panasonic Avionics.

Long story short: Smell matters. That’s why Panasonic is looking to bring its nanoe (nah-no-ee) deodorizing technology to an airplane near you. Weighing in at 300 grams, the small, inconspicuous device, which uses water to neutralize smells, can be installed anywhere from the galleys to the bathrooms, says Gary Kaplan, product marketing manager for Panasonic Avionics. 

“It creates electrostatic water particles – nanoparticles – that are about 15,000 times smaller than the width of a human hair, so they easily penetrate clothes and fabrics. They basically encapsulate the odors and contaminants,” Kaplan explains. If the smell of french fries, for instance, triggers your gag reflex, nanoe can obliterate it in 90 seconds or less, he says. 

Electrostatic atomized water technology is already used in other Panasonic products in the health and beauty industry in Japan and the United States, and in the luxury car market, so the commercial viability is well established. And nanoe’s deodorizing effect is only one of its benefits. It also reduces airborne and surface viruses, bacteria, molds and pollen allergens, and benefits hair and skin – a perfect antidote for those who find themselves with the sniffles and dehydrated epidermis after a long flight. While the aviation application for the nanoe is still in the R&D phase, Kaplan says it could help provide airline passengers with a more comfortable travel experience – one that smells like nothing in particular at all. 

“The Sensory Experience” was originally published in the 8.4 August/September issue of APEX Experience magazine.