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Annoyances on the airplane

I am currently on a two hour and forty-five minute flight to Denver, Colorado.  Upon boarding the flight after an almost unprecedented (and mystifying) wait in the security line, I was happy to realize that no one seated around me has any heavy perfume or cologne on—this is certainly a huge blessing to me, as my migraine brain has a low tolerance for such scents.

What I find alarming every time I fly with you is how incredibly loud the speaker system is on when you play pre- and post-flight music and when you show us advertisements for in-flight entertainment.  (The security video is loud, too, but I’ll give you that one—you can’t risk not having people hear that one.)

Within ten minutes of leaving my house, I realized I had forgotten one of my most important and treasured travel accessories: my headphones.  They’re sitting in my desk drawer as we speak, surely a little bit tangled and utterly useless.  I am okay not listening to music as I walk through the airports (though that is one of my favorite parts of travel), and I am okay not listening as I sit here in my seat.  What I do miss is their ability, however subtle, of diminishing the effects of your boisterous speakers.

Even the woman sitting next to me seemed startled by how loud the movie preview was, especially the whining intro music that played for a minute before the preview began.  I looked around at others and, as is often the case, I was genuinely surprised that something that so thoroughly assaulted my senses didn’t seem to have a visible effect on the majority of the people around me.

Then two guys—two at once!—started snoring loudly.  I’m talking C-grade sitcom snoring, with catches in the throat and loud rumblings.  Someone near me—a comrade, at last!—asked for earplugs. “Headphones are $5 a set,” the flight attendant replied. “OK, but do you have ear plugs?” “You want headphones?” “No, I’m wondering if you have earplugs.” “No, we don’t have earplugs.”

I had two thoughts, one right after another.

  1. “Ear plugs! I packed ear plugs! I am a genius! I will put them in now!”
  2. “Oh. Ear plugs. They’re in my checked luggage because I didn’t think I’d need them until bedtime, because I always carry my headphones.”

In the grand scheme of things, this situation doesn’t register at all.  On The Migraine Girl scale today, luckily it barely causes a ripple—that’s because, at least for now, I am having a blissfully migraine-free day. But my already-sensitive hearing already feels assaulted—I hate to imagine how frustrated I’d be if I were in the midst of a migraine attack.

This all makes me wonder what airplane-related triggers (or even potential triggers) get to you the most when you travel.  Please share your thoughts below. Despite my liking to stay positive whenever possible, you can feel comfortable sharing your gripes—you’ll have me on your side to agree, I’ll bet! 

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.


  • BethBlue
    3 years ago

    I will never, ever understand the lure of coffee. To me, the smell is downright nauseating. That said, being bombarded by the galley and the pots brewing by the open door of the plane sets the tone of the entire flight. I try very, very hard to hold my breath when I’m passing that area. People with body odor (even more so than fragrance) make me tremendously ill, and I should have the right to switch my seat if someone near me stinks. If there are open seats, I’ll quietly excuse myself, politely explain my predicament (showing your meds to the flight attendant helps), and hope for the best. And honestly (I know I will be bombarded for saying this, but bear in mind that I’m a mother and I’ve been there too), infants and small children really shouldn’t fly on certain flights — there should be restrictions. The noise and fuss from being seated near them has sickened me on many flights. I propose that they shouldn’t be on the first or last flight of the day. After all, that’s when they’re most likely to be tired and fussy, correct? You can be a sensible parent while giving the rest of us (i.e., those of us with disabilities) a well-deserved break.

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    I always get a migraine when flying. I know it’s primarily the cabin pressure changes and the bombarding smells.

    I carry ear plugs, noise canceling headphones, an eye mask, and I have to wear compression socks because of a heart condition. I also carry a small vial of my own migraine remedy made from 18 different essential oils. This not only calms my migraines but also kills any offending smells.

    My general plan is to board early (I have a disability), get settled as quickly as possible, put everything on, use my oil, and turn on my headphones. I either listen to my own music or just the white noise they make.

    Once I’ve taken these steps, I do my best to fall asleep before we even take off.

    I also book only non-stop direct flights whenever possible. This is especially important when flying overseas.

  • kitta4
    4 years ago

    Flying always brings on a terrible migraine for me. I think it is the change in pressure and altitude because mountain driving will cause a headache also. The length of the trip matters, too..the longer the trip, the worse the headache.

  • Erin
    4 years ago

    Yes, this. The pressure change kills me. Last time I drove to Denver, I thought my head might pop off. I’m afraid of flying. So that stress causes a migraine. I always have my iPod and headphones everywhere I go. Music is basically migraine therapy for me. I hope your flight went well.

  • jmallonbeyondbelief
    4 years ago

    Migraineur airplane travel survival kit:
    1. Wax earplugs. Not the foam ones
    2. Eye mask
    3. My favorite jacket to use as pillow or put over my head to make it even darker.
    4. For those of you who, like me, are bothered by barometric pressure changes from take offs and landings, a prescription drug called acetazolamide. Take it the day before and the day of flying.
    5. I try to sleep or at least meditate through take offs and landings.

    Not all of this works all the time, of course, but every little bit helps, and it makes me feel that at least I’m trying. Good luck on your flights!

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    I’ve never heard of acetazolamide. If it helps with barometric and pressure changes, it sounds like it would be marvelous to have around all the time. Any weather change just kills me, along with full moons.

  • chaselife
    4 years ago

    Whew, you know in all the time spent in airports, never thought anyone else was sickened by the overstimulation, perfumes etc. I get aniexty because I feel so different. Guaranteed a migraine, however I use Bose headphones for noise cancellation. Need these or would be throwing up. New to the site and this is truley a place to be understood and hear how you all manage Tito get through the day. Thank you very much ❤️

  • SASmith
    4 years ago

    I always have an extra set of earplugs and earphones (of course wrapped in a knot) in whatever bags I’m carrying: backpack, purse, luggage. There is always a panic whenever I hear a loud talker, baby screaming/crying, or just that “constant dull” that you get on a plane. Last week, however, I had none of that — but instead (I’m usually not affected by smell), the guys in front of me had obviously smoked a pack of cigarettes before coming on the flight and so I had that acrid and bitter “old smoke” smell for 3 hours — only to be topped off by the lady behind me who thought that a smelly salad (with plenty of onions) would be a tasty treat in a small enclosed place. Thankfully a little bit of lavender oil under the nose could disguise some of it. But there’s no “nose plugs” to shove up my nose like a good pair of earplugs to keep out the nasty outside stimulants.

  • MargoW
    4 years ago

    Ugh… That is the worst and a terrible trigger. It’s too bad we have pretty much no control over where a smoker sits.

  • 1headcase
    4 years ago

    Where do I start?
    The smell of airplane fuel. My most recent flight sat idling, waiting, then was “de-iced” what a stink!
    The perfume everywhere- I’d hoped as people got more “comfortable” on planes-some even dressing in what looks to be pajamas they’d leave the perfume/scented products at home…alas, no.
    The smell of airplane food-not pleasant and almost always has bell peppers which is a major trigger food for me.
    The whine of the fans-personal and circulating is awful.
    The glare off the wings and, in my latest experience, the propellers slowing to a stop while the sun glares off the damp tarmac-already tense after flying in a very loud prop. plane and then the strobes start.
    But,perhaps the worst was the tech addict across the aisle who spent much of the flight reflecting the direct sun into my eyes while he played a game on his i-phone. It may have been Morse code but, I was too busy trying not to vomit to translate.

  • Jeannette
    4 years ago

    Cabin pressure changes and idling on the tarmac, sucking in diesel fumes….argh. Torture! I always arrive with a three day migraine. I have learned to book non stop, not direct, flights. Landing and taking off plus idling and fumes=killer triggers!

  • Julie Richards
    4 years ago

    I wear earplugs CONSTANTLY, so I rare don’t have a pair, or an extra pair, on my person *somewhere*. I utilize headphones as well, even if they aren’t plugged into anything. However, sometimes even those, along with music coming through the headphones, don’t seem to be enough and have been wondering about actual “noise reduction” headphones. Anyone have any experience with them?

    Also, I’m a lot like Lisa Benson, as I have chronic migraine and audio/visual/oral overstimulation can bloom my everyday-low-grade-headache, nausea and dizziness into a full-blown migraine.

  • Jan
    4 years ago

    Oh, yes, I carry earplugs on all trips, as well as an eye mask, and I don’t care what anyone thinks. Overstimulation is a biggie with me, and like Janet, I avoid people who wear too much cologne or perfume (or who smell like cigarettes). I love Southwest because I can change my seat if necessary!

  • jns192 moderator
    4 years ago

    Thanks for your post!
    I too ALWAYS carry earplugs/headphones. Along with my medications and snack, they are in my emergency migraine attack pack!
    Noise reduction headphones sound like a great idea. I personally have not tried them but hopefully you will get some feedback from the community.
    I thought you might be able to relate to another article written by The Migraine Girl on sound sensitivity:
    -Jillian ( Team)

  • Lisa Robin Benson moderator
    4 years ago

    Hi Janet,
    Great post! I am traveling this weekend and next so very timely for me too!
    In terms of air travel things that can trigger me are changing my sleep schedule to catch a flight, lights in the airport or bright sun coming into the airplane window, as well as my neck getting irritated by carrying bags or uncomfortable positions.

    Smells and sounds can get to me, too, as you’ve described, but not nearly as much as the other things.

    Migraines aside, I actually love plane travel (when I’m feeling well) bc it’s a time to disconnect from the world and sometimes I get good work done on the plane!


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