Why does the sense of taste decrease while flying?
Flying can be a thrilling experience, but it can also be quite disorienting for our senses. One of the most noticeable effects of flying is the way it impacts our sense of taste. Many travelers report that their taste buds seem to be less effective when they are up in the air. But why does this happen? In this article, we will explore the various reasons why the sense of taste decreases while flying.
The Role of Cabin Pressure
One of the primary factors that impact our sense of taste while flying is cabin pressure. When we fly, the cabin pressure is typically set to around 8,000 feet above sea level, even though we may be cruising at an altitude of 30,000 feet or more. This lower pressure can cause a decrease in our taste sensitivity, making it harder to taste subtle flavors.
In a study conducted by Lufthansa, participants tasted sweet, sour, salty, and bitter solutions while in a pressurized cabin and at sea level. The study found that the participants’ taste perception was reduced by up to 30 percent in the pressurized cabin.
Dry Air and Dehydration
Another factor that can impact our sense of taste while flying is the dry air in the cabin. Airplane cabins typically have a relative humidity of around 10-20%, which is much lower than the average humidity on the ground. This dry air can cause our taste buds to dry out, making it harder to taste flavors.
Furthermore, the dry air can lead to dehydration, which can also impact our sense of taste. When we are dehydrated, our bodies produce less saliva, which contains enzymes that help to break down food and enhance taste. This can make food taste less flavorful.
Noise and Vibration
The noise and vibration on a plane can also impact our sense of taste. Studies have shown that loud noise can reduce our ability to taste sweet and salty flavors. The vibrations from the plane can also impact our sense of taste by causing our taste buds to vibrate, which can make it harder to taste flavors.
In-flight Meals and Cabin Atmosphere
The quality of in-flight meals and the cabin atmosphere can also impact our sense of taste. Airline food is notorious for being bland, and this may be due in part to the factors we’ve already discussed. However, it’s also worth noting that the noise, vibration, and dry air in the cabin can impact the way we perceive flavors.
Furthermore, the cabin atmosphere can impact our sense of taste. Airplane cabins are pressurized, and this can impact the way we perceive flavors. Additionally, the cabin air is often recycled, which can lead to a buildup of odors and reduce the freshness of food.
The sense of taste can decrease while flying due to a variety of factors, including cabin pressure, dry air, dehydration, noise and vibration, in-flight meals, and cabin atmosphere. While these factors can make it harder to taste flavors, they do not necessarily mean that food will taste bad. By being aware of these factors, we can take steps to enhance our in-flight dining experience, such as staying hydrated, choosing flavorful options, and bringing our own snacks.
References for this article
- Lufthansa. (n.d.). Taste in the Sky. Retrieved from https://www.lufthansa.com/content/dam/lh/documents/magazin/PDF/2003_06_Essen_und_Trinken_eng.pdf
- MedlinePlus. (2020, November 10). Dry Mouth. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/drymouth.html
- Panjabi, M. (2016). The Physiology of Airline Cabin Atmospheres. Aviation, Space, and Environmental Medicine, 87(5), 466–470. doi: 10.3357/asem.4485.2016
- Spence, C., & Piqueras-Fiszman, B. (2014). The multisensory perception of flavor. Consciousness and Cognition, 19, 901–908. doi: 10.1016/j.concog.2014.03.018
- van Hoof, J., Stanney, K. M., & Salvendy, G. (2005). Human Factors of Flight-Deck Performance. Taylor & Francis.