Inflight smoking

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"No smoking" sign (Airbus version), as seen on most passenger flights worldwide

Inflight smoking is prohibited by almost all airlines. The bans on inflight smoking have been imposed in a piece-meal manner around the world beginning in the 1980s.

In October 2015, the United States Department of Transportation prohibited the use of electronic cigarettes on flights, as well as transporting such devices in checked luggage,[1] because of fire risk from their batteries. In July 2019, an Air China aircraft made an emergency descent after cabin oxygen levels dropped, which has been linked to a co-pilot smoking an e-cigarette during the flight.[2]

Despite this near-universal prohibition, Federal Aviation Administration regulations mandate that functioning ashtrays be conspicuously located on the doors of all airplane bathrooms. This is because there must be a safe place to dispose of a lit cigarette if someone violates the no-smoking rule.[3]


In 1969, consumer advocate Ralph Nader was among the first in the United States to call for a smoking ban on airlines.[4][5] Pressure for an inflight smoking ban also came from flight attendants' unions, such as the Association of Flight Attendants.

United Airlines created a nonsmoking section in 1971, the first airline to do so.[6] Aurigny Air Services became the first airline to ban smoking entirely on its flights, in July 1977.

In the United States, both tobacco companies and airlines fought any regulation.[6] In 1976, the US Civil Aeronautics Board banned cigar and pipe smoking on aircraft,[7] but under pressure from tobacco interests, it sought to limit this ban in 1978.[8] Also, CAB banned and then unbanned smoking in 1984, with chairman Dan McKinnon saying, "Philosophically, I think nonsmokers have rights, but it comes into marked conflict with practicalities and the realities of life."[9] After years of debate over health concerns,[10][11] Congressional action in 1987 led to a ban on inflight smoking.[12][13][14][15] In 1988, airlines based in the United States banned smoking on domestic flights of less than two hours,[16][17][18] which was extended to domestic flights of less than six hours in February 1990,[19][20][21] and to all domestic and international flights in 2000.[22][23][24][25] The 1990 ban applied to the passengers and the cabin of the aircraft, but not the flight deck; pilots were allowed to continue smoking after the 1990 ban due to concerns over potential flight safety issues caused by nicotine withdrawal in chronic smokers.[26] In 1994, Delta was the first US airline to ban smoking on all worldwide flights.

In 1990, Air Canada adopted a nonsmoking policy on all its routes. In 1994, Canada was the first country to ban smoking on all flights operated by Canadian carriers, which also covered charter flights, but not foreign airlines flying to Canada. It had previously banned smoking on commercial domestic flights in Canada and international flights of less than six hours, which obviously did not cover the Japan route. Canadian Airlines had opposed the blanket ban, saying it would put the airline at a competitive disadvantage especially on the lucrative Japan route. It said it would lose millions of dollars in business from smoking passengers. It estimated it would lose $22 million in annual revenues on its 14 flights a week to Japan. It said that three quarters of its passengers on the Japan route were Japanese and that 60% of them smoked.[27]

In March 1995, the United States, Canada, and Australia agreed to ban smoking on international flights traveling between those countries.[28]

In April 1988, Japan Airlines (JAL) was the first Japanese airline to introduce a smoking ban on domestic flights of less than one hour, which was extended in October 1990 to flights of less than two hours.[29] In 1998, All Nippon Airways and JAL banned smoking on all domestic flights, which covered more than 50% of Japanese domestic travelers.[30] These airlines extended the ban to international flights in March 1999, among the last airlines to ban smoking on international flights.[31] Japan Tobacco lobbied the airlines to reconsider the ban, noting that smoking was earlier banned on all flights of 22 foreign airlines using Japanese airports and that with the smoking ban by the two major Japanese airlines more than 80% of seats on international flights departing from Japan would be nonsmoking.[32]

In 1988, SAS made domestic flights in Sweden and Norway non-smoking and in 1989, the policy was expanded to domestic flights in Denmark and flights between the Nordic countries. In 1996, SAS flights to the Benelux countries, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the UK became non-smoke. In 1997 SAS banned smoking on all flights. Also in 1997, the EU banned smoking on flights in member states. Air France, the French state-run carrier, did not allow inflight smoking from November 2000, The United Kingdom banned smoking in enclosed public places in July 2007.

Australia banned smoking on domestic flights in December 1987, on international flights within Australian airspace in 1990, and in 1996 banned smoking on all Australian international flights.

Cuba’s state-owned Cubana banned smoking on international flights in 2014. China banned inflight smoking in October 2017. Individual airlines were given two more years before a cockpit ban was to take effect; however, this concession was scrapped in January 2019 following incidents that triggered safety concerns.[33]


Following the crash of Varig Flight 820 in 1973 the US Federal Aviation Administration banned smoking in aircraft lavatories.[34] Following a fire that originated in a lavatory (not necessarily from smoking) on Air Canada Flight 797 in June 1983, resulting in the death of 23 passengers, new requirements to install smoke detectors in lavatories were brought in.

Normally, passengers found to be smoking on non-smoking flights will, at least, face a fine and, at most, be arrested and detained upon landing. Due to stringent security measures, this often causes disruption; a flight may have to be diverted or a scheduled landing might have to be expedited upon arrival at the destination airport in order to escort the smoker from the plane.

Such regulations have on occasion met with defiance; in 2010 a Qatari diplomat was arrested upon arrival at Denver International Airport for smoking in the onboard lavatory on United Airlines Flight 663 and for making threats; when confronted by airline staff, he jokingly suggested that he was attempting to set his shoes on fire.[35] On February 3, 2013, a family of four were accused of smoking during a Sunwing Airlines flight from Halifax to the Dominican Republic. The flight made an unscheduled landing at Bermuda L.F. Wade International Airport, where the two eldest of the family were arrested by Bermuda Police Service and subsequently sentenced to a $500 fine or 10 days in prison.[36][37]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "U.S. bans e-cigarettes in checked baggage, and no vaping on the plane either / Boing Boing".
  2. ^ Vaping pilot linked to Air China plane’s sudden plunge
  3. ^
  4. ^ Kluger R. Ashes to ashes: America’s hundred-year cigarette war, the public health, and the unabashed triumph of Philip Morris. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, Inc, 1996.
  5. ^ Clearing the airways: advocacy and regulation for smoke-free airlines
  6. ^ a b Brandt, Allan M.: The Cigarette Century: The Rise, Fall, and Deadly Persistence of the Product that Defined America, p. 303-304. Basic Books, 2007
  7. ^ US Civil Aeronautics Board. Application of ACTION ON SMOKING AND HEALTH for a stay of the new smoking rule, Part 252 as revised by ER-1245, pending court review: ORDER DENYING STAY. October 14, 1981.
  8. ^ US Civil Aeronautics Board. Notice of proposed rulemaking: Docket #41431, Part 252–Smoking Aboard Aircraft. May 19, 1983.
  9. ^ "CAB flip-flops on smoking policy". Tuscaloosa News. Alabama. (Washington Post). June 1, 1984. p. 10.
  10. ^ "CAB votes to ban pipe, cigar smokers". Toledo Blade. Ohio. Associated Press. November 23, 1977. p. 2.
  11. ^ "Should smoking be banned on planes?". Nashua Telegraph. New Hampshire. Associated Press. May 15, 1981. p. 28.
  12. ^ "The House: Smoking Ban". Los Angeles Times. July 26, 1987. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  13. ^ "Senator seeks smoking ban on flights under two hours". Lawrence Journal-World. Kansas. Associated Press. September 30, 1987. p. 6D.
  14. ^ Fram, Alan (October 1, 1987). "Airline smoking restrictions approved by Senate panel". Gainesville Sun. Florida. Associated Press. p. 5A.
  15. ^ Jehl, Douglas (October 30, 1987). "Senate acts to ban smoking on 70% of airline flights". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  16. ^ Kramon, Glenn (April 17, 1988). "Smoking ban near on flights in U.S." New York Times. Retrieved August 31, 2014.
  17. ^ "Northwest bans smoking on domestic flights". Spokesman-Review. Spokane, Washington. staff and wire reports. March 24, 1988. p. A1.
  18. ^ "Airlines brace as smoking ban takes effect today". Schenectady Gazette. New York. Associated Press. April 23, 1988. p. 1.
  19. ^ Fram, Alan (September 15, 1989). "Senate okays smoking ban". Prescott Courier-Journal. Arizona. Associated Press. p. 3A.
  20. ^ "Bush restricts smoking on airlines". Lodi News-Sentinel. California. UPI. November 22, 1989. p. 12.
  21. ^ Clarke, Jay (Feb 18, 1990). "Airlines go beyond federal smoking ban". Toledo Blade. Ohio. Knight News Service. p. D7.
  22. ^ Johnson, Glen (July 28, 1998). "Proposed smoking ban draws fire from foreign airlines..." Kingman Daily Miner. Arizona. Associated Press. p. 4.
  23. ^ "Smoking banned on all US flights". Manila Standard. Associated Press. June 4, 2000. p. A8.
  24. ^ "Smoking banned on flights". The Item. Sumter, South Carolina. Associated Press. June 4, 2000. p. 2A.
  25. ^ "Smokefree Transportation Chronology". Archived from the original on 2014-01-09. Retrieved 2014-10-03.
  26. ^ Mydans, Seth (March 19, 1990). "Ban on smoking in airliners doesn't apply to the cockpit". New York Times. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  27. ^ Canada Bans Smoking on Its Airline
  28. ^ "Agreement to Ban Smoking on International Passenger Flights ATS 5 of 1995“ Archived 16 April 2017 at the Wayback Machine. Australasian Legal Information Institute, Australian Treaties Library. Retrieved on 15 April 2017.
  30. ^ JAL, ANA Ban Smoking On Domestic Flights
  31. ^ JAL, ANA Ban Smoking On International Flights
  32. ^ Japan Tobacco asks JAL, ANA to rethink smoking ban
  33. ^ Only Now Has China Banned Pilots Smoking On Commercial Flights
  34. ^ Assigning “soapboxes”: Where there’s smoke, there’s ire. Frequent Flyer magazine, May 1985:77.
  35. ^ Meikle, James (April 8, 2010). "Qatari diplomat 'smoking' causes US plane scare". The Guardian. London. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  36. ^ "Family of smokers on airplane forces costly diversion". (Canada): CBC News. February 3, 2013. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  37. ^ "Unruly Sunwing passengers sentenced in Bermuda court". (Canada): CBC News. February 4, 2013. Retrieved April 1, 2016.