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Can pilots smoke?

This is a common question for many who are interested in becoming pilots or just curious about rules for pilots. The short answer is no, pilots are not allowed to smoke while on duty. However, the specifics around smoking policies for pilots are more complex.

FAA regulations

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has strict policies prohibiting pilots from smoking while on duty. This applies to all commercial pilots flying scheduled airline flights, charter flights, cargo planes, and any other aircraft requiring an FAA pilot certificate.

The main regulation is Title 14 of the Code of Federal Regulations (14 CFR) Part 91, known as the General Operating and Flight Rules. Specifically, section 91.17 states:

No person may operate an aircraft within the United States with knowledge that narcotic drugs, marihuana, and depressant or stimulant drugs or substances as defined in Federal or State statutes are carried in the aircraft. The pilot in command of an aircraft is responsible for determining that no person who appears to be intoxicated or who demonstrates by manner or physical indications that the individual is under the influence of drugs is carried on the aircraft.

While smoking itself is not specifically mentioned, smoking cigarettes would fall under the definition of “depressant or stimulant drugs or substances.”

In addition, most airlines have their own strict no-smoking policies for pilots. This is because secondhand smoke in the cockpit could impair the health and performance of pilots, putting safety at risk.

Health and safety risks

There are a number of health and safety reasons why smoking is prohibited for pilots on the job:

  • Secondhand smoke – Pilots often fly together in an enclosed cockpit, so smoking could expose the other pilot to dangerous secondhand smoke.
  • Oxygen masks – Smoke could contaminate oxygen masks, making them less effective in an emergency.
  • Fire hazard – Smoking materials could ignite a fire, which would be catastrophic in an airplane.
  • Nicotine effects – Nicotine from smoking acts as a stimulant, which could impact a pilot’s focus and reactions.
  • Withdrawal – Withdrawal from nicotine between cigarettes could also negatively impact focus.
  • Health effects – Medical issues from smoking like lung disease could compromise a pilot’s fitness to fly.

For these reasons, smoking by pilots is considered an unacceptable safety risk under FAA regulations and airline policies.


While pilots cannot smoke while on duty, there are some exceptions:

  • Off duty – Pilots are free to smoke on their own time when they are off duty.
  • Foreign airspace – Pilots flying in and out of foreign countries may be subject to different rules. Some countries do allow smoking on planes.
  • Military pilots – Rules can differ for military pilots, depending on the branch of service.
  • Early aviation – In the early decades of air travel, smoking in the cockpit was more common. Restrictions became stricter over time as more became known about the health and safety risks.

However, these cases are becoming increasingly rare exceptions. Today, there is a near universal prohibition on pilots smoking while on duty due to the clear evidence of the dangers involved.


For commercial airline pilots, enforcement of no-smoking policies is stringent. Airlines, unions, and the FAA work together to ensure compliance.

Typically, smoking incidents would be dealt with through these escalating steps:

  1. Verbal warning from airline management or pilot’s union
  2. Written warning describing incident entered into pilot’s records
  3. Mandatory smoking cessation class
  4. Suspension from flight duties for period of days or weeks
  5. Required nicotine testing for period of months
  6. Revocation of pilot license through FAA investigation

Severely violating no-smoking rules could immediately warrant suspension or loss of license. Commercial pilots face strong motivations and deterrents from attempting to smoke on the job.

Quitting resources

Aviation and health experts agree that the best practice for pilots is to quit smoking entirely. Airlines and pilot unions do make smoking cessation resources available:

  • Support groups
  • Nicotine gum or patches
  • Prescription smoking cessation aids
  • Company wellness programs
  • Health insurance coverage for programs

Many airlines have financial incentives for pilots who can show they have quit smoking for 6-12 months. With the strict no-smoking rules as well as health motivations, most airline pilots do successfully quit.


In conclusion, smoking is prohibited for pilots during flight duties. This applies to all commercial pilots and flights under FAA jurisdiction. Health and safety justifications make these strict rules necessary. While off duty, pilots can smoke on their own time. But airlines encourage pilots to quit entirely and provide resources to help. Overall, the culture and regulations have made the skies largely smoke-free when it comes to pilots on the job.