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Is cigarette allowed in flight?

In today’s age of heightened airport security and increasing health consciousness, the question of whether or not cigarettes are allowed on flights is an important one for many travelers to consider. This article will examine if and how cigarettes are permitted on airplanes, covering regulations, policies, enforcement, penalties, and tips for getting your nicotine fix while flying the friendly skies.

Are cigarettes allowed on airplanes?

The short answer is no, cigarettes are banned on virtually all commercial airline flights to, from, and within the United States. This prohibition against smoking cigarettes and other tobacco products on domestic flights has been in place since 2000 when the Department of Transportation enacted it as part of the Wendell H. Ford Aviation Investment and Reform Act for the 21st Century.

Specifically, the law states that “an individual may not smoke in an aircraft in scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation.” The ban covers domestic flights (within the U.S. and its territories) by both American and foreign carriers. It applies to all flights, including charters and private planes, any time passengers are onboard.

The rationale behind banning smoking on planes is reducing health risks. Secondhand smoke is dangerous, and ventilation systems on aircraft cannot filter toxins sufficiently to eliminate risks. The confined space intensifies exposure. Banned along with cigarettes are pipes, cigars, e-cigarettes, and vaping devices.

Some other key facts about the no smoking rule for flights:

  • The ban applies once passengers start boarding and continues until people deplane.
  • It applies even when the plane is parked at the gate, not just when in flight.
  • All lavatories are smoke-free zones with fire detectors and alarms.
  • The prohibition includes charter flights and private aircraft if any paying passengers are carried.
  • Commercial airline pilots, flight attendants, and other crew are also barred from smoking.

While domestic U.S. flights must be smoke-free, policies vary internationally. Many foreign airlines also prohibit smoking. However, on some overseas carriers smoking may be allowed in designated areas or cabins. Passengers can ask the airline about its specific policy before booking tickets.

When did cigarette smoking bans start on planes?

Banning smoking on commercial flights has been a gradual process over many years. Since the health hazards of secondhand smoke became widely recognized in the late 20th century, consumer demand drove increasingly strict limits.

Here is a timeline of key milestones in the elimination of smoking on airplanes:

  • 1973 – The first no smoking rows are instituted by some airlines.
  • 1984 – Smoking is banned on domestic flights under 2 hours by most major U.S. carriers.
  • 1988 – Smoking is banned on domestic flights of less than 6 hours for large airlines.
  • 1990 – Northwest Airlines becomes the first to ban smoking on all domestic flights.
  • 1994 – Smoking is banned on all domestic routes of less than 6 hours by Federal law.
  • 1998 – All flights between the U.S. and Europe are smoke-free.
  • 2000 – The total ban on smoking on all domestic and international flights to/from the U.S takes effect.

This step-by-step phase out gave airlines and customers time to adjust. Initially short hops were smoke-free, then longer flights, then all domestic routes, and finally international as well. Airlines themselves led the transition voluntarily even before the government mandates.

What are the penalties for smoking on a plane?

Thanks to strict enforcement, incidents of passengers trying to sneak a smoke mid-flight are rare. But what happens if someone breaks the rules? The consequences for lighting up where prohibited are severe.

Under Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) regulations, tampering with a smoke detector in an airplane lavatory carries a civil penalty of up to $4,000 per violation. And the anti-smoking law itself imposes fines of up to $2,000 for each offense.

In addition to these FAA fines, the airline will also likely hit the offender with a steep fee. Most carriers impose penalties of $2,000 or more for smoking in the lavatory. And if smoking causes any damage, the costs quickly escalate. The airline can seek reimbursement for all repairs, plus aircraft downtime and associated expenses.

Law enforcement will also be notified. Smoking on a plane is a federal offense, so airport police or the FBI will often meet the flight on arrival. Getting arrested is possible, especially if the situation escalated to tampering with safety equipment or disregarding the instructions of the flight crew.

And besides potential criminal charges, the airline will almost certainly revoke the passenger’s future flying privileges. Most contracts of carriage allow the carrier to ban individuals who violate policies from buying tickets or flying for extended periods.

How do airlines enforce smoking bans?

Although airlines don’t take chances, enforcement is rarely needed thanks to layers of effective deterrents:

  • Detection systems – Lavatories have smoke detectors with alarms to instantly alert crews.
  • Flight attendants – Staff continually monitor cabins for any tobacco use.
  • Cameras – Many aircraft have security cameras with footage reviewed if needed.
  • Air filters – Sophisticated ventilation removes odors that could indicate smoking.
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With flight attendants, smoke detectors, cameras, and air filters all helping to enforce the no smoking policy, very few passengers attempt to defy the ban. Staff also make periodic announcements about prohibited smoking. Those who still disregard the rules face severe FAA fines and additional penalties from the airline.

Can you smoke e-cigarettes on a plane?

No, the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices is also completely banned on commercial flights to, from, or within the U.S. They fall under the same restrictions and rules as traditional tobacco cigarettes.

The DOT reasoning is twofold. First, the exhaled vapor contains nicotine and other chemicals that non-users should not be involuntarily exposed to. Second, the devices themselves can be safety risks if defective or misused. Lithium batteries have caused fires in e-cigarettes, so airlines prohibit their use in-flight.

Fines and penalties for using e-cigarettes or vaping on planes are identical to smoking regular cigarettes. Both are federal offenses with similar consequences. So e-cigarette users should be sure to get their nicotine fix before boarding or wait until reaching their destination.

Are there exceptions allowing smoking on some flights?

In a few rare cases, exceptions may allow smoking on certain special flights:

  • On private charter flights without any crew members, smoking may be permitted in some circumstances if the charter contract allows it.
  • International flights on foreign airlines could allow smoking if they designate a section of the cabin for it and ventilate accordingly.
  • Some flights to/from Cuba operated by charter companies have allowed smoking in past years, but this is increasingly unlikely today.
  • Flights carrying animals, artwork, hazardous cargo, or other sensitive freight might make exceptions with appropriate safety measures.

However, these cases are uncommon exceptions. The vast majority of commercial flights today are completely smoke-free across the entire aircraft. The trend is also toward more airports and nations banning smoking as well.

Can you smoke in the airplane bathroom?

No. Lavatories aboard aircraft are smoke-free and have detectors to ensure compliance. Lighting up in the bathroom can trigger tampering penalties and fines up to $4,000 from the FAA.

Airline staff check restrooms regularly throughout the flight. Attempting to smoke there would be noticed immediately, prompting a response from the flight crew. Disabling a smoke detector also represents a federal felony offense.

In addition to strict enforcement, the lavatory is an impractical place to try smoking on a plane. The confined poorly ventilated space quickly fills with obvious smoke and odor. Other passengers would detect it. Overall the bathroom offers no opportunity for discreetly evading the smoking ban.

Where can you smoke in airports?

Many airports now prohibit smoking in all indoor areas, but some still offer designated smoking lounges. Other options include:

  • Outdoor smoking patios away from main entrances.
  • Enclosed ventilated airport smoking rooms or lounges.
  • Smoking may be allowed in airport bars or restaurants in some areas.
  • Smoking zones outside arrivals and departure drop-off areas.
  • Ask an airport staff member for the nearest smoking area.

Restrictions at airports continue to tighten worldwide, but options exist if needed before a flight. Just ensure you allow ample time to smoke and pass through security again before boarding.

How can you cope with nicotine cravings on a long flight?

These tips can help smokers deal with nicotine urges and withdrawal symptoms on a lengthy smoke-free flight:

  • Chewing gum, mints, lozenges or hard candy can ease oral cravings.
  • Drink plenty of water and juice rather than coffee or alcohol which can intensify desires.
  • Bring nicotine gum or patches for use during the flight.
  • Stay occupied watching movies, reading, or chatting to take your mind off it.
  • Try relaxation techniques like deep breathing exercises.
  • Keep hands and mouth busy with puzzles, snacks, or squeezing a stress ball.
  • Think of the health benefits you’ll get from remaining smoke-free.

It also helps to plan ahead by packing nicotine substitutes in carry-on bags. And be sure to smoke immediately before entering the airport rather than once already through security.

Can you use nicotine gum or patches on a plane?

Yes, nicotine replacement therapy products like gum and patches are allowed on flights. They can aid travelers dealing with cravings and withdrawal.

However, most airlines prohibit use of electronic cigarette or vaping devices. But acceptable options include:

  • Nicotine gum for chewing to absorb nicotine through the mucous membranes.
  • Nicotine patches applied to the skin for slow transdermal nicotine delivery.
  • Nicotine lozenges that are sucked on like hard candy.
  • Nicotine inhalers that simulate the action of smoking.

These products all supply nicotine without smoke, fire hazards, or secondhand vapor exposure. Using them is discreet and does not violate the cigarette smoking ban. Just be sure to properly dispose of used gum or patches.


The health dangers of secondhand smoke are well recognized today. That is why smoking cigarettes or any tobacco product is completely banned on virtually all flights to, from, and within the United States and its territories. Tampering with lavatory smoke detectors also brings steep fines.

With good enforcement from crew members, smoke detectors, ventilation systems, and more, compliance is high. But those caught violating the rules face FAA penalties, airline fees, and even arrest. Nicotine cravings can be managed with gum, patches, and other smoking alternatives you can bring on board.

While airplanes and many airports are now smoke-free, some exceptions exist. But indulging where prohibited puts your ability to continue flying at risk. Overall the wisest course for smokers is to abstain during the flight or satisfy nicotine urges beforehand. This ensures smooth travels with no hassles or consequences from attempting to light up mid-air.