Passenger Takes Mid-Air Smoke Break, As His Future Travel Plans Go Up In Smoke

Shocking footage as a passenger lights up a cigarette inflight as though nobody was around, seemingly unaware that such a thing is frowned upon (let alone illegal in the United States).

A man is captured on video lighting up a cigarette at his seat, and proceeding to smoke. Another passenger across the aisle can’t believe his eyes, and presses the flight attendant call button. When the crewmember arrives, they point to the cigarette smoking man.

The flight attendant pats him on the arm for attention and says,

You cannot smoke on airplanes. That’s against the law. You do know that, right?

Meanwhile the passenger that’s smoking responds, “oh my G-d.” The crewmember then asks him for his boarding pass. At least the middle seat next to him was empty, and aircraft air flows downward, limiting (but not eliminating) the effects of second-hand smoke.

He’ll certainly be banned from the airline, but in the United States there’s no ‘do not fly’ list for bad inflight behavior. He’ll just have to try lighting up somewhere else. Any administrative fine will likely be settled for cents on the dollar.

Over the summer a United Airlines passenger was caught on video surreptitiously vaping during a flight, and then exhaling water vapor. A first class passenger on my flight from London to Abu Dhabi two weeks ago did this, too, but I didn’t pull out my phone.

The first airline to create a nonsmoking section was United back in 1971. No U.S. airline fully banned smoking worldwide until Delta in 1994. U.S. airlines were still allowed to offer on board smoking up until 2000.

Yet planes still have ashtrays! You’ll usually find them in or near the lavatory, because customers may smoke even though it’s illegal to do so – and they need a place to put out their cigarettes. Without ashtrays they’d be most likely to put out their cigarettes in the lavatory trash.. and light the paper tossed away inside on fire.

People do still smoke on planes! Here’s an American Airlines flight, where a passenger in the first class bulkhead lit up a cigarette. A flight attendant hero who “snatched it out of his hands.”

One passenger who lit her cigarette inflight says police beat her after flight attendants spiked her drink. And in 2020 a passenger lit up a cigarette after refusing to wear a mask on board.

Before the pandemic another passenger downed 4 bottles of beer, vaped an e-cigarette, and punched a flight attendant all before his honeymoon. Another lit a cigarette, drank his own booze, and bit a flight attendant’s ear. While a man who burned himself with his own e-cigarette on board had the temerity to sue the airline.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Northwest Airlines was the first large US carrier to start a smoking ban. In 1988, it banned smoking on domestic flights. Delta came later but banned smoking systemwide earlier, in 1994. I know of a frequent flyer that switched to NW because of that and remained loyal for decades.

  2. I was on a Northwest flight once where I met a friend from my Thai class. He had a Canadian woman friend with him who proceeded to go to the bathroom to smoke. She may have disabled the smoke detector. The flight attendants were not happy with her. She was a bit of a wild one.

  3. The guy in this video looks like he woke up and kinda just forgot where he was and lit up out of straight habit.

  4. The first U.S. airline that I know of that banned smoking on all its flights was Muse Air in the 1980s, although that was a fairly small airline. Still, its no-smoking policy got a lot of publicity at the time.

  5. Just Spirit being Spirit. $20 tickets = $20 people. This is another reason that Spirit and Jetblue should not be allowed to merge. We need a few trash airlines to fly the trash people around. The fewer trash airlines, the more trash people that will end up on other airlines with regular people. Greyhound can’t take them all.

  6. Still remember flying a Sabena code share via Delta from ATL-BRU in June 1994 (L1011-500, ship N755DL) and the last 5-10 rows were the smoking section with a thick haze rolling across the individual reading lights, similar to a Rolling Stones concert.

    The captain turned on the no-smoking sign for 15 minutes every hour to “circulate clean air”…I didn’t mind too much, given the 34″ standard seat pitch in Delta’s ‘international economy” class back in in 1980s and 1990s.

    Those were the days…

  7. Surprised most people on here are ‘t saying people should mind their own business. Seems to be the default answer for inappropriate behavior.

  8. Smoking has become a more unnecessarily costly habit for this guy than it already was before this on-board lighting up.

  9. I remember the smoking sections on some international flights. It was the ultimate downgrade to end up in that section as a non-smoker.

  10. I was going through my father’s papers. He’s now deceased and we had to figure out what to keep and what to throw out. I happened upon a letter that he wrote to an airline in the 1950s, wondering if they could do something to separate smokers and non-smokers on flights. Attached to his carbon copy was a reply saying that most of their customer enjoyed smoking and the airline wasn’t planning any policy changes. Indeed it’s hard to imagine now that one of my biggest hopes on any given flight was to avoid being seated near someone who would smoke.

  11. As others have stated, this is a very old video and you are reporting like it is new or happened recently. Very odd.

  12. …smoke smoke smoke, smoke yourself to death.
    Tell St. Peter at the pearly gates you hate to make him wait, but you just gotta have just
    one more cigarette.

  13. I forget the year but when one major airline banned smoking before it became law, that ban save the company over $2M in outflow valve maintenance alone. A before and after photograph of a 727 outflow valve was covered in a brown sticky goo. This caused spikes in the pressurization of the cabin due to that sticky goo. Now…light up aboard a US carrier…ban that person for a period of time. We need a national “no fly” list.

  14. Desperate to call out vaping, Gary? This video is ages old, lol. And he was smoking, not vaping, which you decided to tie in bizarrely. Get over it Gary, it”s like your obsession with bottled amenities in hotel rooms. No one is trying to “infect” you.

    Oh, and Etihad is very Vape friendly in premium cabins. No one cares. Why? It doesn’t bother anyone but you that is so desperate to find something to be shocked about. Because you’re bored.

  15. Oh, one other tidbit.. the MEL (minimum equipment list) for the L-1011 had the ashtray in the armrest as a “no go” item! If one was dislodged, damaged or missing, the jet was grounded until a replacement was installed. When smoking was finally banned, the ashtrays remained on the MEL until such time as they were tack welded shut!

  16. Given the incontrovertible hard scientific data about smoking it is safe to conclude that all smokers are, quite frankly, idiots.

  17. We need less blacklisting of free Americans not duly convicted in a court of law following an open and fair trial by a jury of their peers. And that should be the case even for annoying smokers.

  18. Tobacco kills over 7,000,000 people every year, more than terrorism, natural disasters, wars, accidents, etc. Periodic reminders to not smoke around non-consenting people are needed because too many smokers are more than happy to poison other people’s lungs.

  19. Most important take away from this article is that no one should care if anyone vapes on a plane. If you care about that then you should probably start worrying about what Mr Rogers did to your mother in the ballroom with the candlestick

  20. I, for one, am glad the airlines banned smoking. I remember non-reving out of DFW and being stuck in the Smoking section… It really sucked when the no smoking light turned off… A huge white smoke came rolling through that section. It was so thick, I’d rather hitch hike to California than ever fly in a smoking section ever again!

  21. I was very happy when smoking was banned on airlines and also when it was banned in clubs. My aunt and uncle would come over and smoke up a storm when I was a kid, leaving me with severe headaches. Being in a smokey environment often made me want to burn or bury the clothes I wore that day.

  22. And this is one more reason not to fly. I cannot guarantee the safety of the fool who lights up next to me. Just saying …

  23. The law about this from a flight attendant: If a passenger lights a cigarette while seated you tell them to put it out. We have to consider it ignorance of the rules. If a passenger goes into the bathroom and lights up they are subject to arrest upon arrival. They knew what they were doing. It’s all about intent.

  24. Dc not in Dc like to know were you get your alternative facts. 7 million USA or world citizens. Do not think you can calculate world as the Chinese and Russian would not support

  25. In 1981 Muse Air was the nation’s ONLY non smoking airline. It was a pleasurable experience to fly but very unprofitable since MC was the innovator and not a friend of the smoking lobby. Clean new super quiet MD-80’s, attractive, attentive flight attendants and absolutely no smoking cabin was about four years ahead of it’s time. Southwest acquired Muse Air, changed the name to TranStar and allowed smoking. Passengers, vocal nonsmokers and the FAA finally embarked on a campaign that ultimately made flying more enjoyable for all . . . and Southwest liquidated the innovator.
    As a side note, some some time the MD80’s were in a 50/50 seating configuration with 2-3 seating in coach and 2-2 Business (domestic first class seat). Although it was awesome for non-revving and just a few dollars more to upgrade, that concept didn’t stop the $$$ hemorrhaging (interest rates were at 16-18% and fuel was expensive.) Southwest Airlines stepped in and outbid Continental Airlines for the airline, agreed to operate the airline for at two years but almost two years to the date of acquisition, MuseAir/TranStar joined the Legion of Forgotten Airlines club.

  26. The tobacco companies did not like the airlines banning smoking. After Northwest banned smoking, their ad agency made a commercial boasting of it. That agency also did a major food company that was owned by a tobacco company. The tobacco company canceled the food company’s contract.

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