Vaping Isn’t Permitted, Except On Southwest Airlines Flight 1778, And That’s OK

Vaping is just as illegal on planes as smoking, even though when someone ‘smokes’ an e-cigarette they generally aren’t exhaling smoke, just water vapor. The only reasons for this are,

  • Confusion. Other passengers and crew might not realize it’s just water vapor

  • Annoyance. “Smoking” is deemed bad, and other passengers may not like it, in other words it’s banned for reasons similar to inflight cell phone calls on U.S. carriers (which are allowed on many airlines all over the world

Vaping is banned on airlines, that is, except on this past Wednesday’s Southwest Airlines Phoenix – Honolulu flight.

It actually seems to me that Southwest crew made the correct call not to confront the passenger and escalate the situation. They might have written him up, filed a report with the airline and eventually the FAA – the passenger was breaking rules after all. But on an overwater flight without many places to divert it seems like a good idea not to be petty in immediate enforcement.

Put another way, if there’s no immediate safety risk to the plane or to other passengers, it has always seemed like a bad idea to escalate conflict inside of a metal tube out over the open ocean. To be clear I am not saying ‘don’t enforce the rules’. That would eventually lead to passengers learning that rules don’t need to be followed. Instead ask a passenger once to follow them. Then deal with the violation after the flight when the conduct in question entails little immediate risk.

By the way the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit slapped down the FDA on Tuesday over the arbitrary and capricious way it’s handling the task it’s taken on of regulating e-cigarettes.

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 »

More articles by Gary Leff »


  1. The twitter link no longer works.
    I hope the culprit was arrested and jailed as soon as the plane landed and is now on the do-not-fly list. Perhaps he can charter a boat back to mainland US.
    I have a low tolerance for idiots.

  2. I might agree with not “escalate conflict” during a flight, but draw the line about not reporting the incident. I’m sorry, but rules are rules, and if we don’t like the rules we need to have them changed. This individual will almost certainly feel that they got away with something, and on another flight not like this one, they will again almost certainly feel that they can get away with it. Most people speed because the chance of getting caught is very low. Still there are speed limits and it is against the law to go over those limits. But why should we follow the speed limits when there is almost no chance we will get caught.

  3. It would seem that giving notice to the offending person would be appropriate. Outside of that, the crew is well advised to wait until arrival at the destination to fully address the matter, up to and including banning the offender from further flights and filing reports with the appropriate federal agencies.

    The same should apply to mask offenders. There is no reason to get in a fight at 35000 feet where backup is limited. There is also no reason to allow folks like that to get on another airliner.

  4. @Robert

    Have you ever considered the possibility that many speeding violations are a form of taxation through citation? If it’s a law, it must be right! You do realize that slavery was legal in the US for a very long time, don’t you? Dred Scott v. Sandford?

  5. @cargocult

    Form of taxation? Are you kidding. If that were so, the number of citations written would be enormous and perhaps cities and counties could lower our property taxes. If you are not happy about a rule or law, change it. But living in a society that doesn’t have rules and laws, would simply be a society of kill or be killed. When you fly, you agree to the rules and laws. Don’t like them? Change them, or don’t fly. It’s that simple.

  6. @ Gary — Of this asshat was near me, his e-cigadette would no longer be used. I dont buy the bs that these poison sticks “only emit water vapor”. Nonsense.

  7. The last I heard water vapor is odorless. That’s certainly not usually the case when sitting beside somebody vaping.

  8. Gary,

    If it is, as you claim, “just water vapor” – then why does that same vaporous cloud still reek of the positively heinous chemical “flavorings”, and god knows what else, that the user is inhaling?

    The devices are banned for good reason – and it’s not “confusion”.

  9. Why didn’t they just have the passenger give him the device, to be returned to him once
    out of plane on arrival, but arrange for ticketing, fining, arresting upon arrival ?

  10. @Robert

    I see the point of revenue generation over safety flew over your head. Very well, keep obeying, comrade. Mask up, save lives!

  11. @Gary – From the CDC website ( ): ‘E-cigarette aerosol is NOT harmless “water vapor.”’

    Please update your article, and certainly don’t misreport such health information. e-cigs are not AS terrible for your health as regular cigarettes, but you can rest assured; they’re still terrible for your health!

    Check the article for the list of substances the CDC believes are in that aerosol, and understand that it is extremely likely to be an *incomplete* list, and one that varies by both manufacturer and flavor. The CDC takes time to process new publications on the topic and update the webpage, and this is an active area of research.

  12. I hate cigarettes. I hate e-cigarettes. Are there not enough vices in the world that can be consumed without health and odor nuisances to others? Smoking and vaping are only remotely cool in social circles of f***tards.

Comments are closed.