Of the spam and email ads I get every day, this email ad gave me a second of pause before I hit the delete button:
Are You Allowed to Smoke (or Vape) Electronic Cigarettes On A Plane? Really?
No (nice try, “Megan”).
The USDOT considers the current smoking ban (since 1998) to include a ban on the use of electronic cigarettes.
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On June 10, 2014, six U.S. Senators sent a letter to USDOT Secretary Anthony Foxx urging action on the delayed final regulation that would bar e-cigarette “vaping” on all domestic and international flights to or from the United States. The Senators wrote (full letter here):
We are writing to you with great concern about protecting consumer health on commercial flights. While many major carriers have decided to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes, federal regulations still allow these products to be used during flight. The Department of Transportation first published proposed rules to prohibit the use of electronic cigarettes on aircraft on September 15, 2011. … It is unacceptable that it has been more than two years and this rule has yet to be finalized.
While the TSA does allow electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) and related gear (batteries, liquids, etc.) to be packed in a carry-on or checked bag, “lighting up” (aka to vape or vaping) is another story. Let’s cover (1) traveling with them and (2) operating them while on-board.
Packing Your E-Cigarettes
While the link above confirms that TSA currently allows travel with e-cigarettes (including e-liquids, e-juice, etc. so long as they meet the standard 3-1-1 Rule), remember that the TSA security personnel may question their appearance at first because (1) they still are a novel concept and device to many and (2) due to their metal content and shape when viewed on detection devices. Additionally, airlines may have their own regulations as to how you may travel with them, including where they may be packed, and when they may be used, if at all.
Use of E-Cigarettes During Air Travel
Prior To Boarding – It is best to find a designated (regular) smoking area to operate your e-cigarettes. While the use of e-cigarettes currently is allowed inside most U.S. airports, local regulations and airport policies may vary greatly, even if the TSA is fine with it. (See an example in the Overtime section below.)
On Board – The U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) asserts that the current law includes a ban on “smoking” e-cigarettes.
“An individual may not smoke in an aircraft in scheduled passenger interstate or intrastate air transportation.” 49 USC §41706(a)(1).
“Air carriers shall prohibit smoking on all scheduled passenger flights.” 14 CFR 252.3.
“Air carriers shall prohibit smoking whenever the aircraft is on the ground.” 14 CFR 252.11(a).
This policy assertion is found on the USDOT’s website here as a response to the late Sen. Frank Raleigh Lautenberg’s (D-NJ) question during a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation hearing, “Does the [USDOT] plan to explicitly ban smoking of electronic cigarettes on commercial airplanes?”
Smoking of electronic cigarettes is already banned on U.S. air carrier and foreign air carrier flights in scheduled intrastate, interstate and foreign air transportation. See 49 USC §41706 and 14 CFR Part 252 (Part 252). Nevertheless, we plan to further address this matter in a notice of proposed rulemaking (sic) that would amend the existing general regulatory language in Part 252 to explicitly ban smoking of electronic cigarettes aboard aircraft. –Susan Kurland, Asst. Secretary for Aviation and International Affairs, USDOT, June 17, 2010.
UPDATE (March 2, 2016): USDOT has officially and explicitly banned the “use of electronic cigarettes on commercial flights of U.S. and foreign carriers involving transportation in, to, and from the U.S.” See this press release for more information.
But My E-Cigarette Company Says Vaping On A Plane Is Allowed?
Certain companies may take the position that the law bans “smoking” and its product is not smoking. For example, the popular brand “blu” stated on its website as of this post (my emphasis):
Can I really smoke blu anywhere? blu is not a traditional cigarette and does not burn tobacco, so it can be smoked in bars, restaurants, planes and offices and other places where normal smoking bans are in effect. blu produces an odorless vapor that disappears in several seconds, unlike cigarette smoke. You should always check with the location before using blu.
In September 2011, the USDOT proposed to change the existing rule to explicitly ban the smoking of electronic cigarettes on air carriers and foreign air carrier flights in scheduled intrastate, interstate, and foreign air transportation. (See Federal Register, Vol. 76, No. 179 , September 15, 2011.) As of July 2013, no changes have been adopted (See Federal Register, Vol. 78, No. 141, p. 44292, July 23, 2013.), but I would expect a formal, express ban to be established sometime in 2014, especially with various Senators pushing like this here.
I have had it with these motherf**kin’ VAPES on this motherf**kin’ plane!
The USDOT has focused on the confusion and concerns of fellow passengers with e-cigarettes, even though they do produce vapor instead of smoke. For example, while the user may know the safety of using an e-cigarette, think about the already nervous first-time flyer three rows back who sees what he thinks is a big plume of smoke in the cabin and IT’S ON TO PANIC MODE!
Put another way, where there’s smoke (or what appears to be smoke), there MAY be fire — but regardless, you don’t want a heated situation!
- Are people still “vaping” on planes regardless of the USDOT’s position and carriers’ rules? – Absolutely.
- If fear or confusion by others is the issue, how about vaping in the plane’s restroom? – I would strongly advise against it. Here is just one YouTube video demonstrating how a smoke detector CAN be activating by vaping. In my opinion, use of e-cigs on a plane puts the comfort and safety of the passengers at risk due to the potential of confusion with smoke (at best) and alarm/panic (at worst).
Summary of Some Airlines’ Policies
– Delta – “E-cigarettes cannot be operated at any time on a Delta or Delta Connection Aircraft.” Also, “Smoking, chewing tobacco, smokeless tobacco and electronic cigarette use is not permitted in any Delta Sky Club.”
– JetBlue – “While the majority of electronic cigarettes may be non-hazardous, JetBlue does NOT allow the USE of them on any of our flights, but will allow them in checked or carry-on baggage. It is considered a nuisance item as small amounts of vapor are expelled from the cigarette.”
– Southwest – “Electronic Cigarettes and Smoking Devices” are “never permitted” for use on board.
– United – “The use of electronic, simulated smoking materials (such as electronic cigarettes, pipes or cigars) is prohibited on United Airlines.”
– Transporting an e-cigarette and related gear during air travel is allowed.
– Using an e-cigarette while on board commercial aircraft is not allowed.
– E-cig maker Gamucci opened an indoor “Vaping Zone” last year in Terminal 4 at London Heathrow Airport (LHR) near the duty-free shops. Do you know of other such airport lounges?
– While they are not e-cigarettes, Ryanair sells “smokeless cigarettes” on board. Reminds me of the old joke, “I tried to give up smoking by switching to gum… but I had the damndest time getting them to light.”
Can vaping set off a smoke alarm?
Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above are “affiliate links.” This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.