Earlier today I wrote about the Air China flight that rapidly descended due to depressurization. Chinese authorities have confirmed pilot vaping is to blame. Is it ever okay for pilots to smoke or vape onboard?
It’s a serious question, because smoking remains prevalent in much of the world. While I would never expect pilots or flight crews from the “west” to smoke onboard a flight, the world is a big place. Smoking is not culturally insensitive in much of the world.
Smoking onboard is also not illegal under U.S. law…for pilots (it just must be done in the flight deck).
After enduring a 13-hour flight on China Eastern in which pilots smoked frequently, I think about this issue often. The flight was truly miserable.
But some make the following argument: better a pilot to be alert than not alert. If smoking helps keep a pilot focused, safety is improved by smoking. Plus, how does it bother passengers if done behind closed doors?
I simply cannot agree.
I’m not an anti-smoking advocate. In fact, I’ve argued that major U.S. airports should be more welcoming to smokers.
> Read More: We Need More Airport Smoking Lounges, Not Fewer
But smoking onboard crosses a line. Even putting the tragic story of Olympic Airlines Flight 417 aside, the walls of the flight deck or crew rest simply do not keep the smoke in. But when the smoke pours right through the walls (and air vents), there is no escape. It becomes an issue not just of comfort, but of health. The issue is just like the former days of smoking and non-smoking sections aboard aircraft. It was a joke: smoke still filled the entire cabin.
And let’s not forget the even more important safety concerns as well. An improperly extinguished cigarette could lead to a cockpit or crew rest fire that could endanger the safety of everyone onboard.
The Air China flight issue was caused by a first officer trying to cover up his vaping. His short-sighted selfishness put the safety of everyone onboard in jeopardy. There the cover-up was more serious than the crime, but the safety lapse was a result of smoking.
Although my opinion is fairly firm, I’m open to discussion on this. Can someone make a persuasive argument as to why pilots (or flight attendants in their crew rest area) should be allowed to smoke onboard?
> Read More: Why I Mourn the Loss of Airport Smoking Lounges
top image: Canadian Public Health Association