Currently in my mid-'30s, I can still clearly remember the time when half of the plane's passengers were smoking throughout a long-haul flight. I know commercial flights became non-smoking sometime in the late '90s but I can't remember the exact timeline and the Wikipedia article is remarkably lean in details.

When did the major airlines start forbidding inflight smoking? How long did it take for the new policy to spread across most of the airlines? Can we expect this length of transition period to apply to other significant policy changes (e.g. the use of small electronic devices being allowed during take-off and landing by some airlines, provided they are in flight-safe mode)?



1 Answer 1


There is an interesting timeline here which includes other transportation service as well.

According to this New York Times article, the FAA banned smoking on all flights under 2 hours beginning April 23, 1988. According to the timeline, Northwest and British Airways make all domestic service smoke free shortly after.

On February 25th, 1990, the rule is expanded to all domestic flights under 6 hours, which includes all but 28 of 16,000 flights.

In 1992, ICAO urges its members to go smoke free by July 1, 1996. Delta went smoke free on all flights starting in 1995. TWA, United, and American follow suit in 1997. In 1998 even more airlines go smoke free.

This federal rule bans smoking on all flights to and from the US and is effective June 4, 2000. It mentions that all domestic and 98% of international flights were already in compliance.

td;dr The FAA banned smoking on all flights under 2 hours in 1988, and it escalated from there. Within 10 years, almost all airlines were smoke free.

I think that smoking had the advantage of being a health issue, whereas electronic devices are more just convenience and comfort. Barring any emergent safety issues, it seems easier to allow people to do something new (use electronic devices) than stop them from doing something (smoking). Considering the proliferation and advancement of inflight entertainment systems, I would expect airlines to be fairly quick about allowing the use of devices, especially since some already do (I know American and United do).

  • $\begingroup$ hmm, as one reason for airlines to disallow electronic entertainment devices is to protect their income from renting out access to the in flight entertainment systems (many airlines still demand payment for getting rental headphones for their custom sockets, and some have pay per view movies and games among other things), I'd see the bans on electronics increase rather than decrease as more airliners have built in personal systems that can be charged for. $\endgroup$
    – jwenting
    Mar 27, 2014 at 11:47
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    $\begingroup$ @jwenting- The ban on electronics isn't per airline though, it's per the FAA. And once it's completely lifted (which it mostly has been at this point) good luck to any airline that wants to ban electronics. People like their personal devices, and given a choice between an airline that let's them use their own iPad v. one that doesn't...I think they'd choose the one that lets them use their own device. The free market would take it from there. $\endgroup$
    – Jay Carr
    Mar 27, 2014 at 12:57
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    $\begingroup$ Some airlines also let you use your own device to connect to their entertainment system where you can pay for TV, movies, or Internet. $\endgroup$
    – fooot
    Mar 27, 2014 at 14:38

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