For most travelers, the mere thought of anyone lighting up a cigarette in flight likely seems foreign and dated. For US travelers, it has been nearly 20 years since smoking was banned on all flights. For UK flyers, smoking was banned in 1998.
However, in China, where nearly 50% of the population smokes cigarettes regularly, the rules are a little different. While China banned in-flight smoking in the late 1990s, pilots had been exempt from such laws. But this past week, China’s regulatory board overseeing aviation issued the first notice to Chinese airlines to enforce a smoking ban in the cockpit on domestic flights.
A complete in-flight smoking ban for Chinese airlines supposedly went into effect in 2017. This meant that, in addition to passengers and crew, pilots were no longer allowed to smoke in flight. However, the pilot smoking ban was rarely enforced. Now, almost two years since the initial smoking ban went into effect, the China Daily is reporting that the Civil Aviation Administration of China issued a notice enforcing the ban on smoking for all those on board.
The 2017 smoking ban, which is just now being enforced, only applies to domestic flights. This means that on longer international flights, Chinese pilots are still allowed to violate the 2017 ban and can smoke in the cockpit. For pilots who chose to light up on domestic flights, however, the Civil Aviation Administration of China has implemented penalties and punishments including suspensions up to three years.
First-time offenders caught smoking cigarettes or using electronic cigarettes will automatically receive a 12-month suspension. Second-time violators will then receive a 36-month suspension. Flight attendants and other crew members on domestic flights will also be held accountable under the CAA’s enforcement of the smoking ban. Crew members who fail to prevent other crew members from smoking in flight will receive a 6-month suspension. Harsher and more severe penalties could follow should crew members continue to violate the smoking ban. Airlines are required to complete regular checks and are to regularly monitor flights to ensure that its crew adheres to the CAA’s orders.
China’s decision to finally enforce the smoking-ban on domestic flights is being attributed to incidents in which smoking crew members created potential safety hazardous in flight. One noteworthy incident took place in July 2018, during which an Air China pilot wanting to smoke in flight turned off the aircraft cabin’s air conditioning system while the aircraft was near cruising altitude. This caused the aircraft to rapidly descend and oxygen masks to deploy. The pilot had intended to turn off a fan that circulated cabin air between the flight deck and other parts of the cabin.
China remains one of the few countries that allows its flight crews to smoke on international flights. More than two decades ago, the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) implemented an international smoking ban on passenger cabins, citing health concerns. While China technically adhered to ICAO’s smoking ban, some passengers that regularly fly within China report that smoking among passengers continues to be an issue, especially on flights between smaller less industrialized cities.
Featured image by Yin Liqin/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images