In 1990, smoking was officially banned on every domestic plane in the United States. It’s been long enough that it’s hard to consider a time when there wasn’t a no smoking light permanently illuminated, not to mention the advisement before takeoff that smoking of any kind is prohibited. And yet ashtrays are still installed in new and retrofitted airplane bathrooms.
Airplane smoking bans started in 1988 when Congress banned smoking on domestic flights less than two hours long. In 1990, it was extended to six hours, which covered every domestic flight at the time. In 2000, smoking was officially banned on all flights within the US as well as flights to and from the country.
By Federal Aviation Administration requirements, bathrooms are still required to have an ashtray, however. Often that ashtray is underneath a no smoking sign. That’s because if someone did decide to break the law, intentionally or not, they need a safe place to put it out. Plane fires are dire, and it wouldn’t take much for someone to toss a cigarette in a trash can filled with paper if they were caught and tried to hide their dirty deed.
The exact regulations, according to Cornell Law, read: “Regardless of whether smoking is allowed in any other part of the airplane, lavatories must have self-contained, removable ashtrays located conspicuously on or near the entry side of each lavatory door, except that one ashtray may serve more than one lavatory door if the ashtray can be seen readily from the cabin side of each lavatory served.”
So the next time you see that ashtray, don’t take it as an invitation. A passenger in 2021 was fined $10,300 for vaping on a plane.