Before today, I had been on one smoking flight my entire life: Burbank to Seattle in September 1987. I was a year old and do not remember it…My second smoking flight was earlier today on China Eastern from Los Angeles to Shanghai.
Let me start by saying that I am a far stronger advocate for smokers’ rights than many Americans — six years ago I penned a piece entitled “Why I Mourn the Loss of Airport Smoking Lounges” and my viewpoint remains unchanged.
But smoking onboard a flight is different.
As I said then–
I don’t want to see smoking sections return to airplanes, where there is no way for a passenger to avoid the stench and health ramifications of smoke. Anyone old enough to remember smoking on planes should remember that the illusion of a smoking and non-smoking section was often a joke, with smoke wafting throughout the entire airplane.
> Read More: Why I Mourn the Loss of Airport Smoking Lounges
And that remains the case, as today’s flight demonstrated.
Lucky already shared the lurid details, but since I did most of the talking let me share the story from my perspective.
Like a chain smoker who needs a steady fix, for five hours we smelled the distinct smell of cigarette smoke every 15-20 minutes. It was annoying to be sure, but at first it was more a curiosity factor that drove further investigation, because the stench was so strong. Where was it coming from?
We checked galleys and we checked lavatories but there seemed to be no one smoking there. That left the crew rest area and the flight deck as the only realistic options. I asked a FA about the smell and she first claimed that she smelled nothing, then claimed it was the oven.
Hours later, with the stench of cigarettes still filling the cabin, I flagged down a FA and asked her to summon the cabin manager (purser). She refused (“She take break”) and told me to tell her what was wrong. I then tried to get her to admit that the pilots were smoking. My hope was that maybe if she alerted them that passengers were complaining, they would refrain from lighting up for the remainder of the flight.
This FA too at first claimed to smell nothing, then went I imitated taking a drag with my right index and middle finger she asked me if I wanted to smoke.
No…although maybe I would have been invited up to the cockpit.
She told me she would speak with the captain. Five minutes later she returned and said, “Captain said he has never smoked.”
I laughed. She promised that she would send the cabin manager over after she had woken up. The cabin manager never showed up and the smoking continued for the remainder of the flight.
After the flight we ran into the captain and one of the first officers near the baggage claim area…I shamelessly walked right up to them to see if I could smell smoke. Yup.
Under both Chinese and U.S. law, pilots can smoke while the plane is in cruise.
That is not the point.
The point is that China Eastern brands itself as providing “five-star hotel” service in business class and advertises a smoke-free onboard environment:
See 1:13 for the no smoking onboard policy, though such policy appears nowhere on the China Eastern English website
That simply was not the case.
Truthfully, I do not care if the flight crew smokes in the flight deck or not. I just do not want to smell it. What I do care about is providing a clean environment and China Eastern woefully failed at this from Los Angeles to Shanghai. We should not have been subjected to the smell of a burning cigarette for most of the flight. All consumers should expect a smoke-free environment when in a confined tube on a longhaul flight and frankly cultural considerations should not merit any consideration here.