Airlines: Why Are There Still Ashtrays Onboard?

It’s one of the most-asked questions about airplanes, so let’s clear the air about those ashtrays in the loo.

It’s more than 20 years since commercial airlines first banned smoking on board, so have you ever wondered why today’s modern aircraft still have ashtrays in the loo?

It’s an issue that has been covered many times before, but it’s still one of the most-asked questions about air travel.

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The next time you visit the bathroom on board a commercial aircraft – including the new generation Airbus A-380 or the Boeing Dreamliner – you’ll notice there’s a self-contained, removable  ashtray on the inside of the door, or close by.

They are usually right next to signs reminding you that lighting up is strictly prohibited.

The simple explanation is that these relics of the past are mandatory on all commercial airlines – just in case someone decides to break the rules and lights up in the loo after takeoff.

Some passengers desperate for a nicotine hit still try to get away with it, especially on long haul flights, often by trying to disable smoke detectors in the lavatory, which is itself a criminal offence.

There’ll always be the occasional rogue passenger who’s desperate for a smoke at 35,000 feet: like Pasty Stone (Joanna Lumley) who gets tasered for smoking in Absolutely Fabulous, the movie.

Patsy Stone (Joanna Lumley) gets zapped.

So, airlines believe it’s better to have somewhere people can safely stub out a cigarette rather than risk a potential fire in the sky.

That’s apparently what happened when a discarded cigarette butt caused a fire on a plane from Rio de Janeiro to Paris in 1973.

The cabin of the Brazilian Varig plane filled up with smoke, obscuring instruments and forcing the pilots to perform an emergency crash landing that killed 123 people.

More recently, a British Airways flight bound for Mexico City was grounded in 2009 when it was discovered “a vital part” was missing.

That crucial part was, of course, an ashtray.

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London Daily Telegraph 30/05/09

In the United States, the Federal Aviation Administration’s (FAA) list of “minimum equipment” for aircraft to be considered airworthy, includes an ashtray in the lavatory.  A similar ruling applies in the European Union, although aviation rules are a little more hazy in other countries.

Australia’s Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA), for instance, has specific rules about not allowing smoking or e-cigarettes on board, but makes no mention of ashtrays in its master minimum equipment list (MMEL).

At least we can all breathe easy knowing smoking onboard is now a thing of the past.

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