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Airlines Light the 'No Smoking' Signs
March 15, 1994 -- Just before the departure of a recent Cathay Pacific Airways flight from Los Angeles to Hong Kong, an airline representative distributed cigarettes to the passengers. Candy cigarettes. Candy cigarettes in a box whose label said, "Flying aboard nonsmoking flights may be addictive."

The tongue-in-cheek message must be true. Not a single passenger on one of the world's longest nonstop flights--it takes more than 15 hours to fly between Los Angeles and Hong Kong--complained about Cathay Pacific's no-smoking rule.

Prodded by health-conscious travelers, airlines around the world now prohibit smoking on an increasing number of their flights. Their willingness to snuff out smoking comes just in the nick of time because more planes now rely on recycled air. Lower-quality, recirculated air makes cramped airline cabins more inappropriate places than ever for in-flight puffing.

Until about 15 years ago, commercial jets pumped only fresh air into passenger cabins, but newer jets squeeze more fuel efficiency from their engines when they recycle cabin air. As a result, about two-thirds of the nation's fleet now relies on recirculated air. By the turn of the century, virtually every plane in the sky will pump up to 50 percent recycled, rather than fresh, air into passenger cabins.

The airlines aren't worried only about polluting recycled cabin air with cigarette smoke, though they've recognized that most passengers demand a smokeless atmosphere. "It's not just nonsmokers who want nonsmoking flights," explains Jane Cowe, a Cathay Pacific spokesperson. "Twenty-two percent of our passengers who identify themselves as smokers request nonsmoking seats."

Of coures, smoking has been banned on all commercial flights within the United States since 1990. But now the International Civil Aviation Organization, an agency of the United Nations, is pushing for a smokeless environment on international flights by mid-1996. The ICAO is powerless to enforce its recommendation, however.

Yet even without official prodding, airlines are illuminating the "No Smoking" sign. Cathay Pacific, for example, hopes to be a totally nonsmoking airline by 1995. British Airways, Qantas, Singapore Airlines, Air Canada and Air France also ban smoking on many of their domestic and international flights.

And United Airlines recently announced that it would test no-smoking flights to London and the South Pacific. "We believe customer demand will support the smoke-free concept," says United's executive vice-president, James M. Guyette.

This column originally appeared in Travel Holiday magazine.

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