Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock


No smoking please

It is almost 20 years ago since smoking was banned on all SAS flights. The road to the ban however began many years earlier.

These days, not many people pay attention to the cabin crew’s announcement about no smoking on the flight. Travelers who do notice probably wonder if it’s still a necessary thing to say. Today’s travelers take non-smoking flights for granted and smokers are well used to getting their fixes inside the smoking rooms at airports (where they exist).

But it hasn’t always been this way. The attitude towards smoking on planes used to be so different, in fact, that back in the 1950s, SAS even had its own brand of cigarettes with the SAS logo printed on each individual cigarette.

The first ban at SAS came in January 1986 when Linjeflyget, SAS’s Swedish domestic subsidiary, banned smoking on its flights. It was a natural first step and one that even smokers could handle since Linjeflyget’s longest flight was the 65-minute Skellefteå to Stockholm route. There had been non-smoking test flights before this and according to surveys, even the majority of smokers thought the flights were more pleasant without smoke.

Photo: SAS

“It was wonderful to have a smoke-free work environment,” Monica Persson, a Linjeflyget flight attendant, told Swedish Tobakfakta. “Even though smoking was only allowed at the back of the plane, there was often heavy smoke in the entire cabin. It often made my eyes water.”

In the early days of commercial aviation, travelers could smoke anywhere on the plane. Then in the 1970s, as public concerns about the effects of second-hand smoke started to rise, smokers and non-smokers were separated from each other.

Over the years, airlines experimented with different ways of separating smokers from non-smokers. SAS, like other airlines, tried separating them vertically so that smokers sat on the left side of the aisle and non-smokers on the right with a smoke curtain between the two sections. The horizontal division was implemented, however, after non-smokers protested.

The hostility between smokers and non-smokers sometimes reached alarming heights. In May 1986, for example, the Swedish newspaper Expressen reported that on a flight from Washington to New York, a fight broke out between smokers and non-smokers that forced the plane to land in Baltimore. Newspapers also published stories about a flight attendant wearing a gas mask while serving dinner in the smokers’ section and a co-pilot who was fined for pulling down the oxygen mask because of the chain smoking antics of his captain. 

In 1988, SAS made domestic flights in Sweden and Norway non-smoking and the year after, the policy was expanded to domestic flights in Denmark and flights between the Nordic countries. In 1996, two years after smoking areas were removed from schoolyards in­Sweden, SAS flights to the Benelux countries, France, Germany, Switzerland, Austria and the UK became smoke-free. And it was incredibly only 19 years ago, in 1997, that SAS banned smoking on all flights. This coincided with the EU ban on smoking on flights in member states.

“We have introduced non-smoking in stages,” said Jan Olson, VP of Business Development at SAS. “Our customer surveys show that an overwhelming majority of people prefer a totally smoke free environment onboard. They also show that as many as 60% of travelers who smoke accept the introduction of a non-smoking policy, and that our frequent travelers are the ones who are the most positive about non-smoking. Experience from our non-smoking European flights tells us that most smokers can cope with the situation without having to use substitutes. SAS’s choice to be among the totally non-smoking airlines goes well in line with our goal to set a good environmental example.”

In 1997, the internet was still in its early years – there was no SAS App – so to inform travelers of the new policy, SAS published a brochure written in four languages that was distributed to travel agencies.

Today, smoking on the plane is a thing of the past as is the need to produce a brochure explaining why flights are non-smoking.

But what about e-cigarettes? SAS has taken this into consideration and lists them as prohibited items on its website: “Electronic cigarettes, cigars and pipes are not allowed to be used onboard.” Onboard also includes the bathrooms, in case you were wondering.


Text: Risto Pakarinen 

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