Why lavatory ashtrays are mandatory on nonsmoking flights

Matt Simmons, who writes the Standalone Sysadmin blog, has been wondering why there are ashtrays in airplane toilets, even though you aren't allowed to smoke anywhere on or near an airplane, and you haven't been allowed to do so for quite some time. It turns out that airplane toilet ashtrays are mandatory: "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." (Code of Federal Regulations for airworthiness). Simmons explains why:

The plane can not leave the terminal if the bathrooms don’t have ashtrays. They’re non-optional.

That’s an awfully strange stance to take for a vehicle with such a stringent “no smoking” policy, but it really does make a lot of sense. Back in 1973, a flight crashed and killed 123 people, and the reason for the crash was attributed to a cigarette that was improperly disposed of.

The FAA has decided that some people (despite the policies against smoking, the warning placards, the smoke detector, and the flight attendants) will smoke anyway, and when they do, there had better be a good place to put that cigarette butt.

Engineering Infrastructures For Humans (via Digg)


  1. That’s like when they made the campus where I work “smoke free”. They removed ALL of the ashtrays thinking people would not smoke. 

    They were wrong, of course. The only difference now is that there are very few places to dispose of them so now there are butts EVERYWHERE.  And when they put a “smoker’s station” back in place in one of the areas, it caught fire about 3x a week because of the multitude of butts building up in it. They eventually put another one up.

    None are mine, though. I put it out and dispose of the butt in the trash rather than leave it on the ground, but thousands of other people don’t bother.

    1. You know, for some reason, the majority of people think it’s totally okay to leave a cigarette butt on the ground, even though they wouldn’t leave used tissues, candy wrappers, bottles or soda cans. Perfectly nice, reasonable, civilised people will crush that cig with their heel and think nothing of leaving it there. It doesn’t even occur to them that this is littering.

      I don’t get it.

      1. I assume they think it’s biodegradable, because it’s paperish. At least, I used to think so.

        LOL, we need anti-littering messages on every cigarette filter to go with the cancer warnings on the front of the packages.

      2. I carry a little “weed case” with for fag-ends, but it’ll only hold about three of the things. Why? Because trash receptacles have all but been exterminated on the basis that “If you give people a place to put their trash, they’ll throw rubbish in there!”

        Plus it costs less for the community, of course.

        In a situation where I’m having a smoke and there is NO OTHER WAY to dispose of the (100% bio-degrabable, non-polluting) butt is to drop it on the street hell yes I’m going to do that — even if it makes you weep.

        1. I don’t think they’re either biodegradable (in any real sense), or non-polluting.  They’re certainly polluting if they end up in water systems; fish don’t tend to react well to poison.

        2. Nah, your cigarette butts pollute plenty, there’s no justification for throwing them on the street, seriously. It’s your problem and responsibility, not somebody else’s. If I had a serious Red Bull habit and just threw the can on the street/in some bush because there are no trash cans I’d still be a jerk.

      3.  Maybe if the price of a pack of cigarettes included the fines for 20+ counts of littering that will occur, this might stop (or at least be greatly reduced)  – $5 for the cigarettes and taxes + $6000 ($300 per count here) littering fines for a total of $6o05 per pack. Which interestingly enough, probably comes a lot closer to the actual cost to society of smoking than just $5 per pack.

      4. These days I’m a rather infrequent smoker, but still maintain the army habit of rolling the tobacco out and pocketing the butt for proper disposal.

    2.  “I put it out and dispose of the butt in the trash”

      You are a rare firm of smoker.  One has only to look at the array of butts on the ground scattered all over here and there by ashtrays or watch someone sitting at a table with one yet still flicking ashes on the ground to notice that smokers as a class are not overly endowed with common sense.

      1. The custodians have started leaving a broom in the corner close to the area. I’ll usually sweep them all into a pile while i’m taking a break.  I don’t carry a dust pan with me so I just leave them in a pile in the corner. It disappears eventually.

        Yet, even after I do that, I still throw mine in the trash. lol

  2. Back in 1973, a flight crashed and killed 123 people, and the reason for the crash was attributed to the fact that not one fuck was given.

  3. Of course it makes sense – for the same reason, cars exiting out of the wrong end of a one-way-street still have the rigth of way. We just have to assume that if they’re going through a one-way-street the wrong way around, they don’t necessarily know; so they will assume to have the right of way, and everyone else has to be prepared for that eventuality.

    Better safe than sorry.

  4. I was stuck on a plane for over an hour last October in Houston when some ‘butt’ head (pun intended) chose to swipe an ashtray off of a United Los Angeles flight. The person sitting next to him finally turned the guy in. They even had a mechanic come on board to hold up a sample ashtray so we could all see what it looked like assuming we would help hunt for it. We finally got underway with the culprit still aboard, but several scarey looking ‘authorities’ were waiting for him to deplane in Los Angeles.

  5. If a lit cigarette can bring down an airplane, I wouldn’t be too surprised if — in the near future — the TSA bans smoking on flights entirely.

  6. I had always assumed it was because a plane might be used in parts of the world that do not ban smoking and it was easier to make standard configurations.

    People who smoke on planes despite the laws and warnings probably don’t give a damn about whether there’s an ashtray or not.

    Do they still put ash trays in cars?  I don’t own one so haven’t paid a lot of attention.

    1. In the cars in the States in which I’ve ridden in recent years, yes, still ashtrays and electric lighters.  Wonder how much bitching there would be if Detroit decided to remove them?  Smokers do tend to be a cranky lot. ;)

      1.  The ‘lighter’ sockets don’t have the coil contact to light up the lighters anymore; they’re just for electrical devices.

        Also there might be little cubby things in the dash, but all the ones I’ve seen are just plastic lined, so I say cars are not equipped for smoking anymore.

  7. I flew on China Airlines once (a Taiwanese airline) and there were ashtrays in every armrest. They didn’t allow smoking, but it looked like the ashtrays had been heavily used at some point. My feeling was that the plane was probably built in the 80’s.

    I took a photo!

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