Long gone are the glory days of air travel, with its free checked luggage, elegant stewardesses in pillbox hats, and hours spent choking through a thick cloud of secondhand smoke wafting from the back of the plane.
Thankfully, there’s some good news for nostalgic flyers: You can smoke on the plane again.
I mean, technically you can’t. In flights coming to and from the U.S., vaping on the plane is illegal and is treated just like smoking a cigarette. While you could merely get a slap on the wrist, you could also be fined, banned from the airline for life, or sued by a disgruntled seatmate (happened to Dennis Quaid). A fire alarm going off could cause the plane to be diverted, which could lead to potential jail time. Yet according to numerous sources, vaping on planes has become something of a social norm for brave millennials aching to get a hit of that sweet, sweet Juul at 35,000 feet.
“I started Juuling on planes as soon as I started using Juul,” said George, a 33-year-old photographer, referring to the favored nicotine vape pen of cool teens everywhere. He says he feels particularly comfortable Juuling on international flights because a lot of people in other countries aren’t familiar with the device, so there’s less risk of getting spotted. Although, he adds: “If teens were flight attendants, I’d be screwed.”
Vaping on the plane does pose a safety risk, even if it appears to be a relatively small one. While we don’t have all the data about “secondhand smoke” from vapes, a recent study found that vaping made indoor air quality worse and released harmful compounds that have been linked to cancer and other diseases. There have also been a number of instances where e-cigarette batteries have caught fire while midair. (While you can bring an e-cigarette onboard, you can’t carry them in your checked luggage).
Still, many of the vapers we spoke to aren’t worried. They are also convinced that the fire alarms on planes aren’t powerful enough to capture the small amount of steamlike vapor that the Juul emits. “I always Juul on planes,” said Val, a 30-year-old designer. “I know I shouldn’t, and I envision the fire alarm going off and how screwed I’d be. But I don’t see how vape smoke that dissipates within seconds is any more harmful than air fresheners,” she says. Val’s tactic: “If you want a big inhale, exhale strongly into the toilet bowl while you flush. The flush sucks all the vape out. Or inhale, hold it, and exhale slowly bit by bit. Always scope out the bathroom and ensure you’re not vaping directly into the fire alarm.”
Apparently the ‘inhale, flush, and blow’ is a popular tactic. “I haul hard and flush the toilet and the suction takes it away,” said Greg, a 31-year-old architect who also brings his Juul with him on the plane. “On long flights sometimes I’ll also do it under a blanket, if I’m sitting business class.”
Some people are more brazen. Jeff, a 29-year-old musician, Juuled on the plane to Mexico last week because he thought it would “kill boredom” and “make the anxiety more manageable.” He is pleased to report that it “actually made the flight more chill.” He decided to do it at his seat — in economy class! — though he attempted to be stealthy. “I did kinda ghost the hits and make sure to blow them away from where people could see, but then when I went to the washroom it was a chance to just take a bunch of huge hits.” He adds: “Keep in mind I don’t give a fuck; I use the Juul anywhere and everywhere these days — restaurants, movie theaters, airplanes, you name it.”
But aspiring airplane Juulers shouldn’t be too cavalier. Diane, a 28-year-old social worker, had a close call when her and her husband went to the bathroom to Juul on a plane to Europe. After her husband went into the bathroom to vape, and while she was waiting outside for her turn, a high-pitched fire alarm went off — not on the whole plane, but just in the bathroom and in the cockpit. “The captain came up to us and was like, ‘Everything okay in there?’ And sniffed around and looked at us suspiciously,” said Diane. “I feigned ignorance and the incident was overlooked. We were already three hours delayed, so I guess he figured they owed us one.”
Names have been changed.