Here's What Can Really Happen If You Get Caught Vaping On A Plane

According to a 2020 study published in the journal Tobacco Induced Diseases, the average vape user takes 365 puffs per day. When you're used to vaping multiple times every hour, surviving a long-haul flight without a few puffs can feel agonizing. However, no matter how tempting it might be to use an e-cigarette mid-flight, you're better off refraining until you're back on land.

To find out what could happen if you try to vape in a plane, we spoke exclusively with Captain Richard J. Levy, an aviation expert and former pilot for a major international airline currently working as a simulator and classroom instructor at an airline in the U.S. As Levy explained, passengers are informed during safety announcements that smoking and vaping are strictly prohibited throughout the entire flight, from boarding to disembarkation. "One who disregards these prohibitions is risking a diversionary landing, if this action is decided upon by the captain," the longtime pilot shared. "Then, once on the ground, the offender could be arrested, taken into possession by legal authorities, and charged with a felony crime."

To put it simply, the repercussions of vaping on a plane are serious and not worth risking. Levy urges vapers to make arrangements before their flights so they don't feel compelled to take a hit at 30,000 feet. For example, a nicotine lozenge or patch can temporarily take the place of a vape pen.

Laws are in place to prevent vaping on planes — and for good reason

Vaping isn't just something pilots and flight attendants advise against doing on a plane — it's a federal crime, according to Captain Levy. He explained that the use of electronic cigarettes is treated the same as smoking traditional cigarettes when it comes to air transportation laws. And, in case you need a refresher, smoking is completely banned on commercial passenger flights.

Moreover, there are rules on how to store and handle e-cigarettes on planes, according to the aviation expert. "When traveling with an electronic smoking device, strict adherence to handling rules must be met by the passenger, such as only in carry-on luggage where they must be packed carefully to prevent them from accidentally turning on," Levy revealed. In other words, toying with your vape pen or turning it on mid-flight — even if you don't intend to take a puff — is already grounds for punishment.

As the former pilot shared, vaping devices can pose a threat to the safety of fellow passengers. Even if the vapor isn't as thick as cigarette smoke, it may contain toxic fumes, including formaldehyde and metals. Levy added, "As dangerous as inhaling secondhand smoke can be, there is an even higher risk to lighting up cigarettes or using battery-powered vape devices: an aircraft fire."

Can pilots really detect e-cigarette vapor?

It's no surprise that cigarette smoke can set off a plane's smoke alarms, but you might be wondering: Will the flight crew actually be alerted to a little vapor from a vaping pen? According to Captain Levy, the same mechanisms that make smoke detectable by alarms also work with vapor. "Vaping, or use of an electronic smoking device, is not permitted on planes, and don't even think about stepping into the lavatory to sneak a puff," he warned. "Battery-powered vape devices create an aerosol that looks like water vapor but contains nicotine, flavoring, and more than 30 other chemicals. That aerosol also contains particles that can and will be detected, as aviation smoke alarms are sensitive to small airborne particles."

With that said, you may hear stories of people who successfully took a hit mid-flight. Even if they evaded punishment, you should still think twice before vaping on an airplane. On Reddit, u/FerroLad sparked suspicion after vaping on a plane, and another e-cig user told The Cut she set off a fire alarm on a flight. Others, such as one man on a 2022 flight from Jamaica to London Gatwick, have been arrested and jailed after vaping in the plane lavatory. Protect yourself — and others — and keep the vape pen packed in your bag during your next flight.