Although the effects of second-hand smoke are well-documented, smoking is not universally banned on aeroplanes. Laws regarding smoking on aircraft vary wildly depending on airline policies and federal laws in the departure and arrival countries.
Beginning in 1988, the Federal Aviation Administration gradually rolled out a smoking ban on aircraft. In 2000, a federal law was passed that banned smoking on all commercial flights within the United States. Internationally, many countries--including the United Kingdom, Ireland and India--have banned smoking in the workplace. As a consequence, smoking on commercial aircraft is illegal in these countries.
Since the FAA's smoking ban took effect, nearly 700 passengers have been prosecuted for smoking on an aeroplane. Some passengers and crew members have sued because of health problems related to exposure to cigarette smoke on aeroplanes. In 2002, an asthmatic passenger on an Olympic Airways flight to New York died from an asthma attack linked to second-hand smoke on the flight. His widow was awarded £0.9 million in damages from the airline.
Diane Fairchild, an air travel consultant and former flight attendant, advises passengers to check airline policies before taking an international flight. Passengers should also confirm any code-share agreements between carriers, as this can cause a non-smoking airline to allow smoking on certain routes.