Airport Smoking

Airplane travel is miraculous, providing astonishing convenience when compared to the Conestoga wagons that transported people across the American continent 150 years ago. I bet those early travelers wouldn't have complained about a 90-minute layover in Cincinnati, but we have different expectations today. We've grown accustomed to crossing the country in a few hours, and we don't like those hours.

Pioneers had it rough, no doubt, but they didn't have to endure the inconvenience and humiliation of TSA security. They might traverse only a couple of miles on a bad day, but at least they weren't tortured by Muzak the whole time. Parking was easier, too, but most importantly, there were no smoking restrictions. It may have taken six months to get where they were going, but they could smoke the whole time.

I'm not saying I'd prefer a Conestoga wagon to air travel, but it's close. I do opt for car travel if under eight hours. It's worth twice the time just to be able to smoke and carry a pocket knife. For longer trips, however, airplanes are necessary, and among their most despicable aspects is the prohibition of smoking.

That makes layovers supremely important, and I look for airports with smoking lounges. Smoke is essential after deplaning, and a layover is tolerable only if smoking is an option, but it seems like fewer and fewer airports provide that fundamental humanitarian service. Sadly, for example, the Tampa smoking lounge seems to have disappeared. It wasn't much — merely a wire cage mounted on the outside of the building 20 feet above the ground, but even that accommodation, leftover from the party days of the Spanish Inquisition, has been denied us. Similar smoking kennels in multiple airports have likewise been removed. Just as smoking on planes has dematerialized, so have airport smoking lounges.

Those lounges still extant are dirty, smelly, uncomfortable, and I love and cherish them. They are oases in deserts of tobacco intolerance. When I finally emerge from a plane, the only thing on my mind is smoke. I'll worry about connecting flights, gate changes, and boarding times after a pipe when my mind is better equipped for the challenges of modernity.

Of course, we all resonate with smoking in backcountry campsites with spectacular mountain views, or in two-level private libraries with opulent mahogany woodwork, leather-bound literature, and spiral staircases, or among other avid pipe smokers in virtually any social gathering (but especially at pipe shows). However, pipes can deliver satisfaction and comfort in even the most unpleasant environments, which includes the bane and burden of travelers everywhere, airports.

Travel is stressful, especially long plane trips and their collateral inconveniences: crowded lines of people waiting for ritualistic corporate and political indignities with pressurized impatience permeating the fabric of reality. It's psychologically exhausting. The world was once a civilized place where one could enjoy a pipe on a plane — something that reduced the stress of flying — but those days are as gone as Syrian Latakia. Enduring a crowded aluminum sky tube without a pipe is an affront to humanity. It isn't that I necessarily crave a pipe, but the oppressive psychological weight of knowing that I'm not allowed to have that pipe is objectively bad for my constitution. Most pipe smokers, I suspect, would cheerfully wear tee shirts with the message, "Don't tell me what to do." We value autonomy and individualism.

The professional term for the automatic disapproval of behavior-limiting rules is "psychological reactance." It's a primal response in the brain based on a fear of losing freedom. The more threatening a situation is to our autonomy, the more uncomfortable it becomes.

So those inevitable layovers in various airports can provide consequential stress relief — at least in those few airports that still think smokers merit basic human consideration, the number of which is diminishing. The Nashville airport still provides for smokers, last I knew, as does Las Vegas, Washington Dulles, Miami, and Atlanta. The trend seems to be for private lounges owned by cigar companies, though, and these lounges charge a cover fee of a few dollars. However, Atlanta is probably my favorite because it's still free and because Atlanta is such a hub of transportation that it's easy to route layovers there.

The Atlanta smoking lounge (there are two, I believe, but I use only one at a time) reveals no similarities to mountain-view campsites or two-level libraries but is nonetheless an oasis in an inhospitable desert of non-smoking desolation. Think back to the last time you were stranded and dying of thirst in the Sahara and happened across an old canteen with some water left in it. Did you complain that it was too warm or brackish? No, you appreciated that water. The Atlanta smoking lounge is a hot, brackish, stale canteen when you need it most, and it's delicious.

Speaking of water, the Atlanta lounge resembles a giant fishbowl; it is entirely fronted by glass, and the smoke contained within is the water through which we smoking fish swim for the amusement or horror of unsuspecting passersby, who often glance with distaste at the people within, and wave their hand in front of their noses if they pass too closely when the door opens. It's just a little more humiliation at the hands of social and political forces, and I don't care. It is my haven.

The glass doors open automatically to rows of connected plastic chairs, each with an overflowing ashtray of cigarette butts and ashes. The room is filled with smokers, some pacing, many scrolling through their phones, most seats taken, most faces moderately scowling. The aroma of the room is stale, not like bread smells stale, but like sweat and wet hay smell stale.

And never has a place been so welcome. These are my people, this is the oxygen that my constitution requires. I find a chair with less gum stuck to its seat than others and fill a pipe. That first light, that first smoldering of tobacco, delivers the best of all possible smokes. Maybe it has something to do with the contrast of experiences. It isn't the most inviting environment, but that smoking lounge has brought me some of the most enjoyable smokes of my life.

Sometimes the worst places to smoke can feel like the best.

Category:   Pipe Line
Tagged in:   Humor Pipe Culture


    • PD on May 13, 2022
    • This is somewhat interesting. Not the subject, really, but the author's Bukowski influenced "love" of the filthy and unpleasant. They are cages? It seems so. I would have believed these "areas" to be non-existent by this time. The smoking lounges vividly described seem vile, pathetic and disgusting. I was both intrigued and sickened.Well done, but I hope your next piece is not influenced by Burroughs.

    • Joseph Kirkland on May 15, 2022
    • KUDOS, Chuck.I remember when the airlines first restricted cigar and pipe smokers from smoking on airplanes, but not cigarette smokers. Senator Hugh Scott of Pennsylvania protested and fought it because he was an avid pipe smoker.

    • Allen Blackford on May 15, 2022
    • I enjoyed this article. I pretty much enjoy everything Chuck Stanion writes. Thank you.

    • bs on May 15, 2022
    • Chuck's articles are always well written. Nevertheless, these few airport lounges, as they're described, sound more like nightmares than oases. While I very much enjoy my pipe, atmosphere counts, too. I don't mean ambience, I mean a nitrogen/oxygen environment capable of sustaining life.Being sequestered in a noxious gas chamber, fueled by consistent clouds of increasingly dense smoke, let's face it, almost entirely sponsored by Marlboros and Newports- with chewed gum sticking to your pants, and Pepsi syrup residue stuck to your shoes, in a room redolent with an aromatic admixture of cigarette ash and body odor- is a less than enticing prospect in my book.One of the niceties of pipe smoking, besides the smoking, is that it avoids the anxious, addictive, nicotine craving characterized by cigarette smokers. I can wait to smoke until I reach my destination. If I need to kill time laying over somewhere, I'm fine- until they ban scotch.

    • SO on May 15, 2022
    • Thank you for another interesting article. I remember when we could smoke everywhere, and yet people were more civilized.

    • Jon DeCles on May 15, 2022
    • Chuck, I love your writing! -- When traveling abroad, if there is some problem with the next plane they would put us up in some pleasant place and provide us with dinner. Nothing great, but always adequate. When we cross the border back into the USA and we had a problem with the next plane they took us on buses driven by drivers who did not know the way to the motel, and very late at night our dinner arrived: small pizzas wrapped in foil. My wife said: "Yes, we are back in the US of A." Living behind the Tobacco Curtain is a pain, but I can go without my pipe for quite a while if I need to: but all the rest of it makes air travel so unpleasant that I tend to stay at home. I am thinking of building a Conestoga Wagon for my next venture across the country. (They actually still do make them, and you can book a trip.)

    • Lee Brown on May 26, 2022
    • About ten, maybe twelve years ago I was at the airport in France. My wife and I had some time to kill before the flight, so we went to a small airport cafe. Sitting down with a cup of coffee I noticed some people in this airport cafe were smoking cigarettes. People were openly smoking. I was sure smoking was not allowed in the airport and one clue seem here was that there was no ashtrays (some people were using their hands or paper cups). At this point I took out my pipe, filled it up and started smoking. This woman passed by, looked down at me with a look of distain and gave off a phony cough. It seem to me that she could tolerate breaking the rules with cigarettes, but pipe smoking was crossing line. I continued smoking until we were called to board. Vive la France.

    • David K on June 1, 2022
    • Since I retired from the Marines, I have lived overseas, and have been spoiled by the ability to smoke my pipe in restaurants, bars and most airports. It is always a shock to the system to be back in the states and have to go outside to smoke at a bar/tavern. The Charles De Gaul airport in Paris has smoking lounges in the international terminal. I recommend going out of your way to the ones at the end vice the one middle. It's about traffic. The ones at either end get much less use so lack the constant fog of stale galoise cigarette smoke.

    • Howard R. Houck on September 20, 2022
    • You may not credit this, Chuck, but cigar smoking was always permitted on board Concorde.

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