On the plane ride back from New York, I came across this little gem of a mixed message, so I snapped a picture of it.  Smoking on domestic flights has been banned since the late 80’s, but the ‘resources’ still remain.  Twenty-plus years later, here is a sign explaining to use the ashtray, right above an actual ashtray, right above a sign telling you that smoking is not allowed.

The existentialist part of my brain kicked in and I started wondering what process the airlines took to come to such a mixed message.  Perhaps they just said that it would be cheaper to slap a no-smoking, “Ghost Busters” style sticker on the door rather than remove the original smoking sticker, and replace the ashtray with a dummy insert.  Then I started thinking more diabolically.  Maybe the airlines and the FAA split the fines when people are caught smoking or tampering with the silly smoke detector in the lavatory. Place the picture of a lit cigarette carefully above the temptation of an ashtray might be too much for a smoker to resist.  Heck, I was thinking how cool it would be to have a smoke at 38,000 feet, and I’ve never been a smoker!!  I even got Samuel L. Jackson’s voice stuck in my head saying “Ashtrays on a mother[blog edit] plane!!”  Then I got to thinking of how many times I’ve heard of passengers getting caught smoking on a plane.Since I couldn’t think of one specific incident I’ve ever heard of, my diabolical side gave up and I just decided it was probably just plain laziness and cheapness on behalf of the airline industry that created such a mixed message.

If you’ve made it this far, you’re probably asking yourself what does ashtrays on a plane have to do with law firms, libraries, technology or anything else I normally write about?  Truth be told… not much. I’m pretty sure that you can think of a number of mixed messages the legal industry (especially large firms) put out.  Such as buying high dollar legal research tools with the hopes of recovering that cost from our clients.  Or, how about the whole idea of putting out annual announcements of revenue and profits with the hopes that clients will be impressed with how much we charge and how large our profit margins are?  Makes my existentialist/diabolical side start wondering if clients are talking about our ‘mixed messages’ in the same way I just describe the airplane lavatory ashtray.  Now that I think about it… I bet they are.

  • And no mention of the slot for used razor blades in the bathroom?

  • I was so focused on the ashtray and wanting to smoke that I completely missed the opportunity to also give myself a super close shave!!

    Next time, I'm coming out of the lavatory smelling of smoke, but clean shaven!! (And, probably in handcuffs!!)

  • Often wondered how you came up with some of your ideas – this was funny, yet very pertinent.

  • Rita,

    Perhaps I gave away a little too much detail on how my brain works… exposing the man behind the curtain!!

  • GunnyS

    It is not just laziness. If the removed the ashtray and slapped in a dummy to blank off the hole they would need to do an expensive re-certification of airworthiness since they change the structure and purpose. Oh, and I've been on a flight where someone caught a few quick puffs in the lav. The FA smelled the smoke (of course) and got on the PA and requested the smoker come forward and show the extinguished butt so that they didn't have to make an emergency landing and clear off and do a fire inspection.

  • Thanks GunnyS…. If by replacing an ashtray with a blank (or even putting bondo over the hole) requires a full recertification of airworthiness, then I'd have to say that is one of silliest things I've heard in a while.
    I love the making the guy show his extinguished butt story!! Thanks for sharing how the flight attendants handled that situation (makes me appreciate them even more now!!)

  • Liz

    You should post that picture on failblog.org.

  • MarkL

    Gunny was close…

    The lavatory ashtray is listed as required equipment on the FAA's Master Minimum Equipment List (MMEL). Commercial aircraft cannot legally carry passengers if the listed equipment is missing or inoperable (and one of the specified solutions can't be implemented). Interestingly, seats and engines are not included on the MMEL.

    AD 74-08-09 R1 requires:

    1. installation of placards prohibiting smoking in the lavatory and disposal of cigarettes in the lavatory waste receptacles;

    2. establishment of a procedure to announce to airplane occupants that smoking is prohibited in the lavatories;

    3. installation of ashtrays at certain locations; and

    4. repetitive inspections to ensure that lavatory waste receptacle doors operate correctly.

    The AD was prompted by fires occurring in lavatories, which were caused by, among other things, the improper disposal of smoking materials in lavatory waste receptacles. The actions specified by that AD are intended to prevent such fires.

  • Hey Greg, I used to smoke at 38,000 feet back in the day. Wasn't all that cool. The real pain for chain smokers like me was on long flights one easily filled up the little ashtray in the arm of your seat. If the flight was so crowded that you couldn't move to another seat you ended up ordering another drink to use the empty as your backup ashtray. Ah, the good old days