Live From 34,000 Feet: Someone Keeps Smoking On My China Eastern Flight

Filed Under: China Eastern, Travel

Hello, live from a China Eastern flight enroute from Los Angeles to Shanghai. I’ll have more thoughts on the flight once I land, given that the wifi is super slow. Suffice to say that China Eastern has a great (though very bland) reverse herringbone hard product, and a soft product that gives China Southern a run for their money.


Despite the slow wifi, I have to share the most bizarre aspect of this flight.

Before flying China Eastern I had heard rumors that their crews will smoke inflight, though I always assumed that wasn’t the case, or was perhaps an isolated incident.

Well, after over four million flown miles, this is a first for me — the smell of cigarette smoke has filled the cabin no fewer than a dozen times over the past five hours of my China Eastern flight.

Shortly after takeoff we noticed the smell and asked the flight attendant, and she brushed it off, and said “probably oven.” That’s complete BS, since there’s a difference between the smell of cigarettes and the smell of smoke from an oven.

However, every 20-30 minutes throughout the flight there has been a strong smoke odor. Really strong, as if someone is smoking just a few feet from us.

We’ve been investigating this, and several times now have walked through the cabin, only to find no one smoking. In one instance none of the lavatories were even occupied.

So I’m not sure who is smoking, though I have to assume that it’s either the pilots in the cockpit, or otherwise the flight attendants in the galleys and crew rests. I don’t want to falsely accuse them, but we’ve brought the smell to their attention multiple times and they consistently say they don’t smell it, which suggests to me they’re trying to cover it up.

I hope they’re at least careful with disposing of the cigarettes, since we know how dangerous fires on planes can be…

Have you ever experienced a similar situation on a plane?

  1. 100% the flight crew. This also happens on Air China flights. Totally disgusting. Sorry Ben!

  2. This happens all the time on Mainland Chinese airlines. One of the many reasons I try to avoid them.

  3. Probably from the cockpit. However per CAAC and ICAO regulations, smoking in the cockpit is not explicitly prohibited…. Smoking in the cabin is not allowed but cockpit is included in the definition of cabin. Your post may nonetheless get someone in serious trouble, like you did on your CZ flight.

  4. There’s no good reason to give Chinese airlines your money/miles. I would never consider flying an airline with mainlanders around me the horror.. I’ve no problems with Eva Taiwanese are much more civilised and something like this would never happen…

  5. I flew to Casablanca one time. During summer rush, RAM wet leases a Jordan Aviation plane. I was seated in the last row and literally seconds after takeoff I heard the door of the toilet close and a few seconds later I could smell cigarettes… A couple of minutes later, the flight attendant exited the toilet…

  6. I’m only 26 and I remember the days of smoking on planes, MEA was one of the last to stop it. Blegh

  7. its the pilot, seriously, ask to take a look, and they usually open the window to throw out the butt !!

    if you really want to make a case, when you land, tell the ground staff of the incident and say you will report it

  8. Beside the pilots smoking On flights on PR Chinese airlines , the pilots plow thru turbulence; been on flights in China where they seem to accelerate more thru turbulence ; also engineers on their high speed rail CNR aka “Harmony” smoke too

  9. I experienced same on Air China flight last year from SFO sitting in F. Smoking odor filled the cabin.

  10. Taken 10 transpacific flights with China eastern this year, only one was smoke free. It’s really awful.

  11. When I stayed in the RC SZ, the nonsmoking rooms reeked of smoke. Tobacco and cars are one of the few US industries making money in China.

    Back when Shanghai had only one airport, MU had a smoking section in the back. You always had a couple middle-aged men puffing up. The pilots would also stretch out across the middle section and build a tent out of blankets. As a kid, I bugged the gentleman next to me so much, the FAs upgraded him to J.

    This is China – anything goes. Embrace it and enjoy the ride.

  12. Had this happen 3-4 years ago on an AA flight to ORD. Was in first and could smell cigarette smoke. Reported it to the FA. The lavatory was filled with smoke, have no clue why the smoke alarm never went off. FA inspected the lab and found ash, The FA said she reported it to the pilot, and he was “pissed” beyond that, nothing.. And the suspect did it again! (Worked in tobacco for a few years, so could most likely tell you the blend he smoked)

  13. Nothing like lightin’ up a heater right in the middle of the cockpit! Got to love the Chinese haha

  14. It’s strange to me to see so many non-Chinese encountered this problem before, while I as a Chinese has never encountered such problem in my life. Lucky?

  15. As I recall, when the FAA/govt banned smoking on domestic US flights, it initially made an exception for cockpit crew. The rationale, as I recall, was that abstaining from smoking could be so stressful as to have negative consequences (irritability, etc.) and forbidding cockpit crew could be hazardous. I don’t think this exception lasted long. Others must know……

  16. I’ve always trusted Chinese airlines for safety, I think that is the absolute top priority with all of them. If what you are saying is true, then someone’s in serious troubles.

  17. Someone lit up on our Etihad LAX-AUH flight a few days ago and to its credit, the airline took it very seriously. The pilot came on the PA and explained that he would divert the plane if it happened again. We were over northern Canada and the FA explained that we would head to ORD or DFW. We lost dinner serice during the commotion because the smoker was an Arabic male and evidently could only be confronted by a male member of the crew (which meant the chef).

  18. Chinese airline paid very high attention on the safety of the flight. And most of the Chinese airline have very good safety record. It is hard to believe these could be happened on the flight.

  19. Flew Air China about 8 years ago. First time I smelled smoke on a plane. It was definitely from bathroom or cockpit as we were in row 1 and it was ahead of us. I was in shock … I still cannot believe this happens. Fire on plane = worst possible thing imaginable.

  20. Ah, the good ‘ole days when smoking was allowed while flying.

    Boy, I do miss them good ‘ole days…

  21. I find it amusing as soon as you talk about China or the prc ass holeeess you see 2 popping up claiming that it’s so weird that they’ve never experienced it u call bs you communist propaganda ass hats

  22. I’ve heard about it and I think it’s actually allowed to smoke in the cockpit. It helps pilots to stay awake.

  23. Chill out jay , there’s no need be a bigotry here as I’m Taiwanese my self and flew numerious air China iah to Peking myself , haven’t experienced smoke problem but did heard other horror stories around me . Not trying to defend but would say maybe it’s then the specific crews in cockpit as they not really regulated. No need profanity here be cool man

  24. “Jason says:
    July 26, 2016 at 10:45 pm
    Chinese here, never encountered or heard of this problem either.”


  25. @Jay “I would never consider flying an airline with mainlanders around me the horror…” are you from some less-civilized area? It’s surprise to see someone civilized/educated have such a hateful statement. Since you are using “civilised “, I suggest you come to American to learn “how to respect 101”.

    BTW. I did have experience with smoking smell in chinese airliners, as a Chinese I do have a chance to ask the flight attendant where was the smell came from. The unfortunately truth is that smoking is NOT banned in cockpit, reasons same as @Jack’s comment. ( I do hope they can ban the smoking on entire plane including cockpit.

  26. To Jay,
    You should think carefully before you post something online, especially something hatred against another nation or culture. I find your comment highly offensive and your perception of China is pretty biased. I learned from experience, not any form of propaganda. I had the personal experience of flying domestic airlines and non-Chinese airlines. Never encountered such problem and I was just stating the fact. I would say welcome to others who consider visiting China and see for yourself, but I wouldn’t extend my kindness to you because you don’t have the respect for us. China is constantly developing and I understand there’s room for improvement. But hatred comment is neve okay.

  27. @Jay Yet we have someone who jumps out when others are saying their experience.

    Oh, I’m Chinese, and I haven’t seen someone smoking in the cabin, either.

  28. Welcome to China. I just got back from my first trip to mainland China on Sunday. This is crazy, but does not shock me. It seems like mainlanders have a total disregard for everyone and acts like children.

  29. I would ask if smoking is allowed in the cockpit. I experienced something similar on an Air China flight so this doesn’t surprise me at all. The cover-up response from the flight attendant is comical, is the oven really in use the entire flight ?

  30. It turns out smoking is ALLOWED in the cockpit. The FAA didn’t ban smoking in the flight deck due to concerns over potential flight safety issues caused by nicotine withdrawal in chronic smokers.(Wikipedia).

  31. Report it to the airline (out of courtesy, rather than expectation) and the FAA. There’s a reason that smoking is banned – there can be zero tolerance especially if it’s crew!

  32. Ugh, as someone with asthma, this would not only drive me crazy but potentially be a health issue. Looks like this is an airline I will be avoiding. Thanks for taking one for the team and sharing your experience.

  33. Report it to FAA. When MU is endangered of losing their license to fly to the US until then they will definitely enforce.

  34. It is certainly an inconvenience, but I don’t think it is much of a safety risk when the pilots are smoking in the cockpit. Some years ago that was completely common everywhere in the world. I would be much more concerned if passengers or cabin crew are smoking in the lavs and put their ashes in the trash with all the paper towels…

  35. It’s pilots. It’s not the cabin crew as even on narrow body flights where there is no crew rest area you can smell cigarette smoke consistently throughout the flight. Airlines in China don’t see enough upside to potentially upsetting these men who, like so many in China are sadly incredibly addicted to nicotine.

  36. I have worked for a Mainland Chinese Airlines for 4 years both as cabin crew and ground crew. Yes, the tech crew DO smoke in the cockpit. Before flight leaves, cabin manager will have at lease 2 disposable cup filled with wet tissues or paper towels for them to disposal their cigarette butts. Mainly the older techies smoke. Since the recruitment of foreign techies, smoking has subsides. Ask any aircraft cleaners who has cleaned Mainland Chinese Airlines, they’re all knew.

  37. I remember “smoking sections” on planes – like smoke somehow stayed within the designated rows. No fires. Nonsmokers don’t know how good they have it today.

    There’s a growing shortage of pilots, especially across Asia. I’m sure Chinese pilots are overworked with limited rest facilities on today’s smaller long haul aircraft. I’d bet Chinese airlines look the other way to retain these guys. I avoid Chinese airlines.

  38. China Southern has changed a lot in their catering on the north america routes. It’s unfair to give followers outdated information.

  39. 100% pilots. In fact, pilots in most of Chinese airlines are advised not to smoke during flight, not prohibited.

  40. Well, whether or not comments here are biased, it’s clear to me that China still has a PR problem.

    Of course we Americans used to have a terrible reputation also. I’m sure many of us have felt embarrassment by our compatriots behavior overseas. Maybe with time and more people traveling outside a country the behavior of tourists improve.

  41. @Darren – I totally agree. I have emailed Lucky before I flew China Southern Airlines in December to JFK offering to provide my thoughts about the flight after I flew them in a couple of days. I was lucky to fly with them in first class and they’ve certainly changed!

    Some steps include:
    – No more $5 champagne.
    – Fantastic hard product on their 77w
    – Good soft product
    – Good entertainment
    – Excellent crew service (Cabin crew with a good English language ability have a name tag showing ‘English’
    – Crew actually going the extra mile (e.g normally after crew have finished duty they leave it to the ground staff and don’t really care about what happens to the passenger, however when I was in CAN, I asked the cabin crew member about how I ‘transit’ and she actually lead me straight to the person who would be picking me up for first/business passengers).
    – If you fly first/business a staff member will actually pick you up from the boarding gate and lead you to the transfer desk
    – Free 5* hotel stay.

    Lucky said he was ‘interested’ however never then responded to my emails about me publishing a ‘guest’ review. Find this strange considering how the CZ review was one of his most read reviews, and I’m sure blog reviews want to hear how everything goes.

    I guess every time Lucky brings up a Chinese airline, he’ll just continue berating CZ even though the information he’s got is outdated.

  42. If the Chinese FAs can’t “smell” the problem, then I’m sure the DOT can help them “find” some new noses.

  43. @ Bill – having a smoking section on a plane is like having a pissing section in a swimming pool

  44. I recently flew China Eastern from Shanghai to Sanya, Hainan (business class). Waited to use the toilet as one of the pilots was in there. When I entered it was obvious he had just finished smoking. I told the flight attendant and she looked at me confused, opened the door to the toilet to show me nobody was in there smoking (!). I said, “the pilot was obviously just smoking. She again said, nobody is smoking.

  45. @Peter Michaelson What do you mean, “used to”? We still have a pretty rough reputation as tourists abroad, and Trump certainly isn’t helping with our international reputation at the moment either.

  46. It’s really interesting to read all these “I’ve never seen this happen” posts. They’re totally irrelevant. Pilots smoke on China eastern flights. Period.

    When Ben posts his review i have no doubt it will also illicit howls of protest. China eastern has an inferior business class product compared to other Chinese carriers. Period.

  47. Smoking is considered a way to release pressure for many Chinese men. However, putting passengers’s security on danger is not what any pilot should do.

  48. Not just Chinese airlines: it’s not so uncommon. The Co-Pilot of MH 370 was well known for smoking in the cockpit and for inviting others in to join him.
    Smoking bans on planes came as a consequence of fear that airlines could be sued for passive smoke exposure, not for anything to do with safety: in fact safety became an issue AFTER the ban as the inveterate smokers used the lavatories , causing fires.

  49. Flying Air France, GRU to CDG, a couple years ago. A guy got caught smoking in economy lavatory, FAs pointed fingers… and I had the unfortunate opportunity to get into that same lavatory. Argh!

  50. That’s messed up. I am assuming they don’t know who you are. I am sure ( at least I hope) this will get translated, posted on weibo, and go viral. Then you will receive a call from some VP in MU telling all those ppl are fired. Sucks for those ppl but that’s how they will improve.

    I live in China now and I take Chinese airlines domestically (usually within 3 hrs so I just sleep through it) and I have not encounter that problem before (or maybe I am used to it?). But I have never tried long-haul.

    Speaking of which, maybe you should add weibo and/or wechat moment on top of fb/if/Twitter so more ppl in China can share your blog.

  51. Avoid all airlines from mainland China – they are a complete waste of money and/or miles.

  52. Eating pork let you fart. You probably are not used to that odeur but it is pretty common in China. Don’t mix it up with tobacco.

  53. OH the horror, the shame, It would make me stop flying. Not. Back in the bad old days, all of First and the last 5 or so rows of coach were smoking. Like it matters in a sealed can, with recycled air. So what, now you know, we know and those who do not want to be exposed know. Oh and You would not have this problem on American, United, Qantas. I know it is part of the blog, and you are great to point it out, but just like copyright laws, the rest of the world’s norms are not observed by some nations (hint China)

  54. Was forced to fly Air China last month – not my worst flight but nothing to write home about. Definitely no smoke.

    However this reinforces my position that I prefer only fly first world airlines, i.e. Lufthansa, Qantas, BA, Singapore and US based airlines.

    As for smoking stories, years ago I flew a Aegean prop plane from Athens to the greek isles. The pilot lit up a couple of times during the short flight. Thankfully that’s all banned now.

  55. I only fly with Singapore, Eva Air and Emirate. Have been with Qantas, onboard services are fine but crisis management is pretty bad. I recently had a delayed flight with Qantas from Sydney to HKG. No announcemence for the cacellation nor updated information for the delayed flight was made during my 5-hour waiting. I had to chase the flight and gate by myself!! What an aweful experience. I am pretty sure this is the reason why Qantas never gets into the top 3 or top 5 on the list. Onboard services can be better. I am not a choosy customer, but the crew really need to develop better customer service !!!! Will choose Qantas if I have no better choice on the list. Surely Qantas is not my top notch !!!

  56. Have flown numerous with Chinese airlines both domestically and internationally and never smelled any cigarettes, prolly cuz I was mostly flying economy with them? But I’ve heard the rumor that smoking is actually not banned in the cockpit tho.

  57. Get a life all of you, some of the comments are completely ridiculous and how precious you must be if the smell of smoke effects you that bad. Maybe you should live in bubble. As for the rude comments and the complete disrespect for the Chinese and their airlines, I bet half of you have never flown on an Asian airline let alone been to China. Before you make comments about the Chinese and how rude they are have a close look at the Americans for example. The most rudest obnoxious cabin crew you can find along with the worst possible service on an aircraft.

  58. We in Canada have it lucky – smoking is not allowed in public places in most provinces. In the USA there are still a great number of smokers who delight in making the air turn blue.

    However nothing compares to Africa, Asia and most of Europe. Smoking is endemic and it is very difficult to find any public location (or even a restaurant) where you are not inundated by the overwhelming stench of tobacco smoke.

    It is not racism or prejudice to recognize the level of smoking in these countries and their attitude to non-smokers.

    As an ex-smoker I understand the comment from the Chinese who claim that they cannot smell the smoke. When I smoked I also could not detect the stench. I apologize to everyone I ever contacted back then for imposing my pollution on them.

    I only wish every smoker could smell the stench of their cigarette smoke so that they would stop.

  59. @Lucky, do you have any plans to fly MU first? I think that would make for an interesting review…

  60. It happend to me with Lion Air. I was sitting also in the first two rows of the plane. They made a funny announcement in the middle of the flight to state that smoking is not allowed at any time, only instants later I smelled smoke of a cigarette. And my assumption was that the smoke came out of the cockpit as well.

  61. OK, I hate smoking as much as anyone. And I would raise hell if the cabin crew were smoking cigarettes and it inconvenienced me. But those of you who are talking about cigarettes as if they are an imminent safety threat are idiots. Cigarette smoking was banned on planes as an air quality issue. Period. Smoking was allowed on plane for decades. Have none of you ever flown on an old airplane with ashtrays built into the armrest or into the lavatory wall? The plane is not going to fall out of the sky because someone has a cigarette, or even if 100 people are smoking a cigarette during the flight. Get a sense of perspective.

  62. Lucky’s post scared me, but then the comments made me think he might be overblowing it … Well I just got back from LAX- PVG -LAX on China Eastern in C and I can confirm there was cigarette smoke odor several times through the flight on both directions (for the 60% of the flight I was awake). No visible smoke – but someone was clearly smoking.

    I had a indian vegetarian meal which was decent in both directions. Cabin staff weren’t as well trained as Cathay, but certainly they were adequate. The flight is really about the seat and the flight timing – I would probably not choose MU again because of the smoke unless I had no better options.

  63. Regularly flying transpacific a couple of times a year, recently mostly on mainland Chinese airlines due to better hard product in C. Never experienced any smell resembling the cigarette smoke.

  64. Quit whining: they smoke on the plane, you make everyone smell your stinky feel when you take your shoes off.

  65. It’s 100% true, i live in shanghai and travel back and forth to US every few months. I’ve smelled it 2 out of 3 times. Once, the guy next to me was freaking out. The cabin crew lies to your face if you say anything about it. They’re like “Huh? I don’t smell anything.” It’s probably the crew. If you keep complaining they’ll probably tell their coworkers to dial it down. If you fly CE, be prepared to smell cigarette smoke, it’s a fact. Does the company that owns these $100mil+ jets realize this is happening? I’m on a brand new Boeing 777 from PVG to JFK right now. Also, hey FAA, this is happening solidly over US territory, we’re above New York state right now… Maybe this is why the tickets are a fraction of of the cost on Continental!

  66. @Ben
    Thank you for the reviews. Although I read it a little late it was helpful to know and I appreciate it. I am commenting in response to the Other peoples’ comments on your blog.

    As much as people believe this is outdated, not really, I flew yesterday (PVG to JFK business class) and didn’t find anything about this post “outdated”. Everything written is still true.

    The food is one of the worst I have ever experienced, having had a flight just 4 days before on China Eastern (AUK to PVG business class) I chose to pack our own food. (Thank goodness we did that.)

    The smoking. Unfortunately, this is very true and sitting in upper class makes it worse. They smoked on both flights. Being the last to de-board (my husband is handicapped), we met the pilots. And well, they smelled like a chimney. Proof!

    BUT, smoking is indeed LEGAL for commercial pilots. As of 1990. This is an international law.

    To the person who argued that this is a Chinese carrier and US FAA rules don’t apply. Well, about that. IF you enter US airspace you are bound by US regulations (as with any other country).

    Oh, and that funny drink they serve? It is Apple juice and lemonade. 🙂 I got them to give me an answer.

  67. So what if a tour company was using CE and u upgraded to bc paying big bucks and they didn’t tell u about the smoking. And u want to cancel and they say u can but u pay the cancellation fee?

  68. Well, you have missed an important point when you have smelled the cigarette smoke; that the aircraft’s ventilation system is poor. I do fly over fifty years, and earlier times all seats were smoking seats and about 90% of the passengers did smoke. Still, you did not smell the smoke because the exchange ratio of the fresh air was about 90% higher than it is today, and not breathing the recirculated air as we do that now. Therefore, the lack of fresh air very often result some sort of sickness after the flights, regularly cold related viral infections, nevertheless, often even leads more serious air-born sickness. I think this is the real issue here, and while the bad smell of cigarette is inconvenient, but a very important indicator that there is a more deeply seated problem with the air we bread on the planes.

  69. Can anyone please confirm if your middle name must be on a China Eastern airline ticket? I didn’t include my middle name when I booked and keep reading reports that it’s required to board, is this true? China Eastern now claims they can add the middle name and it’s $160 to cancel the ticket.

  70. I always set in last row seat A , never had any smoke even though close to toilet . Must be the pilots . The lay overs can be longer than most airlines . But many times one cannot beat their prices JFK-BKK. Route

  71. It always smells like cigarette smoking on Chinese Airlines. The cabin crew will alwats deny it and pilots will keep smoking. But look at the good side, the moore they smike the sooner they will die.

  72. Hi, Lucky! We had a similar story on our way to Bhutan last week (BTW, thanks for the inspiration). On both segments serviced by China Eastern (Incheon – Kunming – Kathmandu), there was a strong cigarette smoke odour from the cockpit. While in Bhutan, we had an opportunity to meet a brother of our guide, an airline pilot who used to work for many Asian airlines. According to his information, smoking in the cockpit is a common practice among pilots from Chinese and Vietnamese airlines to mention a few. As one of the readers mentioned before, no universal regulation exists regarding smoking in the cockpit and this issue is regulated solely at the country or even airline level. Anyway, it’s quite annoying if you aren’t a smoker and you need to survive a couple of hours in the front row!

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