How To Smoke On The Road: Finding A Smoker-Friendly Airport

In the past fifteen years, the premium-cigar industry found itself in rebound. After decades of competition from cigarettes, the aging of its customer base, and overall consumer trends indicating a decline in smoking in general (we’ll return to this in a moment), many observers figured cigars were done for. Then came 1992. The fourth quarter of that year showed some of the first industry growth in years, and this trend metastasized in coming years. By 1996, the industry was seeing 36 percent first-quarter growth.

But cigars returned at an ironic time. High-profile class-action suits, controversy over Joe Camel, and decreasing general consumer interest in smoking, among other things, led to an increase in smoking bans in public buildings, offices, and, eventually, whole cities. Airports helped lead the trend; among the major travel hubs where you’re no longer welcome to light up are Los Angeles’ LAX and Dallas-Fort Worth.

All of which raises a question – if you’re a smoker going on vacation, what are your options?

Thankfully, the web site SmokingSection has, aggregating information sent in by smoking readers, listed and ranked over fifty major airports by their friendliness to smokers. Their rankings, like those of your high-school English teacher, run from A to E: A for airports where you can smoke by the waiting gate; E for airports where you not only can’t smoke indoors, but the nearest smoker-friendly outside areas require a small trip in themselves (and may be unacceptably far from takeoff gates).

So where should you travel if you want to smoke, not only when you reach your destination but on the way there? Well, the answer seems to be: Texas. The Lone Star State offers the only A-ranked airport out of the dozens surveyed. That’s Dallas Love Field, a smallish airport that receives only flights from major area transport provider Southwest Airlines. Frequently-flying cigar smokers who live in that wildcatter’s capital should feel lucky.

Texas offers us a B airport as well – these are the places where you can’t smoke near the gates, but that do offer smoker-friendly bars, restaurants, and/or lounges nearby. That would be at Lubbock – the same city from which Buddy Holly hailed. (But don’t take that as a bad omen.) Other southern and southwestern states are well-represented among the B airports, which makes sense, given the close links between many of these states and the history of the tobacco industry. Restaurants at New Mexico’s Albuquerque Airport, as well as at airports in Charlotte, North Carolina; Charleston, West Virginia; Phoenix, Arizona; Tucson, Arizona; Norfolk, Virginia; and – appropriately enough – Richmond, Virginia, that famous tobacco town. (Where would American smoking be without Virginia?)

Orange County, California, offers an airport named for John Wayne, and appropriately the tobacco-loving Duke’s namesake airport also offers B-class accommodations. So do the major regional airports in Tampa, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Detroit, Boston, and New York City (both JFK and LaGuardia), in several large cities in Ohio (Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton), in Fairbanks, Alaska; Moline, Illinois; and Ontario, Canada. Visitors to our nation’s capitol can also light up at a few of Washington, DC’s airport bars, though these are apparently hard to find.

It’s a good thing that the weather in Texas and California is generally fairly clement, because some major airports in both of these states ban all indoor smoking – but outdoor smoking areas are available at a conveniently close distance. The aforementioned Dallas-Fort Worth and LAX both disallow indoor smoking, which accounts for their C rating, but they do invite smoking customers to step outside. The Worcester, Massachusetts airport has a similar arrangement. (Enjoy that brisk Massachusetts air.) These are the C-class airports.

After that it gets dicier. Quite a few major American airports seem to fall into the D or E classes, with smoking accommodations within the airport that require a bit of a hike, or (in the case of the E-class airports) nothing at all but outside areas located far from gates. Many D airports offer those ubiquitous glass lounges where smokers are invited to light up and take a load off; these include Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Las Vegas (McCarran), and Atlanta (Hartfield). Happy hunting!