Posts in the category "Smoking":

Airports working out how to deal with new pot laws

POT SIGN at the Airport

It’s been about six months since specialty shops selling recreational marijuana began operating legally in Colorado. In July, the first batch of shops licensed to sell retail weed will open in Washington State.

Both states prohibit locally-purchased pot from crossing state lines and marijuana remains illegal under the federal laws that also govern the aviation industry.

So as the busy summer travel season begins, we checked in with the TSA and some of the airports in the pot-pioneering states to see how they’re enforcing – or plan to enforce – rules prohibiting passengers from taking pot on a plane.

TSA spokesman Ross Feinstein emphasizes that the agency’s focus remains “terrorism and security threats to the aircraft and its passengers.” And if you search for “marijuana” on the TSA’s “Can I bring my … through the security checkpoint?” tool, you’ll get a message that begins “TSA security officers do not search for marijuana or other drugs.”

But if TSA officers discover something – let’s say a small amount of locally-legal pot – in a passenger’s carry-on or checked luggage that may violate the federal law, Feinstein says those officers are required to refer the matter to local enforcement, “whose officials will determine whether to initiate a criminal investigation.”

In an effort to keep travelers from trying, even inadvertently, to take pot through security checkpoints, airports in Colorado have instituted a variety of measures.

In January, Denver International instituted a policy that bans marijuana anywhere on airport property, including pre-security areas where having small amounts of pot would otherwise be allowed. Signs announcing the rules are posted and remind travelers that the airport can impose fines of up to $999.

Denver Airport no pot sign

Word seems to have gotten out: Since the beginning of the year, only ten passengers have been found to have small amounts of marijuana on them at the TSA checkpoints. “The Denver Police Department was called for each person and they all voluntarily complied with our rules by throwing [the pot] away before flying,” said airport spokesman Heath Montgomery.

“We established our rules early and worked to educate people about our expectations. That seems to be an effective combination,” he said.

Other airports in Colorado are reporting much of the same.

At the Colorado Springs Airport, the local police department installed an amnesty box and as well as signs alerting passengers to the laws governing traveling across state lines with marijuana.

“We asking people to voluntarily comply,” said Lt. Catherine Buckley of the Colorado Springs Police Department, “and so far only a small amount – 1.4 grams – has been turned in on one occasion.”

In cooperation with its local sheriff’s department, in January the Aspen/Pitkin County Airport set up signs and an amnesty box as well.

“We haven’t really noticed too much of an issue,” said Brian Grefe, the airport’s assistant aviation director of administration, only that many images of its amnesty box have been showing up online. “It’s been one of our biggest social media hits,” said Grefe.

As Washington State gets ready for its first licensed recreational pot shops to open, “the best lesson it can take from Colorado is that while it is illegal to transport marijuana out of the state, people are still going to inadvertently show up with it at the airport,” said Jeff Price an aviation and security expert and an a professor at the Metropolitan State University of Denver.

Price suggests airports in Washington take the approach Denver International adopted, “which is to ban it in the airport but then not prosecute people if they are caught with it – just send them back to their cars or confiscate and dispose of it properly,” or to follow the lead of other airports that have set up pot amnesty boxes at TSA checkpoints.

So far, that’s not what airports in Washington State seem to be planning.

Officials at Seattle-Tacoma International Airport say there are no plans to install amnesty boxes and no plans to change any airport procedures due to the opening of retail pot stores.

“I suppose a passenger could throw their pot in the garbage if they’d like,” said airport spokesman Perry Cooper.

There are no plans to change procedures at the Spokane International Airport either. There, airport police officers who currently encounter travelers with small amounts of medical marijuana “advise them of the option to surrender it to the airport police who can legally destroy it,” said airport spokesman Todd Woodard.

“Transporting marijuana across a state line is a criminal matter not an aviation issue,” said Woodard. “We will not be installing amnesty boxes. Nor will we be erecting signage.”

(My story about airports and pot first appeared as my June At the Airport column on USATODAY.com)

Smoker in need of a hotel?

Lucky Stirke smoking

A new online booking tool has rolled out to help smokers find hotel rooms where it’s OK to light up.

Lake Forest, Calif.-based Smoketels.com has a database of more than 250,000 smoking-allowed hotel rooms, said founder and smoker Shawn Bradley. “On existing online travel reservation sites such as Orbitz, Travelocity and Expedia, you have to click on the hotel and then look to see if there might be any smoking rooms,” he said. “That gets very confusing and frustrating. Our inventory only includes hotels where smoking rooms are available.”

An increasing number of hotels, such as Marriott and Starwood, have made all their U.S. properties 100 percent smoke-free. “But many Days Inn and Quality Inn properties — and many hotels in the South, where there are still many heavy smokers — will generally have smoking rooms available,” said Bradley.

In a 2012 survey of 52,000 properties conducted by the American Hotel & Lodging Association, 63 percent reported being 100 percent smoke-free. “But keep in mind,” said Bradley, “many hotel chains that ban smoking in their U.S. properties have smoking rooms available at their properties in other countries.”

Many of the estimated 43.8 million adult smokers in the U.S. who travel will smoke even if they have to rent a nonsmoking room. “They’ll burn candles, use cologne, blow the smoke out the windows, all in an effort to mask the smoke,” said Bradley.

Smoketels.com may have a hard time going up against existing online travel agencies, said Marcello Gasdia, a consumer analyst with PhoCusWright.

“The only way to generate revenue is to steal market share,” said Gasdia. “That’s a tough thing to do when you’re going against entrenched players like Priceline, Expedia or Kayak. Going for a niche audience is one approach, but it’s still difficult to pull any consumer from these household name brands.”

(My story about a new website that lists hotels where it is OK to smoke first appeared on NBC News Travel.

Fines set for having pot at Colorado airports

den sign

While it is now legal to possess and purchase marijuana in Colorado, anyone who brings pot to either of the state’s two busiest airports – Denver International and Colorado Springs – now risks the chance of being fined.

On Wednesday, Denver International Airport held a public hearing to formalize a policy it rolled out earlier in the month prohibiting the possession, use and consumption of marijuana for everyone – travelers, meters and greeters and workers – on airport property.

At the same time, DIA officials announced a set of “administrative citations,” or fines that would be issued as part of that policy: $150 for a first offense, $500 for a second offense and up to $999 for a third offense and beyond.

“This is really a last resort for us though,” said DIA spokeswoman Stacey Stegman. “Our primary goal is for people to comply with federal law,” which states that it is illegal to bring marijuana past security or transport it across state lines. See DIA’s new signage below, and then read on.

Stegman said that, as at other airports, if a TSA officer discovers marijuana, local law enforcement is called. “Law enforcement would look at the circumstances and determine what to do—depending upon intent, age, quantity, etc.”

If someone over age 21 is found at DIA airport with a small amount of pot, they’d likely be asked to put it in their vehicle, have someone take it away from the airport or asked to throw it away in a checkpoint trash receptacle. (DIA’s receptacles have lids with small holes, so Stegman isn’t worried about discarded marijuana being retrieved by others.) Those who decline these options would be asked to leave the airport and, before a citation would be given “other options would be explored,” said Stegman.

Signs outlining the rules will be posted at Denver International Airport within seven days, at which time airport and local authorities will begin enforcing the policy.

Starting Friday, January 10, pot is also prohibited throughout Colorado Springs Airport. According to a report in The Gazette, officials have warned the public that possession of pot at the airport could be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 – and jail time.

Those found with marijuana at the Colorado Springs Airport will have the option to give it up voluntarily, without penalty, by putting it in their cars, giving it to someone to take away from the airport or depositing it in an “amnesty box” to be destroyed.

(My story about pot fine at Colorado Airports first appeared on the Runway Girl Network)

Worried about the 787 and the one-butt ashtray

Boeing, the FAA, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB), airlines and all manner of interested parties are worried about the fate of the 787 Dreamliner.

And I am too.  For all the reasons everyone else wants all the problems to be resolved but also because I’m worried about the fate of the one-butt ashtray.

LAN 787 lav

While smoking is prohibited on airplanes, there are still some knuckleheads who will go into an airplane bathroom and light up. And in an effort to keep these smoking scofflaws from disposing of a lit or still smoldering cigarette in a trash bin filled with paper towels, there are regulations in place requiring that there be ashtrays in airplane lavatories and other spots.

On most airplanes, you’ll spot the square metal ashtrays many of us are familiar with from the old days when there were ashtrays in every airplane armrest.

But for the 787 some smart designer has come up with a charming and elegant little ashtray that works just like a flip out coat hook and will hold no more than a single cigarette butt.

So for that reason, I say “Save the 787.” It may save some butts.

Smoking lounges at airports not going away

Lucky Stirke smoking

Smoking is still allowed in specific areas at the five major U.S. airports detailed in a recent report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that showed air pollution levels that are significantly higher than those at non-smoking airports.

One of the airports — Denver International — did snuff three of its four smoking areas in 2012. Smokin’ Bear Lodge Smoking Lounge is the last place where travelers moving through the airport can light up.

“We are happy about that,” said Karen Phelan of the Colordato Department of Public Heath and Environment.“Because even non-smokers who go near the smoking lounges are exposed to secondhand smoke and even a brief exposure to second hand smoke can trigger a heart attack. So this protects everyone.”

The CDC report found air pollution levels from secondhand smoke directly outside designated airport smoking areas were five times higher than levels in smoke-free airports. The CDC examined areas at Denver International, Hartsfield-Jackson (Atlanta), Washington Dulles, McCarran International (Las Vegas) and Salt Lake City International.

“In general, smoking is limited to a handful of hub airports,” said Bronson Frick, associate director of Americans for Nonsmokers’ Rights. “The list is pretty small. Ten years ago, smoke-free airports were something of an anomaly.”

Besides Denver International, the other airports included in the CDC study have do not have plans to kick the smoking-lounge habit.

“A sizable portion of our airports uses smoke,” said McCarran International Spokperson Christine Crews. “And providing these customers with enclosed areas offers several benefits to non-smokers.” For example, she said, smoking areas inside the airport act as a deterrent to smokers who might light up in non-smoking areas, such as companion care restrooms or near building entrances.

At Dulles, smoking rooms compliant with state and local building codes are offered “as a courtesy because there is no access to the outdoors for passengers in our midfield concourses,” said Kimberly Gibbs, spokesperson for the Metropolitan Washington Airports Authority. Nearby Washington National is now smoke-free, Frick notes.

There’s a smoking lounge on each of the five concourses at Salt Lake City International. Additional fans were recently added to one of the lounges and doors were added to the rooms, said airport spokesperson Barbara Gann, but there are no plans to eliminate the rooms.

And at Hartsfield-Jackson, the nation’s busiest airport, improvements to the six smoking lounges were part of a recent concourse cosmetic upgrade project. “We’ve found that if authorized smoking areas are not provided, some passengers – especially those smokers who have just ended long international flights – find unauthorized places to smoke,” said airport spokesperson Myrna White.

Click here to see the smoking policies of the nation’s 35 busiest airports.

“Speaking up for smoke-free airports is important,” Frick said. “The report from the CDC affirms that smoking rooms, smoking sections and ventilation systems do not protect people from the health hazards of secondhand smoke.”

(Photo: George Eastman House, via Flickr, The Commons)

My story about airport smoking lounges first appeared on NBC News.com.

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