If U.S. Airport Smoking Areas Are Inconvenient and Uncomfortable, Then the Terrorists Win

If you smoke cigarettes and you need to fly somewhere that requires one or more connecting flights and you don’t need to leave the security area to have a smoke or three between the legs of your journey – pat yourself on the back. You have a healthier relationship with the Demon Weed than the people described in the paragraph below.

But if you have 30 minutes or so between flights and you still dash through a long parade of gates, past those checking in through security, ignore the food courts, bookstores and coffee and massage kiosks and plunge into the outside air like a deep distance diver gasping for his first surfacing breath, then you’re the one I’m writing to.

Disclosure: I myself am firmly in the “outside quick at all costs,” cohort of smoker-flyers. I would rather wait two hours between flights to stoke up on nicotine than book flights with a 30-minute connecting time, which doesn’t allow the “pause that refreshes.”

I try to gauge the following while fleeing from the hermetic, canned air atmosphere of the area inside security:

  • How long does it take to walk from TSA to the gate I’m actually departing from?
  • How does the speed of the check-in line look?
  • Is there an alternate check-in line that looks faster?
  • How far to the designated smoking area from the check-in line I have scoped out as the best?
  • How many minutes before departure can I push the airline before they give away my seat?

The above determines my maximum smoking time.

I asked an engineer to give me the above written as an equation and she came up with:

T(Total) = T(Gate) + T(Terminal) + T(Security) + T(Smoking)


T(Total) = How long you must leave designated smoking area prior to departure time

T(Gate) = How long before departure you must arrive at the gate before they give away your seat

T(Terminal) = How long it will take to walk from security booth to departure gate

T(Security) = How long it will take to get through security

T(Smoking) = How long it will take to walk from designated smoking area to security

She said you could also say:

T(Departure) – T(Gate) – T(Terminal) – T(Security) – T(Smoking) = T(Last Cigarette)


T(Departure) = Departure Time

T(Last Cigarette) = Time of last cigarette/must leave smoking area

When I travel, I figure 40 minutes is my minimum ST. For a large unfamiliar airport I’ll budget two hours.

So why do the terrorists win?

Because when I’m on my way in or out of security I’m hurrying, not being alert, not wanting to stop to help anyone, impatient with delays and most importantly, pushing security until the last possible minute. A rushed person, worried he might miss his plane, might attract the attention of TSA and distract them from spotting real threateners.

Is it really responsible to adhere to a strict policy of “no-smoking anywhere in the airport” at all costs? Wouldn’t a small smoking shelter inside security make sense? Ventilate the smoke from the shelter to the same outside jet plane parking lot air that’s already rank with fuel fumes? No harm, no?

Which is more important — ideology or security?

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