Some Are Fuming, but Most Who Fly Say Ban on Smoking Is for Best

Times Staff Writer

If the last couple of days are an indicator, Californians will take it in stride when full-scale enforcement of a new ban on smoking on intrastate flights begins.

"I think it's a good law," said Peggy Michael of San Francisco, who was awaiting a flight at Los Angeles International Airport.

"I'm a smoker, but I can do without it on an airplane," she said. "I was planning to give it up anyway. Maybe this'll do it."

Some others--all of them smokers--said they were angry, that the new law infringes unfairly on their individual rights.

But most passengers interviewed Sunday and Monday at LAX said they thought prohibiting smoking is a good idea, and none said they would change flights to avoid the ban. All said they would obey the law, and there were no reports of passenger discontent aboard any intrastate flights.

The new law, which went into effect Jan. 1, bans smoking on flights that begin and end within the state. Violations carry fines of up to $500.

Delta Air Lines and Continental Airlines were the only major carriers within the state to announce they would begin enforcement of the new law Jan. 1. Several other lines first said they would not enforce the ban, then later changed their minds, saying they would begin enforcing the law today or Wednesday.

Passengers arriving at Delta's boarding gates in California over the weekend found neatly lettered little signs--about 18 inches long and 8 inches high--on the counters that read:

"SMOKING IS PROHIBITED on all Delta Air Lines flights operating between any two points within California."

Nancy Garton of Sacramento, a nonsmoker who was waiting in line Sunday night for Delta Flight 515 from LAX to San Francisco, said she was "absolutely delighted. . . ."

"Even in the nonsmoking sections, there's always been a lot of smoke that sort of travels around," she said. "Sometimes it was terrible."

"I think it's a good idea," said Margaret Ervin of San Rafael, another nonsmoker who was taking the same flight. "I think if those smokers learn to chew gum, then they can manage without cigarettes."

But Armando Covello of Stockton, a smoker who was on Flight 515, said the ban was wrong.

"They're taking away my rights," he said. "I didn't know they were going to do this, and I'd already bought my tickets. The next time I'll probably drive."

Asked if he thought he could handle the 70-minute flight without a cigarette, Covello said, "Sure I can. . . . Once, when I was operated on, I went 12 whole hours without one."

A Delta captain seeing a friend off on the flight said he, too, thought the ban was "an encroachment of civil rights. . . . "

"It's another case of the majority screwing the minority," said the captain, who asked that his name not be revealed.

"Another bad thing is that they're asking me to enforce it," he said. "I'm there to fly the plane, not to be a policeman. . . .

"And another thing. If there's a ban, they'll just go into the bathroom and smoke, and that can start fires."

Before the boarding for Flight 515, a Delta service agent used the public address system to remind passengers about the ban. And once on the plane, the passengers were reminded again by an attendant giving preflight safety instructions.

The flight went without incident. No one lit up, and no one complained.

Airborne Scuffle

It was a far cry from what happened on a transcontinental flight last Wednesday, when a scuffle broke out between some passengers and flight attendants after the pilot banned smoking. The passengers rebelled and lit up anyway.

There were no injuries, but the pilot of Trans World Airlines Flight 853 from Boston to LAX radioed for police to be waiting after he went back to survey the situation and found what TWA officials said was a "volatile situation" that involved harsh words, pushing and shoving.

TWA said the pilot announced the ban because there weren't enough seats for nonsmokers in the nonsmoking section. The airline said passengers were told that smoking would be prohibited before they boarded. But at least one passenger said she didn't hear about it until after the plane had left the gate.

Eveyone agreed on one thing, though: It had nothing to do with California's new smoking ban on intrastate flights.

Defiance of Law

Several days before the law went into effect, four airlines accounting for the bulk of California's intrastate flights--Alaska, American, Pacific Southwest and United--said they would defy the law and let passengers smoke. They contended that current federal law permitting smoking supersedes state law.

A new federal law banning smoking on all flights of less than two hours goes into effect April 22. The four airlines say they will obey the new federal regulation.

Last Thursday, PSA and United reversed their positions, saying they will enforce the California law after all, beginning today. Alaska said Monday that it will begin enforcement on Wednesday.

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