Air rage on passenger planes has soared by 62 per cent over the last year - with rebellious drinkers and smokers fuelling the rise, new figures showed today.
In addition, the problem has increased nearly four-fold over the past five years. Drunkenness and violence by rowdy passengers and those refusing to obey no-smoking rules have fuelled the increase - which can result in disruption and diversions for other passengers.
Figures for the year 2006-07 show that the total number of reported incidents of disruptive passenger behaviour rose from 1,359 to 2,219 - an increase of 62 per cent.
Of the total, some 2,161 were classified as "significant" and 58 as "serious".
Passengers were removed from their planes in 235 incidents. Males in their 30s are the main offenders, but many involve large groups. Some 42 passengers were physically restrained - 21 with hand-cuffs and 21 with other forms of restraint.
Some 14 aircraft were diverted and 19 had to abort their taxi or take-off and return to their stand because of the disruption. Violence was involved in 172 incidents - or eight per cent of the total. Crew were attacked 58 times.
The Civil Aviation Authority's Annual Statistics on Disruptive Passenger Behaviour on-board aircraft for the year 2006-07 were published yesterday by the Department for Transport conclude that "the main contributory factors to disruptive behaviour were alcohol and tobacco".
Since 2002 the total number of reported incidents has nearly quadrupled from 648 to 2,219. The number of serious incidents has nearly doubled from 35 to 58 over the same five year period.
The most serious offences carry a maximum fine of £5,000 and/or 2 years imprisonment.
The remaining offences relating to unruly behaviour on board aircraft carry fines of up to £2,500.
Statistically, the report concluded that the chance of an individual passenger boarding a flight on which a serious incident took place was around one in 18,000 in 2006-07. But it said this was an improvement on one in 16,000 in 2005-06.
The CAA report noted: "The increase in the number of reported incidents is partly a result of airlines adopting a more rigorous reporting system and a zero tolerance approach to these passengers."
Alcohol was a 'contributory factor' in 746 incidents or more than a third of cases.
Some 29 per cent of such cases involved passengers drinking their own alcohol, 17 per cent involved them drinking alcohol supplied by the airline, and 23 per cent was down to passengers drinking before boarding.
Smoking was at the root of a quarter of cases involving 563 incidents. That included 459 cases of passengers smoking in a toilet. Some 40 incidents involved large groups of 10 or more people.
The report said:"Smoking restrictions and alcohol were common triggers for disruptive behaviour, while arguments between passengers often stemmed from domestic disputes, allocation of seats or the effect of a reclining seat on the person behind.
"A third of the reported incidents were described as general disruptiveness, with verbal abuse either to cabin crew or other passengers occurring in 39 per cent of the incidents"
A quarter of incidents involved passengers "disobeying airline staff."
The report says: "Cabin crew are more at risk of passengers by virtue of flying more frequently and the nature of their responsibilities."
Arguments over seating arrangements - or which begin at check-in and continue on board - were also highlighted.
Aviation Minister Jim Fitzpatrick said: "One act of unruly behaviour is one too many and can have serious consequences for fellow travellers and for the perpetrator." What an incisive observation...