Reports of disruptive, violent and drunken behaviour during flights has quadrupled over the past five years - and could reach record highs this year, the CAA has warned.
According to new CAA data, the number of incidents involving disruptive passengers, as reported by UK airlines, has increased year-on-year from 98 in 2013 to 417 last year.
And in 2018 to date, before the busy summer getaway has even got under way, there has already been 202. The CAA said many incidents involved “acts of violent and intimidating behaviour”.
It has now has called for immediate and far-reaching government action to crack down on violent and drunken airline passengers, putting fellow passengers and cabin crew at risk.
In February, a stag party was kicked off a Bratislava-bound Ryanair flight when their unruly behaviour forced the pilot to divert to Berlin en route.
Then in June, Jet2.com had to divert an Birmingham-Ibiza flight to Toulouse due to another rowdy stag party behaving in an "appalling and aggressive" manner.
While the majority of passengers enjoy trouble-free flying, the CAA wants airlines and enforcement agencies to make better use of existing laws to encourage the industry and the government to bring more prosecutions.
Offenders can be jailed for up to five years for endangering the safety of an aircraft and can also be charged with specific offences of being drunk on board an aircraft or acting in a disruptive manner.
Other offences include smoking and failing to obey the commands of the captain, again, punishable by fines or imprisonment.
Richard Stephenson, CAA director, said: “Everyone wants their holiday flights to be enjoyable and trouble-free. Drunken and abusive behaviour on an aeroplane is totally unacceptable.
“Not only does it upset everyone else, but it can also jeopardise flight safety. Criminal charges should be brought against offenders more often to act as a deterrent.
“Passengers need to know they will face the full weight of the law should they be found guilty of disorderly behaviour.”
Incidents have increased from 98 in 2013 to 145 in 2014, 195 in 2015, 415 in 2016 and 417 in 2017. There have been 202 incidents to date in 2018 during the period January 1 to July 16.
Airlines have long called for restrictions on pre-flight alcohol sales to ensure passengers aren’t boarding aircraft in a seemingly sober state, only to become a nuisance once a flight is airborne.
Both Ryanair and Jet2.com have championed measures such as a two-drink limit linked to passengers’ boarding passes to ensure they can’t take on excessive amounts of alcohol before flights. Other suggestions include selling duty free alcohol in sealed packaging to ensure it can’t be drunk in-flight.
Earlier this year, The Times reported the government was considering closing a legal loophole allowing airside (after security) pubs and bars to operate outside licensing laws.
A study issued on Thursday (August 16) by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the European Alcohol Policy Alliance found almost two in every three Brits have had to deal with drunk and disorderly behaviour by fellow passengers at airports or on flights.
Jennifer Keen, head of policy at the institute, said: “People can be put in scary and sometimes dangerous situations by a minority of people who drink too much and become disruptive on planes.
“The government needs to do more to protect ordinary passengers from those who get drunk and aggressive.”
Tim Alderslade, chief executive of Airlines UK, the trade body for UK registered airlines, said it was time for a review of airside alcohol licensing.
“Although incidents of disruptive behaviour are rare, where they do happen the consequences can be serious," said Alderslade.
"As these [CAA] stats demonstrate, the problem has increased substantially over the past five years.
"We’ve been working closely with government and the CAA, as well as other industry stakeholders, to tackle this problem.
"However, this worrying trend of increased incidents shows more can be done.
“As airline data shows around half of cases involve alcohol, airlines believe the current exemption for airports from the Licensing Act should be removed so while passengers can still enjoy a drink to start their holiday, airport outlets would be subject to the same licensing requirements as bars, pubs and other outlets selling alcohol in towns and cities across the country, as well as landside at airports.”