Page last updated at 23:10 GMT, Thursday, 30 April 2009 00:10 UK

Fighting the rise of 'air rage'

By Damon Embling
Home affairs correspondent, BBC South

Plane lands at Gatwick Airport
Police across the UK dealt with 2,702 incidents on planes in 2007/8

The number of "air rage" incidents being reported to police at Gatwick airport is on the rise, figures obtained by the BBC show.

Police dealt with 58 incidents on board passenger planes which took off from or landed at the Sussex airport last year, up from 50 on the previous year.

Adding in problems recorded on the ground, police were called to an average of almost 10 incidents a week between January and March, including assaults and threatening and abusive behaviour, some of which were alcohol related.

In all, there were 52 arrests and 63 passengers were refused travel.

Against a background of such statistics, Sussex Police have launched a crackdown at Gatwick to try to curb the problem of what they describe as "disruptive passengers".

Officers are recruiting airport businesses to help them stamp out bad behaviour.

Alcohol offers

Inspector Mark Callaghan said: "What we're doing is just trying to get people at the airport to have a look at their area of the business and to think what they do [and] how does that affect a passenger's behaviour on an aircraft.

"That includes the licensed premises and they've been very supportive. We've had some instances since the group started whereby such things as promotional offers on the sale of alcohol have been withdrawn."

Nationally, the number of problems on board planes has more than quadrupled, rising from 696 incidents in 2003/04 to 2,702 during 2007/08, although the number of "serious" incidents has gone down.

In the confined space of an aircraft half way over the Atlantic it was a terrifying experience for many
Dominic Carman

Dominic Carman, from London, experienced air rage first hand on a flight from Gatwick to Cuba last summer when a fellow passenger went on a drunken rampage and forced the flight to be diverted to Bermuda.

"This man in particular was very drunk and started to cause arguments with other people, to shout at some other passengers and to be generally abusive and very difficult," Mr Carman said.

"The man got further out of control. He informed one of the cabin crew that he was going to get off and then at that point he lunged towards the door, as if to open the door of the plane.

"He was then restrained forcibly and a short while later, the pilot told us we were going to have to land at Bermuda airport and that he would be taken off the plane."

He added: "In the confined space of an aircraft, halfway over the Atlantic, it was a terrifying experience for many."

Security stress

Alcohol, tiredness, screaming children and too little legroom on an aeroplane are all factors which can cause a passenger to fly into a rage.

But increased security checks on the ground could also be making travellers more stressed, according to Dr Graham Lucas, a psychiatrist who has treated victims and perpetrators of air rage.

"Inevitably it is delay. People become frustrated - [ask] why am I being searched and you got through without any trouble? All the fiddling around that the flying public are aware of does contribute to the stress," he said.

We are... right behind the police's effort to clamp down on this issue and we're giving them our full support
Andrew McCallum, BAA spokesman

"The other thing is that people bring their own stress onboard, whether it's occupational or domestic stress."

Gatwick airport operator BAA said it was important to keep the problems in context.

"We at Gatwick airport handle around 35 million passengers every year, so, in relation to that number, it's actually a fairly small number of passengers that are being disruptive," said spokesman Andrew McCallum.

"We are, however, right behind the police's effort to clamp down on this issue and we're giving them our full support."

Airlines say they take the issue of disruptive behaviour seriously and adopt a zero-tolerance policy when dealing with incidents.

A spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority, which oversees airline safety, said: "Greater awareness of the issue of disruptive passengers, combined with zero-tolerance policies in dealing with them, has seen an improvement in reporting of incidents.

"Therefore rather than an actual significant rise in the number of disruptive passengers occurring, it is likely that we have seen increased reporting by airlines."

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