In-flight fisticuffs highlight rise in air rage

A female air traveller is due to appear in court this week after allegedly assaulting a steward on a transatlantic flight and then injuring three policemen while resisting arrest at Heathrow.

The woman, who is British, has been charged on four counts of causing actual bodily harm and one of being drunk on an aircraft. The drama was sparked by the refusal of a steward on a Montreal-London flight to serve the woman any more alcohol. It is alleged that she became loud and abusive, then poured a glass of red wine, followed by the contents of a food tray, over the steward's head. Then she hit him, after which she fell asleep.

But she became only more enraged upon arrival when she discovered that the plane's pilot had radioed ahead for the police to arrest her. She is alleged to have kicked one policeman in the groin and, in the effort to subdue her, two other policemen sustained arm injuries.

The incident highlights the aviation industry's concern at the growing menace posed by disruptive passengers. At a conference in Washington last week, airline pilots and flight attendants from around the world called on airlines to enforce tighter in-flight security measures and demanded that law enforcement agencies impose tougher penalties on offenders.

Excessive drinking is invariably the problem, though it is sometimes compounded by nicotine deprivation. After two Swedish passengers on a flight to Chicago refused to stop smoking, the crew handcuffed them and the pilot diverted the plane to Montreal, where they were arrested and sent back to Sweden.

The punishment is not always so lenient. A passenger to Washington last year who indecently assaulted six stewardesses then attacked two male crew members who came to their aid, is now in jail in the US.

The evidence would suggest that the combination of drink, high altitude and the frayed nerves induced by the confined space of a crowded cabin imbues some passengers with superhuman rage. On a recent flight an elderly British man lost his cool when informed there was no more steak on the menu. With one punch, the passenger, judged to be in his 70s, floored the steward trying to calm him.

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