The number of in-flight incidents involving unruly passengers jumped to about 8,000 last year, prompting the aviation industry’s trade group to call on governments and airports to penalise offenders.

The offenses, which range from consumption of illegal narcotics to sexual harassment, rose from the 6,000 offenses reported for 2011, the International Air Transport Association said in a statement today. Confrontations have jumped 16-fold in six years, after 500 incidents were reported in 2007.

The surge leaves airlines wading through local laws to punish offenders, and IATA said governments should ratify a recent agreement to extend jurisdiction over offenses occurring on planes to the destination country. Support should also come from airport operators, as some passengers get drunk at terminal bars and restaurants before boarding flights, IATA said.

“Governments have recognized that unruly passenger behavior is a serious issue,” Tony Tyler, IATA’s director general, said in a statement. “Now, governments must ratify what they have agreed to.”

Until now, jurisdiction has been limited to the country of the aircraft’s registration. That has diminished chances for authorities to nail down perpetrators as an increasing number of planes flying under leases means they are registered in a country outside their flight path.

Recent high-profile cases include the arrest of Ralph Lauren’s niece Jennifer for pushing a Delta Air Lines Inc. crew member. The jewelery designer was convicted Jan. 8 of drunkenness and threatening, abusive or insulting behavior aboard an aircraft that had forced her flight bound for New York from Barcelona to divert to Shannon in Ireland.

To contact the reporter on this story: Richard Weiss in Frankfurt at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Benedikt Kammel at Christopher Jasper.

Tags: iata, safety
Photo Credit: A glass of wine is a dangerous idea for some flyers. Son of Groucho / Flickr