Ryanair today backed a demand on government to crack down on drunken and disruptive airline passengers as a poll revealed that two thirds of people have encountered troublemakers on flights.

The majority (51%) also believe there is a serious problem with excessive alcohol consumption in air travel, the Fit to Fly study by the Institute of Alcohol Studies and the European Alcohol Policy Alliance, found.

The disclosure came as the Civil Aviation Authority reported a dramatic rise in incidents of disruptive passengers so far this year (see separate story).

Drunken passengers who become aggressive on flights threaten the safety of other passengers, including children. Cabin crew have reported being sexually assaulted, kicked, punched and head-butted by drunk passengers.

Almost a quarter of adults drink alcohol at the airport, but only 2% admitted to having four drinks or more, indicating that a minority of passengers drinking excessively may be putting other passengers’ safety at risk, according to the Fit to Fly report.

The survey of more than 2,00 people also found that:

• 86% respondents support the same licensing laws applying to shops and bars selling alcohol in the airport as shops and bars on the high street

• 74% respondents support the restriction of alcohol consumption at airports to bars and restaurants only, meaning that alcohol bought at duty free cannot be consumed in the airport

• 67% respondents support a limit on the quantity of alcohol that people are allowed to consume in the airport

• 64% respondents support breathalysing at departure gates

• 59% respondents support drinking alcohol brought from home or bought at the airport on-board a plane to be an offence (excluding alcohol bought whilst on the plane)

• 55% respondents support time restrictions on when alcohol can be sold at airports

Ryanair public affairs director Diarmuid Ó Conghaile said: “Regulatory measures are available to address this problem, including amending licensing laws for airports and statutory prohibition of consumption on an aircraft of alcohol which a passenger has brought with him/her.

“Problems do not arise from the sale of alcohol on board, as the measures are small, the flights short, and sales controlled by trained staff.

“Ryanair thanks the Institute of Alcohol Studies for its important contribution, and calls on the UK government to make the necessary changes.”

Institute of Alcohol Studies policy head Jennifer Keen said: “The start of a holiday should be a happy and relaxing time for families. Instead people can be put in scary and, sometimes, frankly 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.

“There is no clear reason why shops and bars in airports should be exempted from normal licensing rules when drunk people in the air are a much bigger safety risk to others than drunk people in the high street.”

But the European Travel Retail Confederation and the UK Travel Retail Forum hit back, describing the recommendations in the Fit to Fly report as being overshadowed by “sensationalised anecdotal evidence and inaccurate figures” provided as a policy basis.

“This, coupled with the promotion of the vested interest views of one airline and the misrepresentation of some of the insights of other participants in the forum is unacceptable,” ETRC aviation affairs vice president and UKTRF chair Francois Bourienne said.

“Drinking to excess is a societal issue and is not confined to any one stage of the passenger journey or hour of the day.

“Unfortunately, if someone is determined to drink to excess, opening hours or restrictions will have limited impact.

“Education of the consequences – both personal and on other passengers, information sharing, timely reporting of incidents, and full enforcement of the penalties available are key to effect change.

“The ‘One Too Many’ campaign launched earlier in the summer is a prime example of this. It builds on the 2016 Aviation Industry Code of Practice by bringing together the UKTRF, Airport Operators Association, Iata and AirlinesUK to educate core at risk groups including group bookings of the consequences of becoming disruptive.”

More: CAA demands more prosecutions as drunken incidents rise