A business class passenger was handcuffed and detained on an Air New Zealand flight from Los Angeles overnight, amid allegations he attacked a crew member while under the influence of alcohol and sleeping tablets.

A police spokesman confirmed one person had been taken into custody but said he did not have any further information at this stage.

The incident occurred about a third of the way into the 12-and-a-half hour NZ5 service to Auckland, as the almost-full Boeing 777 crossed Hawaii at an altitude of more than 10,000 metres.

The man, who was later heard to describe himself as a 50-year-old Norwegian who worked with UFC fighters, was marched to the back of the economy section, arms already cuffed behind his back, by two men - a crew member and another who looked like a passenger.

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He was held there in cuffs for the rest of the flight, which landed, on time, about 6am today.

There was no official announcement about the incident.

The plane was cleared of other passengers before the man was allowed off, as uniformed police and aviation security staff waited outside the main cabin door. His travelling companion was being spoken to by another police officer just inside the terminal building.

Also describing himself as a documentary maker and ex-army, the cuffed man appeared intoxicated and was slurring his words when initially moved to the back of the plane. During conversations with members of the flight crew, he moved from confused to confrontational to contrite.

There were bursts of abuse and frequent shouts of the name of his travelling companion who, he was told, remained in business class.

At least two passengers were moved from the row of four seats the cuffed man was moved to.

Other passengers around the man were moved and some of those who remained in earshot were offered noise-cancelling headphones.

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Later, the man started shouting that he needed a doctor, referring to his human rights and complaining the cuffs were too tight.

Crew members, who remained patient and respectful throughout, had warned that the more he struggled the tighter the cuffs would get. They encouraged him to sleep, before eventually resetting the cuffs to ease his discomfort.

The specifics of the incident that sparked the drama were not immediately clear. At different points, different crew members were heard to tell the man he had punched, slapped and kicked one of their colleagues after he was refused alcohol.

Initially denying carrying out - or being aware of - such actions, as the flight neared Auckland the man could be heard talking to a crew member about mixing medication provided by a third party with alcohol.

After the plane reached the gate, the man, who appeared to have "come round" apologised to two crew members. One told him it was okay and that they could tell it was out of character and he didn't know what he was doing.

The other said it wasn't the first time he'd seen bad results when sleeping tablets and alcohol were mixed onboard and it wouldn't be the last - he had seen passengers get naked and rip doors off toilets. He asked the passenger why he'd taken three sleeping tablets when one would have been enough.

"It was initially disconcerting," said one passenger, a row away at the back of the plane.

"You see someone handcuffed on a flight and all sorts of fears flash through your mind. But once it seemed likely he was drunk or similar it quickly became an annoyance rather than a threat.

"The crew handled it brilliantly, remaining calm and constructive, despite provocation and, it seems, an attack on one of their own. They talked him through what would happen when we landed and even put his shoes on for him as we descended into Auckland.

"It's the first time I've seen anything like this in 30-odd years of fairly regular long-haul flights."

An Air New Zealand spokeswoman said police met flight NZ5 on arrival this morning after a passenger failed to comply with crew instructions and required restraint in flight.

"For privacy reasons we are unable to comment on the passenger involved," she said.