Forty per cent of airlines have diverted a flight due to an unruly passenger in the past 12 months. How are airlines keeping you safe?

Unruly passengers have become a significant problem on flights, according to the International Air Transport Association.

A recently released fact sheet shows there was almost 50,000 reported incidents between 2007 and 2015. Most were quickly resolved by crew, but 11 per cent of them involved physical aggression to others or damage to the aircraft.

It prompts the question: should cabin crew be armed?

Korean Air recently promised to improve Taser training for its crew, following a mid-air drama involving American singer Richard Marx in December.

Singer Richard Marx helped subdue a unruly passenger on a Korean Air flight.
Singer Richard Marx helped subdue a unruly passenger on a Korean Air flight.

He leapt to the rescue of flight attendants when a man sitting in the next row became "crazy" and started attacking them, shouting and pulling their hair.

Mr Marx and a number of other male passengers managed to subdue him, but the fiasco lasted four hours as the man repeatedly broke out of his bonds.

The singer slammed the airline, posting on Facebook: "My wife and I are safe but one crew member and two passengers were injured. The all female crew was clueless and not trained as to how to restrain this psycho and he was only initially subdued when I and a couple other male passengers intervened".

He continued on Twitter, saying: "Korean Air should be sanctioned for not knowing how to handle a situation like this without passenger interference."

Indeed, a picture posted on Instagram by his wife Daisy Fuentes shows a female flight attendant nervously pointing a Taser at the man, with no apparent idea how to use it.

However, as travel journalist Tim Winship pointed out, the prospect of having stun guns on board is equally comforting and alarming.

"Yes, there's the reassuring sense that the good guys are equipped to quell on-board disturbances. But, as with guns kept for home protection, there's also the very real possibility of the disrupters disarming the crew members and using the weapons against others," he wrote.

Amanda Pleva, a US-based flight attendant with 15 years of experience, said the Korean Air drama made shockwaves go through the industry - adding that most cabin crew were horrified at the prospect of carrying a Taser.

This image, posted by Daisy Fuentes, shows the flight attendant looking nervous. Photo / Instagram
This image, posted by Daisy Fuentes, shows the flight attendant looking nervous. Photo / Instagram

"Having access to a non-lethal weapon could potentially take down an attacker, but there is too great a danger in the weapon being misfired, used with poor judgment or turned against crew or passengers," she wrote.

She added that of all the post-September 11 lessons the aviation industry has learned, the most important is that passenger involvement is key when threatening situations arise on board.

Two jets hit New York's Twin Towers, and one found its mark on the US Pentagon.
However, those on board United Airlines Flight 93 fought back against hijackers who planned to hit the White House, causing it to crash into a paddock in Pennsylvania instead.

"Overwhelming an attacker in number and strength is much more effective than a Taser or other weapon on board," she wrote.

"In [the Korean Air] case, had the flight attendant been able to fire at the unruly passenger, the result would almost definitely have been the same - the help of other passengers would have still been required. And the threat of the weapon finding its way into the wrong hands is too great a risk to take."

Data from the International Air Transport Association also indicated intoxication from alcohol or drugs was to blame in almost a quarter of reported incidents.

Last July, six Australian men were thrown off a Jetstar plane after a wild drunken brawl on a flight from Sydney to Phuket. The pilot was forced to divert to Bali's Ngurah Rai airport, where the aggressors were detained.

Airport manager Trikora Jarko said the men, who were questioned by airport authorities, were found to be drunk and that three of them smelled of alcohol.

Jetstar could not confirm whether the men were served alcohol on the plane, but said crew made the decision to refuse the service of alcohol to the passengers during the flight.

The Association said airports and other service providers, including bar and restaurant operators, should do their bit to ensure alcohol is served responsibly and help avoid intoxication which cabin crew members have to deal with in the air.

The Department of Infrastructure has been contacted for comment.