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Unruly airline passengers were on the rise last year, fueled in part by alcohol and drugs

A woman who became disruptive on a flight from New York to Los Angeles last month forced an American Airlines flight, carrying 97 passengers, to return to John F. Kennedy International Airport.

What caused the woman to lose her cool is still unclear but such incidents are on the rise.

In 2015, the world’s airlines reported 10,854 incidents of unruly passengers, up 16% from the previous year, according to data from the International Air Transport Assn., the trade group for the world’s airlines.

The trade group found that the cases involved verbal abuse, failure to follow the instructions from crew members and other problems. Alcohol and drug use was involved in 23% of the cases, although the trade group said that the drugs and alcohol were often ingested by the passengers before boarding.

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“The increase in reported incidents tells us that more effective deterrents are needed,” said Alexandre de Juniac, director general of the trade group.

A recent study by a social psychologist at Harvard Business School suggested that incidents of air rage are more common in planes in which economy and upper-class passengers are segregated.

The data suggest that resentment and jealousy between the passengers cramped into coach seats and the well-heeled travelers relaxing in luxury lie-flat seats might play a role in sparking such incidents of air rage, said Michael I. Norton, the author of the study.

The plane that returned to JFK airport after the disturbance last month was an Airbus 321 with 10 extra-roomy lie flat seats in first class and 36 economy seats in the back.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.

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