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Figures obtained by the Press Association (PA) through Freedom of Information requests showed that 273 people were held in 2017 and 2018.

But the actual figures will be much higher as the Metropolitan Police, which covers Heathrow, and Sussex Police, who look after Gatwick, did not provide any details.

Examples of drunkenness reported included a 51-year-old man threatening customer services staff with a knife after being stopped from travelling.

In another case an intoxicated person was fighting with another passenger on board a plane, causing alarm among other people.

Anyone convicted of being drunk on an aircraft can face a fine or up to two years' imprisonment.

Drink sales beyond international airport security gates in England and Wales are not regulated
Image:Drink sales beyond international airport security gates in England and Wales are not regulated

Of the 273 cases obtained by PA, 90 were on board planes, with the rest taking place inside airports.

A spokesman for Airlines UK said: "The problem of disruptive behaviour has got progressively worse over a number of years, despite the best efforts of industry to tackle it.

"There is no evidence to suggest these incidents won't persist without the active involvement of government."

In fact, a Home Office review of the rules around airport drinking is already under way.

Currently, drink sales beyond security gates at international airports in England and Wales are not regulated by high street licensing laws.

The review is considering whether to extend these to airports, meaning no alcohol could be sold before 10am without an exemption.

Airports in Scotland and Northern Ireland are regulated by their own licensing acts.

A government spokesperson said: "Most UK air passengers behave responsibly, but any disruptive or drunk behaviour is entirely unacceptable.

"There are already tough penalties for drunkenness on an aircraft - you can be imprisoned for up to two years or given an unlimited fine.

"Pilots also have the power to remove passengers from the plane if they are drunk and the safety of the aircraft or its passengers is threatened.

"We strongly support the use of these powers by the police, airlines and airports to tackle drunk and disorderly behaviour at our airports and on board the aircraft.

"The government is already working with both airports and airlines to identify further ways to tackle the problem of drunk and disorderly passengers as part of our new UK Aviation Strategy."

A spokesman for Airlines UK, the trade association for UK airlines, said: "The problem of disruptive behaviour has got progressively worse over a number of years, despite the best efforts of industry to tackle it.

"There is no evidence to suggest these incidents won't persist without the active involvement of government."