Despite two planes being diverted in a week, the number of planes forced to land at Maine’s Bangor International Airport because of unruly passengers has slowed to a trickle since the 9-11 attacks.

Before the back-to-back episodes, the airport had gone more than two years without a jetliner diverted because of misbehaving passengers.

That changed with a Moroccan-bound flight making an unscheduled stop because of a passenger’s hoax on Feb. 19. And on Wednesday, 20 British passengers heading for Las Vegas were given the boot for rowdy behavior.

Bangor had a well-earned reputation as a place to dislodge unruly passengers on trans-Atlantic flights before the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001.

It is the last major U.S. airport for jets headed across the Atlantic and the first for incoming flights. Either way, it’s a convenient place for a pilot to dislodge unruly passengers.

But air travel, and air travelers, has changed dramatically since then.

Passengers are now better behaved and flight crews are less tolerant of misbehavior, said Rebecca Hupp, the airport manager in Bangor.

“Although it’s less likely that there would be an incident, it’s more likely that there would be a swift response if one did arise,” Hupp said Thursday.

Before the attacks, unruly passengers were discharged in Bangor and hauled before a federal magistrate at a rate of roughly one a month.

Until this month, there had been only one incident since the attacks.

The latest incident involved a group of boisterous Britons aboard a Boeing 777 bound for a bachelor’s party. The incident turned ugly after one caused a commotion near the bathroom and refused flight crew requests to sit down.

The pilot made a decision to land in Bangor, where the group was kicked off. No one was charged.

The other incident involved a Royal Air Maroc jetliner that landed after officials learned of a bomb threat and of a passenger’s message to his wife that he had been kidnapped by Arabs.

No bomb was found and the Boeing 767 resumed its flight to Casablanca. Zubair Ali Ghias, an investment banker from Chicago, admitted making up the story about being kidnapped.

Bangor Mayor Daniel Tremble was flying through Atlanta Hartsfield International Airport last week when he read about that incident.

“We don’t mind the business,” he said. “It’s more exposure. I was reading about it all over the country.”

Before the Sept. 11 attacks, jetliners diverted to Bangor led to additional airport revenues of $50,000, including landing fees, extra fuel and other services, officials have said.

Hupp said the airport remains ready to assist jets that need a safe haven.

“We don’t want to benefit at anyone’s misfortune. That said, we do offer a service for airlines as a diversion point, whether it’s an unruly passenger, mechanical problem or medical emergency,” she said.

City Manager Ed Barrett admits air rage has been a strange way for Bangor to earn an international reputation.

“While we’d like to have people visit Bangor (but) that’s now how we’d like to have them get here,” he said.

AP-ES-02-27-04 0945EST



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