An investigation has found that the number of airline passengers arrested for drunken misbehaviour on flights and in airports has risen by 50% in the past year.

Eighteen police forces with a large airport in their area collectively made 387 arrests for alcohol-related offences, according to a BBC Panorama programme to be screened tonight.

The figure for the year from February 2015-16 was 255.

A voluntary alcohol sales code adopted by airlines and airports 12 months ago is failing to foster responsible drinking and should be scrapped, flight staff said.

One in five cabin crew has been assaulted during a flight and more than half said that they had either experienced or witnessed verbal, sexual or physical harassment, a survey of 4,000 workers by the Unite union found.

Two senior peers have pressed the government to place the aviation industry under the same strict licensing laws as pubs and nightclubs, after cabin crew described being groped, verbally abused and physically assaulted by inebriated passengers, The Times reported.

Ally Murphy, a former cabin crew manager for Virgin Atlantic, said that she had been groped on several occasions by passengers who treated crew as “barmaids in the sky”.

She added: “I was pulled into an upper-class bed by a passenger who was feeling particularly lucky. They would touch your breasts, or they’d touch your bum or your legs, or I mean I’ve had hands going up my skirt before. It’s rage-inducing and you shouldn’t have to deal with that.”

Another said that the routes to destinations in southern Spain and the Balearic islands were the worst.

“I found countless litre bottles of vodka,” she said. “I know other colleagues who have been punched, kicked – one of them was headbutted by a passenger.”

The Balearic tourism ministry is seeking high fines for drunken disorder.

A Virgin Atlantic flight from London to Jamaica made an unscheduled landing in Bermuda in May when a man on board allegedly became abusive to air stewards and his fellow passengers after getting drunk on free alcohol.

Another man who urinated over “everything except the loo” on an Easyjet flight from Bristol to Newcastle and then fell down the aircraft’s stairs while trying to escape when it landed was fined £575 in the same month.

A House of Lords select committee urged ministers in April to end the exemption for airports under the Licensing Act. The government’s response is expected this autumn.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering, the group’s Tory chairwoman, said: “We didn’t hear one shred of evidence to show that the voluntary code was either working now or had any possible vestige of success in working any time soon. I would urge . . . the Home Office to really take this problem seriously.”

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, a Labour peer and founding director of the charity Alcohol Concern, said: “[Airports are selling alcohol] in front of children, they’re selling it around licensing hours, they’re selling it without asking how much people have already drunk.”

The Airport Operators’ Association and World Duty Free said that airport workers were being trained to “address the social issue of drunken and disruptive passenger behaviour”.

Abuses of the system were the fault of the passengers, they said.