Passengers aboard a Russian jetliner brawled during a flight to Turkey, prompting the crew to return to St. Petersburg and police to detain three drunk passengers upon landing, an airline official said Friday.

The fight broke out Thursday not long after takeoff after a drunken man slapped a female passenger who rebuffed his attentions, Pulkovo Airlines spokeswoman Marina Peshekhonova said. A man who was apparently the woman's companion then tried to protect her.

Two other men who were equally as drunk were acting noisily and also upsetting other passengers, she said.

"The situation could have led to a massive fight on board, and there could be danger to the safety of the passengers and the crew. Therefore the captain took the decision to fly back to St. Petersburg," Peshekhonova said.

City transport police detained the three drunken men after arriving in St. Petersburg and the plane then flew on to Turkey.

Fights involving drunken passengers have disrupted several Russian flights in the past.

In a bizarre role reversal in 2004, flag carrier Aeroflot said two crew members on a domestic flight beat up a passenger who had complained that the flight attendants were drunk.