Five drunk passengers have been escorted off an international flight after a fight broke out on board and their plane returned to Darwin.

Jetstar flight JQ61 was carrying 172 passengers from Darwin to Singapore on Thursday night when it returned 30 minutes into the flight.

Jetstar spokesman Simon Westaway said it appeared the men had been drinking duty-free alcohol before they boarded the plane.

He admitted staff initially didn’t sense the men’s intoxication but they were later found to be “quite inebriated”.

He said the men became “exceptionally rowdy” during the flight.

“Our cabin manager approached the captain of the aircraft and said we have some very disruptive passengers,” Mr Westaway said.

The captain initially intended getting security to meet the men in Singapore but when they wouldn’t settle, it was decided to turn back.

Australian Federal Police officers were waiting at Darwin airport and escorted the men off the plane.

Mr Westaway said Jetstar had a duty of care to its staff and passengers.

“Unfortunately they’ve misbehaved in a very bad way and we’ve returned the aircraft,” he said.

“From time to time people misbehave on air flights.”

The Northern Territory News reported the men were taken into protective custody and three were allowed to leave on their own.

The two men in custody were later released after Jetstar informed the AFP it did not want to pursue charges, it reported.

The plane refuelled and continued the trip an hour later, but some passengers missed their connecting flights.