An alleged explanation for wanting to perform the act is the supposed vibration of the plane. Some say they have fantasies about pilots or flight attendants, or a fetish about planes themselves, a type of mechanophilia. For others, the appeal of joining the mile-high club is the thrill of doing something taboo and the thrill of the risk of being discovered.
An early reference to the concept is found in the betting book for Brooks's, a London gentlemen's club. The 1785 entry (only two years after the first successful balloon ascent by Étienne Montgolfier) reads: "Ld. Cholmondeley has given two guineas to Ld. Derby, to receive 500 Gs whenever his lordship [has sex with] a woman in a balloon one thousand yards from the Earth." (However, there is no further indication that the bet was paid, or even how they would check it if it was claimed.)
During the First World War, German ace Oswald Boelcke was disciplined by superiors for taking a nurse up in the cockpit of his fighter, allegedly becoming the first person to qualify as a member of the club (although the logistics of how that would actually work are unclear, with the cockpit being very small and cramped and the pilot having to constantly keep hands and feet on the control stick and rudder pedals; others maintain it was a simple joyride).
Pilot/engineer Lawrence Sperry and socialite Dorothy Rice Sims have been described as the first persons to engage in sex while flying in an airplane; the two flew in an autopilot-equipped Curtiss Flying Boat near New York in November 1916. The American transportation authority NTSB reports one case in which sexual activity is at least partly responsible for an aviation accident.
In November 2007, the BBC reported a story headlined "Airline Bans A380 Mile-High Club". The Airbus A380 allows double beds to be installed in the first-class cabin, but Singapore Airlines' cabins are not soundproof; shortly after installing the new seats/beds, the airline requested that first-class travelers respect other passengers.
In one survey in the 2010s, 9% of Americans claimed to have had a sexual encounter in an airplane seat, 17% in the airplane bathroom, 5% with a stranger on an airplane, and 3% with a crew member.
Some incidents of people attempting sexual activity on planes have become popularly known:
The BBC ran an article investigating whether sex on a plane was legal. Their conclusion was that it would depend on many factors, such as whether or not the act occurred in sight of others. If British law applied, for example, it may constitute sex in a lavatory to which the public has access, contrary to Sexual Offences Act 2003 s.71, with a maximum 6-month term.
Also, for international flights, the law could vary depending on departure and destination cities and the nation of the carrier airline, as well as the country of registration of the aircraft, and possibly the citizenship of the people involved.
In January 2011, the United Kingdom's aviation regulator body, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), refused to recertify Mile-High Flights, an air charter company located in Gloucestershire, for allowing its passengers to have sex while in-flight.
Some commercial enterprises cash in on people's interest in joining the "club" by offering special charter flights designed for the purpose.
Although she fell 800 feet in a hydro-aeroplane and was held fast for more than a minute in mud and wreckage seven feet under water, and suffered a fracture of the pelvis and other injuries, Mrs. Waldo Pierce (sic), daughter of Mrs. Isaac L. Rice, donor of the $1,000,000 fund for the Isaac L. Rice Hospital for Convalescents, has no intention of giving up flying.
The Guardian reported how cabin crew saw the pair acting drunk with Fitzgerald gyrating her hips on Blake's groin as they sat on a seat reserved for cabin crew.