Sources: Air marshals missing from almost all flights

CNN had a somewhat bizarre, long article today about the FAM program. I’m not quite sure what about the article strikes me as odd, but it certainly is to me.

Of the 28,000 commercial airline flights that take to the skies on an average day in the United States, fewer than 1 percent are protected by on-board, armed federal air marshals, a nationwide CNN investigation has found.

That means that a terrorist or other criminal bent on taking over an aircraft would be confronted by a trained air marshal on as few as 280 daily flights, according to more than a dozen federal air marshals and pilots interviewed by CNN.

The investigation found those low numbers even as the Transportation Security Administration in recent months has conducted tests in which it has been able to smuggle guns and bomb-making materials past airport security screeners.

The air marshal program began in 1970, after a rash of airline hijackings, and it was expanded significantly after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Specially trained to safeguard passengers and crew aboard crowded aircraft, air marshals were seen as a critical component in the overall effort to secure America’s commercial aviation system.

One pilot who crisscrosses the country and flies internationally told CNN he hasn’t seen an air marshal on board one of his flights in six months. A federal law enforcement officer, who is not affiliated with the air marshal service and who travels in and out of Washington every week, said he has gone for months without seeing a marshal on board.

That’s only the tip of the iceberg, so I recommend reading the whole thing. I don’t know, if I’m reading this correctly, this “investigation” is based on the views of a few pilots and other people with guns that are allowed to fly. I guess what I don’t like about the article is that it’s making a connection between a FAM being aboard a flight and safety, as if we have no chance of stopping a terrorist without a FAM, or for that matter that we do have a chance of stopping them because of a FAM.

The 1% figure strikes me as being WAY low, though. Don’t all flights into and out of DCA still have FAM’s? I don’t know, maybe it’s just the routes I travel, but I’d estimate I have FAM’s on about 10-15% of my flights, but I do generally fly more FAM-worthy routes (aka flights with international First Suites on United where the FAM’s can, of course in the interest of national security, sit up front). I would estimate it’s closer to 3-5% as an average, but I just can’t imagine 1% is correct.


  1. Far as I know DCA still has 2 on board, one in first and one in economy. Usually first to board and they will text/im each other on their issued pdas. Always the same type of phone so jumps off the page. On my domestic legs, not many FAMs.

    My friend had someone light up the other day and had a FAM on board to arrest the passenger on UA.

  2. Lucky,

    Some of the people we thought were FAMs are, in fact, other federal agents. Turns out that the “official” uniform of the FAMs is also used by FBI agents as they fly across the country. Also, other federal agents use the same boarding mechanisms, the same security screening protocols, etc., as the FAMs. So, we’ve all been mistaken… these people aren’t “air marshals”… they’re just “marshals”. What do I think? I don’t care. I think it’s the fantasy of every male on the plane to take some terrorist out, marshal or not.

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