Time for air marshals to fly more coach?

Oh, the horror!

There’s an excellent Wall Street Journal article today by Scott McCartney discussing airlines rallying for air marshals to be seated at least partly in coach instead of mostly in first class. It’s a good read and has some interesting facts I wasn’t aware of.

Now it’s no secret that I find the air marshal program to be a total waste of taxpayer dollars. In theory it’s not necessarily a bad idea, but the wankers the government has flying around really aren’t an asset to our national security. Hell, I’ve witnessed air marshals bragging to their seatmates about how they’re air marshals. Brilliant! Actually, I feel less safe when air marshals are on a plane, because they stick out like soar thumbs (yes, you, with the Play Station portable, Hawaiian shirt, and bulge, while you’re not reclining your seat, choosing to drink water the whole flight, and having an odd familiarity with the crew, while seeming distant)

The motives of the airlines are clear — it’s expensive to give air marshals first class on any flight they want for free, especially as first class cabins continue to shrink. And it makes sense that they should be angry about that. It’s not like the airlines are making billions of dollars. Of course they won’t admit that, so instead they say this:

“Our concern is far less revenue and more that we have defenses appropriate to the threat,” said James May, chief executive of the Air Transport Association, the airline industry’s lobbying group. “We think there needs to be an even distribution, particularly when we have multiple agents on board.”


And of course the air marshals couldn’t care less about first class. It’s all about safety for them. Here’s their story:

Mr. Minerly says the practice of placing marshals in first class is essential in an attack in which seconds matter. “Our distinction isn’t for a free ride in a fluffy seat. It’s based on threat and tactical doctrines,” he said. In most cases, the marshal service designates which cabin marshals will fly in, Mr. Minerly said, with seating assigned to “maximize the effectiveness of the team.” Move “further and further back in the plane” and “it will take longer and longer to respond.”

I hate to even analyze this and take sides, because I’m convinced it’s time for the program to end. But let me try and be reasonable here. If you’re going to have air marshals on a flight, it makes sense to have one with easy access to the flight deck (so being seated in first class is fine). At the same time, most of the action is happening in coach, so it makes a LOT more sense to me that the others would ride in the back of the bus. I’ve been on a flight with four air marshals in first class, and couldn’t help but shake my head for the whole two hour flight. It’s pathetic. If you’re going to run this program, the more eyes and ears you can have throughout the cabin, the better. But that’s not the way to maximize comfort, of course…

Filed Under: Media, Security/TSA
  1. Are Air Marshals potentially present on all flights to/from the US, or just on US carriers? Having encountered the professionalism of the TSA firsthand, I don’t want those clowns anywhere near me, especially armed, and particularly armed in a pressurized aircraft at high altitude.

    With the rude and unprofessional Homeland security people ‘welcoming’ visitors to the US with ten-digit fingerprint scans (that’s the reason I get fingerprinted coming back to my home in Japan every single time, thanks guys), the $14 visa waiver fee ‘to promote tourism’ (when is the rest of the world going to make that reciprocal, I wonder?), ever-increasing ‘for show’ security measures, and now this nonsense, I am wondering if the US government is ever going to grow up and stop inflicting it’s paranoia on the rest of the world.

    I love the blog, by the way, and have found it really useful. I just needed to vent that after a recent trip to Guam where I got selected for secondary questioning by the nice-but-dim lady at passport control (took 30 minutes to get it cleared up) because ‘European Union’ was not on the list of visa waiver countries (of course UK was, but that would require her to be aware that UK and ‘European Union, United Kingdom’ were in fact the same place. Sigh.

  2. I’ve read somewhere that the airlines don’t realy give up the seat for “free”. They get some kind of a tax benefit equal to the cost of the seat. I’d imagine the airlines would REALLY be ticked if they were loosing a revenue seat, but when that loss helps erase the taxes owed it makes the arrangement a little more palatable. The real question is which is better for an airline- A FAM taking a seat for a tax benefit or upgrading some 1K smuck on the lowest priced ticket……

  3. Why can’t they sit in the first row of economy? Seems like the best location — close to the flight deck, close to the ruffians in coach, and a half-decent coach seat.

  4. Wow… 4 on a two-hour flight?! Brings up a seating issue in my mind. Do you ever avoid selecting 2B out of knowingness that your seat will be reallocated to a FAM?

  5. I just love when they walk up to the desk (with clear bulges under the shirts) and have the door opened for them so they can get on board before all the other passengers. I’m sure nobody has any clue who they really are….. šŸ™‚

  6. On international flights, they should place Air Marshalls throught the cabin at least in both Business and First on a three class cabin( e.g. UA 747 upper deck c class where the cockpit is located).

  7. @sendaiben- You know there have been air marshals since the 1960s, or something like that..right? This is nothing new……..

  8. Sounds like some high class medallion member is mad he didn’t get a upgrade to sit up front. Come join the working class people in back!!!!!! We have Marshals on flights for a reason. And I support wherever they want to sit!

  9. I have an idea – make air marshals up front ride in the jump seat on the flight deck. Then they’ll be closer so by their own logic we’ll be safer. They can dress as pilots so as not to arouse suspicion. Pax will think they are just commuting.

    Then put the other guys en E-. Then they might have stopped the Christmas underwear bomber.

  10. @Jim

    Nope, wasn’t aware of that šŸ˜‰

    Putting weapons in a no-weapon environment seems somewhat counterintuitive though -terrorists just need to find the marshals and take their guns instead of going to the trouble of smuggling their own ones on board…

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