The US has had a federal air marshal program for many years. Nowadays this is under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration, and the program has an annual budget of nearly a billion dollars.
The federal air marshal program doesn’t have much to show for their work, as they’ve never actively stopped anything. There have, however, been many incidents involving air marshals, where they leave guns behind, or air marshals themselves get arrested.
Since they’re not actively stopping terrorism, air marshals have taken up other tasks, like running what they call the “Quiet Skies” program, where they track an average of about 35 ordinary citizens every day on planes.
They’ll observe everything about them, like if they use the lavatory, if they engage in conversations, if they text, if they stopped while in transit through the airport, and more.
Anyway, up until now air marshals have typically sat at the front of the plane. This has either been in first class, or towards the front of economy. Air marshals typically travel in pairs, so some flights might have two, while others have four.
In my experience when there are two, they’re usually in first class, while when there are four, two might be seated towards the front of economy (always in an aisle seat, typically looking bored as heck, and always with a bulge around their ankle).
Anyway, ABC reports that starting December 28, 2018, air marshals will also start to be assigned economy seats towards the back of the plane.
While air marshals were previously tasked with “guarding” the cockpit, the idea is that with these changes, air marshals would be able to observe other passengers and stop any acts before they’re even able to occur.
Of course the TSA has declined to discuss the specifics, citing the need for operational details to be kept secret, though they insist that it’s important for the agency to change their routine to “keep pace with new and emerging threats.”
A TSA spokesperson had the following to say:
“In an effort to address evolving threats to aviation security, TSA continues to optimize in-flight security efforts; training and tactics are routinely reviewed and updated based upon intelligence. TSA continues to enhance its ability to utilize intelligence in order to best deploy FAMs worldwide to detect, deter and defeat any potential hostile acts onboard commercial U.S. aircraft.”
As you might expect, air marshals aren’t happy about this at all.
I sure wouldn’t be happy to go from first class or extra legroom economy to the back of the plane. Since they’ve been so wildly successful performing their jobs, they feel like they shouldn’t be changing things up.
A representative for the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association had the following to say:
“The TSA wants to change the way operations are carried out, and the men and women of the Federal Air Marshal Service do not support these changes. The TSA, riddled with their own organizational issues, should allow the air marshals to do what they have continued to do best — fly operationally sound missions to protect the integrity of the aircraft, its crew, and passengers in the manner that they have been training and perfecting for the last 17 years.
Changing deployment methodologies and the manner in which we conduct business is absolutely unnecessary and does not pass the common-sense test — especially during the busiest travel season of the year.
The men and women who perform these vital worldwide national security missions do not support and vehemently disagree with the proposed changes.”
Personally I don’t think the air marshal program is especially useful, so I’m happy to see that they’ll be taking up fewer premium seats. At the same time, I sort of feel bad for them as well. Flying around constantly is tough enough, but doing so in the back of economy is even rougher.
At the same time, I’m not sure if I’m more amused by the perspective of the TSA, or the perspective of the air marshal representatives.
What do you make of this change to the air marshal program?