The airlines represented by the ATA (Air Transportation Association) are petitioning the United States Federal Air Marshal Service to stop requesting first class seats for the marshals.
Airlines are typically required to give up a first class passenger seat to a marshal boarding a flight for security purposes. The airline can be restrained from selling the seat in advance, or sometimes a paid passenger may even get bumped to coach at the last minute. The passenger will then be offered flight points or other perks for relinquishing the seat-but they will not be given the reason, as that could risk national security.
According to a report from USA Today, the airlines feel it is too costly and the risk just isn’t there. The Marshals’ representatives countered the statement by saying that the very act by the airlines of making this issue public could tip off terrorists and raise the security threat.
Is this all about airlines’ money, rather than passenger security? Or would the marshals be more effective in coach?
Federal Air Marshals work for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security under the Transportation Security Administration. They have been regularly placed on flights since the terrorist attack of Sept. 11, 2001. The Federal Air Marshals Program website states that each marshal must travel alone and rely on his/her training to recognize and thwart any threat aboard the airplane.
Is it a better idea to have the marshals in first class, or in coach? Here are some advantages and disadvantages:
– If a U.S. Air Marshal is sitting in first class, there’s a possibility he’d be able to stop any attacker from getting into the flight deck.
– However, they’re sitting with their back to three-quarters of the passengers, sometimes separated by a curtain. The marshal in first class could be oblivious to preliminary threats in coach.
– On 9/11, there were 19 hijackers split between the airplanes. Some were assigned to overtake pilots, some to fly the planes, and others to overpower the passengers. They were scattered throughout the aircraft.
– If an Air Marshal, trained as they are today, had been sitting among the coach passengers, he might have been able to detect the threat of a hijacking early by observing suspicious activity or carry-on luggage, or overhearing conversations and tiny noises that might come from devices or weapons covertly being assembled.
– Flight attendants and pilots might have been warned by the marshal before a hijacker had a chance to move toward the control cabin. Marshals might have been able to contact ground support to send military fighter planes.
– Perhaps the point is moot, because now that terrorists know we are watching the airplanes, they’re trying their attacks in different settings. So the air threat is lessened.
– Of course, there is a chance one Air Marshal is not enough. For example, there were five hijackers on American Flight 11 that day.
But it would really make the airlines angry if they had to give up the sale for a first class seat and a coach seat.
U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Air Marshal Service.
“Airlines seek to move air marshals from first class,” Alan Levin, USA Today, 10/19/10.
The 9/11 Commission Report of 2004.