Saturday, February 14, 2009

Sky Marshal Story - Air Marshals Are Rare Marshals - #35

Even back in 1971, when I was among the 1700 or so Federal Sky Marshals flying the then very un-friendly skies, the big question on the minds of many airline passengers was, “Is there a Sky Marshal on my flight?” You can do the math for yourself: a total 1700 Sky Marshals (or Air Marshals if you prefer) to cover somewhere in the neighborhood of 30,000 commercial flights a day. Even if every Sky Marshal worked 24/7, the answer for about 99% of airline passengers was clearly “No!”

Fast forward to today and some things have changed. Many of the airlines Sky Marshals protected, like PanAm and TWA no longer exist. The stainless steel, .38 caliber, Smith & Wesson Chief’s Specials we were issued 37 years ago, have been replaced by 9mm Sig Sauers, Glocks and the like carried by today’s Air Marshals.

However, much remains the same…

After the tragic events of 9/11, I read quite a number of articles discussing a call to recruit as many as 50,000 Air Marshals to protect our commercial aircraft. Out of curiosity, I went to the website to look at the application. I know what you’re thinking, but even 8 years ago I was still 20 years past top end of the age limit for the job.

Yes, I do think cutting off potential recruits at 35 years was rampant “age-ism.” Still, were it actually possible for me to apply for the job and (mirabile dictu) had I been allowed to rush back to the front lines as it were…if the training didn’t do me in, my wife would have.

Though now an arm-chair Sky Marshal, I still routinely check out articles about in-flight security, which is how I came upon an article on authored by Drew Griffin, Kathleen Johnston and Todd Schwarzchild titled:

“Air Marshals missing from almost all flights.”

At the sight of this headline I was shocked, I tell you, shocked…

It seems that the math hasn’t changed much in the 34 years since pre-flight screening with metal detectors halted the in-flight security program. According to the CNN article, of the 28,000 commercial flights a day no more than 1% of these have an Air Marshal on board.

In a typical ham-handed bureaucratic attempt at spin control, The TSA responded that 1000’s of flights a day are covered. Unfortunately that claim is profoundly undermined by Greg Alter, Assistant Special Agent in charge of the Federal Air Marshal program who warrants that the total number of Air Marshals is in the “four digits.”

Well, whether the actual 4-digit number of active Sky Marshals is 9,999 or 1,700, the net effect on the security of 10.2 million commercial flights each year is about the same now as it was in 1972.

Don’t bet on having an Air Marshal on your flight.
© Stephen Rustad, 2009.


Anonymous said...

Yeah, it's not 10,000 plus like the Border Patrol or FBI. Most FLEO agencies aren't.

As far as the 35 age cut off, it was actually 40 just after 9/11 and 37 today. The reason for that is that you have a mandatory retirement at 57 in federal LE work and you need to be able to get your 20 years in.

Plus, and you should know, you can only maintain an elite level for so long before Mother Nature (who really is a mother) takes her due. You start to lose that fine edge slowly but surely....

Stephen Rustad said...

Thanks to Anonymous for the correction on the cut-off dates. 35 or 40, what's the diff? Even back in 9/11 Mother Nature had already blunted my so-called "elite" edge. Still, outrage at the terrorists and a desire to prevent further such attacks (briefly) blinded me to my limitations. As I implied above, a raised eyebrow from my wife brought me to reality.

Anonymous said...

The difference becomes more obvious from 55 to 60. :) Like I said, 57 is the mandatory retirement age for gun-toting FLEOs. And they have to have a structure so that anyone who joins can make it to 20 years on the job for retirement.

Anonymous said...

Steve, you must have been one of th epermanent ones that relieved me as I was one of 880 military marshals that was on that program from 70-71.
enjoyed almost ever minute of it. i can tbelieve they are still having he same problems we experiance back then. Excpt for the dress code,,, we were allowed to dress anyway we please as it shoud be when worrking undercover.