In short, no. There is not an Air Marshal on every flight.
By only looking at the statistics, we can determine it’d be impossible for there to be an Air Marshal on every flight in the United States. Of the almost 10,000,000 departures that happen annually, it simply isn’t possible for less than 3,000 marshals to cover and be on every single flight.
The exact number of Federal Air Marshals classified for national security reasons, but Sonya LaBosco, Executive Director of the Air Marshal National Council, cited that, “there are fewer than 3,000.” Simply said, 3,000 Air Marshals working 24/7 still wouldn’t be enough to cover the close to 10,000,000 flights that depart annually.
- In 2019, there were 9,751,463 total departures for there, an average of 26,716 flights a day, or 1,113 flights departing every hour on average.
In order to protect the millions of people that travel annually, the TSA claims to use a “threat-based matrix to strategically deploy Federal Air Marshals [on flights].”
Clay Biles, a former US Navy Seal and Air Marshal, estimates that less than 1% of domestic flights in the US have an Air Marshal on board.
Are Federal Air Marshals on Domestic Flights?
Yes, Federal Air Marshals are still present on a number of domestic flights, although you may never even know it. Air Marshals are trained to blend in and go unnoticed unless necessary.
Within the last year, on a flight from Washington DC, to LAX, a flight had to be diverted due to an unruly passenger that required 2 Federal Air Marshals to step in.
Are Air Marshals on International Flights?
Yes, Federal Air Marshals are also present on international flights. Although, again, the total number of flights with an air marshal on them is not known for security reasons.
U.S. Federal Air Marshals work with other law enforcement agencies across the globe to track and extradite fugitives that are wanted for prosecution in the United States. The U.S. Marshals Service has foreign field offices in the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Colombia, and Mexico.
Other countries have organizations similar to the Federal Air Marshal Service.
- United Kingdom - Aviation Security Operational Unit (formerly, Aviation Policing Command)
- Canada - Canadian Air Carrier Protection/Protective Program
- Australia - Air Security Officer Program
While the responsibilities and duties vary from country to country, the common denominator among all of these programs is the safety and security of the passengers.
What is a Federal Air Marshal?
A Federal Air Marshal is a law enforcement officer employed by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and is responsible for protecting passengers and crew members from criminal and terrorist attacks on domestic and international flights.
They are usually highly trained and experienced in weapons, tactics, hand-to-hand combat, and self-defense. While on a flight, their primary objective is to identify potential threats and neutralize them before they become an issue.
Their main job is to be a silent observer on board and to blend in with the passengers. Most of the time, their presence is not known to anyone else on the plane except for the crew members. If there are any security threats or an attempted hijacking, Federal Air Marshals are trained to respond quickly and effectively.
Are Federal Air Marshals Armed?
Yes, Federal Air Marshals are armed; they are federal law enforcement officers. They carry a Glock 19 Gen5 chambered in 9mm or a Glock 26, also chambered in 9mm. A standard Glock 19 has a minimum capacity of 15+1 (15 rounds in the magazine + 1 in the chamber). A standard Glock 26 has a minimum capacity of 10 +1.
In October 2015, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a Request-for-Proposal (RFP-OSCU-DSU1503) for semi-automatic pistols, which included the United States Marshal Service. Glock won the $85,000,000 contract and supplied multiple agencies with firearms.
9/11’s Effect on the Department of Homeland Security
The terrorist attacks of 9/11 are often cited as the main reason for the creation of The Department of Homeland Security, as it highlighted gaps in security both domestically and internationally.
Another result from this event is the expansion of the Federal Air Marshal Service following the terrorist attacks. The Federal Air Marshal Service began in 1961 as the Federal Aviation Administration’s Peace Officers Program.
Prior to September 11, 2001, 33 air marshals operated on US Flights. Since then, the Service has grown to employ thousands, as reported by the US Government Accountability Office.
US Air Marshals Being Moved to the Southern Border
Recently, the U.S. Marshals Service has begun to move many of its air marshals from their duties on flights and instead deploy them to the US-Mexico border. This is due in part to a sharp increase in illegal immigration across the Southern Border.
In late November 2022, over a dozen US Air Marshals planned to refuse deployment to the U.S.-Mexico border, stating that it was outside the scope of the job.
This request by the Department of Homeland Security has been seen as controversial as deploying air marshals to the border would reduce the available personnel to protect and ensure the security of Americans on flights during the busiest travel season of the year.
Who decides when Federal Air Marshals are needed on a flight?
David Pekoske, the Administrator of the TSA, manages and directs the security operations at nearly 430 airports across the United States. In September 2022, the Senate confirmed President Joe Biden’s nomination for David Pekoske for his second five-year term as the TSA Administrator.
What does an air marshal look like?
Because they’re trained to blend in with everyone else, there isn’t a strict dress code air marshals follow, nor are they in a uniform like other TSA agents. Air marshals look like everyone else.
Many other news outlets will report that they typically sit in the back of the airplane in an aisle seat, may have only a backpack, and remain awake the during the entire flight. While this isn’t necessarily false, this also describes many other passengers that are not air marshals.
Are there any benefits to having a Federal Air Marshal on your flight?
With a Federal Air Marshal on your flight, you do have the benefit of added security. Federal Air Marshals are trained in to respond to unruly or violent passengers, plane hijackings, and a number of other events that are very unlikely to occur.
Do passengers have a choice whether to fly with an armed air marshal on board their flight?
No. Passengers will not know if an armed air marshal is on the flight unless an incident occurs where the air marshal must make his presence known to thwart a threat.
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2. Glock. (n.d.). GLOCK 19: The all-round talent. GLOCK Inc. | GLOCK Pistols | Buy Guns Online. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://us.glock.com/en/pistols/g19
3. Hesson, T. (2022, November 30). Some U.S. air marshals plan to refuse deployment to U.S.-Mexico border. Reuters. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.reuters.com/world/us/some-us-air-marshals-plan-refuse-deployment-us-mexico-border-2022-11-30/
4. Legal Information Institute. (n.d.). 49 U.S. code § 44917 - Deployment of federal air marshals. LII / Legal Information Institute. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/text/49/44917
5. Rateshtari, R. (2022, November 21). International investigations. U.S. Marshals Service. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.usmarshals.gov/what-we-do/fugitive-investigations/international-investigations
6. Royal Canadian Mounted Policy. (2020, December 18). Protective policing. National Royal Canadian Mounted Police. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://www.rcmp-grc.gc.ca/pp/index-eng.htm
7. US Department of Justice. (2016, June 29). 9mm Luger Pistols / Replacement Parts. SAM.gov. Retrieved December 16, 2022, from https://sam.gov/opp/3003911f9f7ff35889bf5f46c48ba0ef/view