What Does An Air Marshal Do?
An air marshal is a type of law enforcement officer who works in airports and on airplanes. The main job of an air marshal is to keep passengers safe and secure while they are traveling in airports and on airplanes. Air marshals work under the supervision of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA).
The job of an air marshal can be divided into three parts:
- Identifying a threat – trying to notice someone or something dangerous
- Preventing a threat – trying to keep someone dangerous from acting or something dangerous from happening
- Defeating a threat – stopping someone or something dangerous from hurting others
Air marshals must be willing to travel to a lot of different places. They are assigned to fly on different flights, sometimes at the last minute. They can also be assigned to work at special, high profile events.
There isn’t an air marshal on every flight, only some of them. The flights that have an air marshal are chosen based on how likely a terrorist or criminal is to pick that flight for a crime or terrorist act. Different risk factors are:
- How much fuel the plane is holding
- Which cities it is flying to and from
- Whether it is an international flight
- Whether there are any important, high profile events in the area near take-off or landing
- Whether any important or famous people are on board
- Whether the plane route flies near certain landmarks, like a nuclear power plant
Air marshals must be able and willing to work alone or as part of a team. Some large international flights can have up to four air marshals on them. Smaller flights may have only one.
Air marshals must keep their identity hidden, for the safety of themselves, and the passengers and crew. If people know who they are, then they can’t do their job correctly. They must be able to blend in and pretend to be someone that they are not.
They must dress in a way that doesn’t draw attention, makes sense for the area where they are traveling, and hides the gun that they are carrying. They cannot risk a dangerous person finding out that they have a gun on the airplane.
Before getting on a flight, air marshals must have a cover story ready. If someone asks them why they are traveling, they must be ready to answer questions comfortably and believably to avoid suspicion.
The airline gate crew and the airplane crew are the only people who can know who they are. Oftentimes air marshals get on the plane before the passengers board in order to:
- Introduce themselves to the flight crew
- Find out if there is anything concerning about the flight
- Find out if there are any important people that will be on the flight
- Search the plane for bombs, weapons or anything suspicious
In order to identify a threat, an air marshal must be very observant. They complete training to learn how to notice behavior patterns that are often shown by terrorists or criminals. They must be able to watch and listen to people and figure out if something is wrong or if someone is planning an attack.
They watch people to see if there is anything suspicious about how they are dressed, behaving, or talking. They must notice anything out of the ordinary that is a clue that something dangerous might be about to happen.
Air marshals also watch the passengers as they get on the plane to figure out if there is anyone that will be able to help them if something does go wrong, like military personnel or other law enforcement officers.
Air marshals must have a physical and psychological screening as well as a background check before being trained in close range combat and self-defense. They also have detailed weapons training on how to best protect people in a small, crowded space.
When they notice something that tells them there is a threat, then they must do their best to prevent the attack from actually happening. They must rely on the tools and skills they have learned in training to keep the crew, passengers and themselves safe.
If a threat, or attack, is already happening, they must rely on their skills to stop it and minimize the number of people who are injured or killed. They must be able to act quickly to protect and defend the innocent people on the flight.
Successful air marshals must have the ability to pay close attention at all times, use good judgement, think quickly, make a plan, and act on that plan in a stressful or scary situation. They must be able to clearly tell a group of scared or upset people what to do, and help the people safely follow directions.