History of Air Marshals
Flying from one location to another has never been a relaxing experience for some people. With air turbulence and possible mechanical failure, there’s always the lingering fear that a plane might drop right out of the sky. Free falling from several thousand feet up in the air almost certainly brings with it the promise of death. But in the last couple of decades airliners have been faced with a new dilemma: the possibility being hijacked by hostiles. The Federal Air Marshals Service was founded in 1961 after several such incidents occurred. The purpose of this agency was to guard against hijackings and those who worked for the agency would later be known as air marshals. Today, the agency serves the same purpose with the added twist that it defends against other crimes or threat to the security of air crafts.
Before the events of 9/11, there were only 33 air marshals working full time for the U.S. government. But after the attacks on the twin towers, the government expanded the program, with thousands of air marshals being hired in the following months and years. Currently, there are an estimated 3,300 air marshals working for the Air Marshals Service, protecting the skies and keeping passengers safe. Their work entails a number of things.
What Do Air Marshals Do?
First, upon entering an aircraft they search it for weapons and explosives. Once that’s done, the passengers are usually in the process of boarding the plane. The air marshal will head to his seat and take note of anyone heading down the aisle. Air marshals will try to blend in with the civilian passengers and look as inconspicuous as possible. That means wearing civilian clothing, having a back story if a passenger should engage them in conversation, or reading a newspaper if that helps keep their cover.
Air marshals will scan the plane for potential threats from the moment passengers board the plane to the moment they leave. They, air marshals, use detection techniques to spot behavior that’s typical of would-be hijackers. Suspicious behavior like frequently putting hands in and out of pockets, twitching, wearing a coat on a hot flight despite sweating profusely, and carrying nothing on a long-haul flight are all behaviors that tip an air marshal off to passengers who might become a threat to the security of the plane.
If, by chance, a disturbance occurs on the flight air marshals will subdue or even arrest the aggressor if the flight crew has exhausted its ability to handle the situation.
As important as the work air marshals do is, they aren’t compensated to the degree that other professionals are. On average, air marshals receive an annual salary of $58,630. Budget cuts have led to the number of air marshals decreasing in the last few years, and employment growth within the profession is set to remain somewhat stagnant in the coming years.