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After more than 200 mishaps with guns in the last three years and controversy around following ordinary passengers, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) is making some changes to air marshal policies. But, these changes won’t keep air marshals from swarming an aircraft after a misunderstanding with a FA or curb the “rampant” alcohol abuse among air marshals.
Instead, air marshals are “going to be assigned regularly to seats toward the back” of the plane, according to ABC News sources briefed on the matter. This policy will go into effect on Dec. 28.
Currently, air marshals are seated in first class or (at worst) in the front of the economy cabin, which means they get extra-legroom economy seats on most aircraft. And, airlines often have to bump revenue passengers from these seats to make room for the air marshals.
This placement in the front of the aircraft makes sense when the air marshals’ goal is to prevent in-flight terrorist attacks, which typically involve trying to access the cockpit. However, the estimated 3,000 air marshals in active duty — who are now under the administration of the TSA — have little to show for these efforts, especially since the terrorist attacks of 2001 led to much more secure cockpits.
Instead, when air marshals have needed to break cover, it’s typically for rowdy passengers — and almost all of these incidents have been in economy.
In a New York Times piece about the TSA air marshal program, Rep. John J. Duncan Jr. (R-TN) notes that “the agency averaged one arrest each year per 1,000 marshals.” With just 3,000 air marshals in the program, this means the $800-million Federal Air Marshal service only averages around three arrests per year.
These arrests include incidents such as when an air marshal stepped in after a passenger sang too loud, as well as when a passenger was arrested for throwing coffee and knocking over a beverage cart, and when an intoxicated passenger tried to open the emergency exit door in flight (note: due to aircraft pressurization, this is practically impossible).
A request for comment from the TSA wasn’t answered by the time of publication.
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