A couple weeks ago, Scott McCartney of the Wall Street Journal wrote a great column on the recent push by airlines to move Federal Air Marshals out of first class and back to economy.
Today, USA Today followed up with an article of their own, further highlighting how airlines have decided to make this very contentious (though once behind the scenes) issue public.
The airlines and some security experts say the need isn’t as great as it once was for marshals to sit in first class, where they can serve as a barrier to a suicide hijacker. They say security measures such as hardened cockpit doors and recent terrorist attempts in the rear of planes suggest that threats may be at least as great elsewhere on planes.
Exactly. I question the need for FAMs in the first place, but look back at Richard Reid, the "shoe bomber" who attempted to blow up a plane in 2003. Look back to Christmas last year, where Umar Farouk AbdulMutallab attempted to blow himself up on a Northwest Airlines flight from Amsterdam to Detroit. First, both those incidents took place in economy. Second, both potential attacks were stopped by passengers, not by FAMs. The only recent incidents FAMs have been involved in were busting a diplomat for smoking and shooting an insane guy onboard on an AA flight in MIA. Cockpits are now secure so why exactly do FAMs need to be seated in first class?
This flies in the face of the rationale FAM spokesman Nelson Minerly offered for why the FAMs fly in first class:
Mr. Minerly says the practice of placing marshals in first class is essential in an attack in which seconds matter. "Our distinction isn’t for a free ride in a fluffy seat. It’s based on threat and tactical doctrines," he said. In most cases, the marshal service designates which cabin marshals will fly in, Mr. Minerly said, with seating assigned to "maximize the effectiveness of the team." Move "further and further back in the plane" and "it will take longer and longer to respond."
He’s not the only once with a warped view of reality. The arrogance of John Adler, President of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association (which represents federal air marshals) also amazes me. He contends it was "inappropriate" for the airlines to raise this issue publicly because it now "exposes the agency’s tactics to terrorists."
Adler declined to speak about where marshals normally sit. He called the airlines’ statements inaccurate and says he wrote to the House Homeland Security Committee suggesting airline executives be reprimanded. "They are sitting in the bleachers, and they don’t have access to the playbook," he says.
Maybe that’s the problem. Maybe a government organization that does not appear to be accountable to the people it serves should not shroud its bogus existence under the guise of national security and secrecy.
I’ve been bumped out of my first class seat before to accommodate an air marshal (for "security reasons" United said…). Lucky even got a bump because of it. But that’s not why I am critical of the FAM program. I’m critical of it because I haven’t seen any evidence that it has made us safer when we take to the air.
The only evidence that I have seen is that FAMs cost airlines money and are not worth the investment. If airlines were able to choose whether or not to allow FAMs on their flights, do you think they would want them? I don’t. Too much of a hassle and no return on the investment…