Is There An Air Marshal On Every Flight?

Ben posted recently about the altercation that occurred on a Delta Air Lines flight from Seattle to Beijing last week, leaving several people injured. A few people in the comments asked why an air marshal didn’t intervene.

Aftermath of the altercation on DL129.

The short answer is that it is very unlikely that there is a Federal Air Marshal on any given flight. Many details about the Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS) are classified, but USA Today has a good piece dispelling some of the myths about the service. By some estimates, less than 1 percent of all U.S. flights have an air marshal aboard.

In the United States (including international flights originating or terminating in the U.S.), FAMS assigns air marshals based on a risk analysis, taking into account the length of the flight, its flight path, and other factors. So while it’s more probable that a long-haul flight like Seattle to Beijing will have air marshals aboard than, say, a flight from Omaha to St. Louis, the chances are still very slim.

If you’re interested, Paste Magazine has an interview with a former Federal Air Marshal that’s worth a quick read.

Keep in mind that other countries have their own sky marshal programs, and some non-U.S. airlines (El Al, for example) reportedly do have sky marshals on every flight.

Finally, for a more fictionalized portrayal of the life of a Federal Air Marshal, I’d recommend checking out the film Non-Stop, which I wrote about a while back.


  1. The air marshals are too busy drinking, engaging in sexual flings across the country, and tasting airline first-class meals. As Gary Leff has pointed out, they’ve never actually stopped anything. It’s a tremendous waste of money.

  2. Short Answer: No.
    Long Answer but Still Short: No, because it is not feasible from a manpower/financial perspective nor from a safety perspective.

    There…I summed up this post in 15 words.

  3. There’s an air marshal in each and every flight operated by the airlines supervised by CAAC.

  4. Recently we were flying from DCA to LAX. There was a guy standing at the very front of the first class boarding area several minutes before boarding started. They announced boarding and the guy didn’t move because he was daydreaming. I walked around him and boarded, making me the first person on the plan. Shortly after I walked past him he said “Hey, there’s a line!”, but I ignored him. I got to my seat and he boarded third, after my husband. When he boarded he stuck his head in the cockpit and introduced himself to the pilot as the air marshall and then went back to take his seat in economy. Made me feel real secure knowing that the air marshall was too busy daydreaming to even board the plane correctly…

  5. If anyone tries to pull an allah akhbar on my flight I’ll quickly turn into an air marshall.

  6. I’m most interested to learn that you and Ben accidentally went to CC’s on fetish night! I live a block away. On my first night I remember thinking, wow, I consider myself sex positive, the harnesses and the flogging and the puppy play are all relatively tame, but that guy over there is wearing a diaper…

  7. As passengers and flight crews have proven countless times since 9/11, there’s no need for air marshals on the aircraft. If something goes wrong, those on board are more than capable of handling the situation, even if it involves a bottle of wine.

    Scrap the air marshals & TSA and let’s get some real, meaningful security into the aviation sector.

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