What exactly do air marshals do

Are air marshals on every flight?

The exact number of air marshals is not public information, and they certainly do not disclose what flights they are flying on or what other operational details they have. However, the number has been reported to be on the order of ~ 3,000-4,000, and reports have reported that the number has decreased somewhat since then. Of course, none of them are on duty around the clock. There are around 87,000 daily flights in the United States alone, but only around 28,000 are commercial passenger flights, where air marshals are probably the most likely (hopefully air marshals are not needed on military flights, for example).

So let's conservatively assume there are 3,500 air marshals who work all five days a week, all work alone (in reality they seem to work at least in pairs) and they somehow manage to protect an average of four flights a day. Even with these conservative assumptions, that would only be 5000 flights / day covered by air marshals. From this it should be clear that there cannot possibly be an air marshal on every commercial flight in the United States.

The President of the Air Marshal Association / CWA (their union), which is not a completely disinterested party, agrees:

"There are around 30,000 commercial flights a day over the US," says Casaretti. "Trying to have a team of just two FAMs on each flight would require an agency with over 75,000 FAMs (for training and days off). FAMs cover a very small percentage of commercial flights."

Which air marshals board is determined by a computer program that evaluates the likelihood of a threat based on the aircraft, the departure and destination cities and the amount of fuel on board. This is the threat matrix that comes from the Mission Operations Center.

The TSA will not publish statistics on the number of air marshals. TSA's Pascarella only recognizes "many thousands". However, Biles estimates that there are approximately 3,300 FAMs, 34% of whom perform training, operations, and management ground duties.

"We call them 'chair marshals' who end their careers in management," says Biles. This means that 66% of the workforce have to carry out safety tasks during the flight.

"When you factor in vacation, sick leave, medical leave, and days off, some air marshals on duty have told me that federal air marshals cover less than half a percent of all US-flagged aircraft," he says.

David Richerby

"Less than half a percent of all US-flagged aircraft" Of course, this is a meaningless statistic since many US flagged aircraft are not on commercial flights.

he mershel

David how is that meaningless? You seem to know exactly what this statistic meant ... enough to complain about it.


@ermershel It's meaningless because air marshals no non-commercial flights should cover . It's a real statistic, but one that is ultimately irrelevant (although it is meant to sound relevant to exaggerate the actual situation). This would mean TSA only scans passengers at 10% of US airports, without mentioning that 10% it happens to be all airports with scheduled passenger service (I just made up that number for example ... I'm not sure how high is the actual percentage.)

he mershel

Ah ... one irrelevant , not meaningless statistic.

Zach Lipton

That's why I said the Air Marshal Association / CWA head isn't exactly a disinterested party here. Statistics imply air marshals cover dangerously small numbers of flights, but the universe of flights under consideration spans everything from passenger jets a few miles from the White House to DCA to a feather duster in a field in Iowa. Of course, there is also the random deterrent theory. They don't know if there is an air marshal on board a particular flight. Therefore it is theoretically not worth taking the risk that someone is present. The same applies, for example, to transit price checks.