Can the Federal Air Marshals Service Prevent Flight Disruptions to Hawaii?


Just yesterday, in dozens of comments, visitors are making suggestions to prevent further repeats of the nine recent unmanned passenger flights in Hawaii, which last weekend included two more Hawaii diversions in just one day. At least some of these have been reported to have been caused by alcohol. Many have suggested that federal air marshals on flights might be the answer. So, we delved into this possibility and another related to alcohol. Here is our report.

Federal Air Marshals Service (FAMS).

Air Marshals have existed since 1962, although we all learned about them after the 9/11 incidents when they became part of the then new TSA. The program sends armed officers who look like ordinary passengers on flights. But there are not many air marshals, and they are placed strategically.

Federal air marshals have primary responsibility.

This was first mentioned in the comments of the usual John W., who said: “Air Marshals are there to stop any potential terrorist attack, and nothing more. The reason they don’t confront drunks is because if they did, it would be easy for a terrorist to get their partner to act drunk to lure out who the air marshal is and then attack him.”

Federal air marshals meet on flights where the TSA believes there is an additional risk to flight safety. Thus, it seems that air marshals would not intervene in the problem of passenger behavior if they did not consider that there was an imminent threat to the safety of the flight.

Are there air marshals on flights to Hawaii?

We can’t tell, but all signs are missing.

While the FAMS program is still in place, there is no information on how many marshals are in the air. A search through reliable sources indicates only about 3 thousand air marshals. The number is significantly less than what it would fly on any given day. With this in mind, there are 25,000 daily domestic flights in the US. We also learned that air marshals usually travel in pairs, further reducing the number of flights they can be on.

Air Marshals are deployed based on threats when the TSA determines the likelihood of a threat and dispatches it accordingly. For example, some of the most vulnerable routes may include east coast cities. The TSA has stated that less than 1% of US flights have air marshals on board.

Alcohol on flights to Hawaii – flight attendants say no!

After a hiatus during Covid last year, airlines have resumed the sale of alcohol on board flights to Hawaii and beyond. Why? Money. Estimated alcohol sales by airlines were in excess of $100 million a year.

Sarah Nelson, International President of the Flight Attendant Association-CWA, AFL-CIO since 2014 and United Airlines flight attendant representing 50,000 flight attendants from 19 airlines, said of rebellious passengers, “Alcohol was the real fuel.” Nelson called for a permanent ban on alcohol on flights.

FAA on the situation with the uncontrollable passenger.

The FAA investigates incidents of unruly passengers reported by airline crews to the agency. Of course, we assume, but we cannot say that all the incidents that we have reported reach the FAA.

As of last month, the FAA said it had reported 2,539 incidents last year, resulting in 823 investigations and 553 enforcement actions.

Before Covid, in 2019, there were 146 incident investigations. Last year (until December 15) there were 823.

According to the agency, “The FAA can offer up to $37,000 per violation in the case of an unruly passenger. Previously, the maximum civil fine for violation was $25,000. One incident can lead to several violations.”

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