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Find The Boots

Rantings from a few corporate types about life, technology, travel, guns, politics, and everything good in the world.

Air Marshals

Friday, August 11, 2006

This is a much darker post than the normal irreverent stuff we put up here, but I think it's worth a thought. Anyone traveling post-9/11 and during the "liquid ban" has to take this seriously.

The New York Times ran an article about how air marshals are easy to spot because of their dress code. Stupid Security had a follow up on "How to Detect Air Marshals". An interesting quote from the NYT article:
"Look around you," Ms. Houck said as she pointed to other passengers waiting in the food court. "Most people are traveling in T-shirts, sweatshirts and khakis." She added: "If I was a terrorist and I spotted someone dressed like an air marshal in a suit, I wouldn't get on that flight. I would get on another one."
As I preface, I highly doubt that terrorists will ever be able to take over a domestic US plane again. No matter how well armed they are, they'll have 300 passengers to deal with that realize they're going to die anyway, and wouldn't mind pounding on some terrorists.

But the idea that the terrorists would spot an air marshal and get on a different flight is not quite right. If I was a terrorist and had six physically fit young men (and a pilot) trained in martial arts and ready to die for Allah, I'd put them on a plane from outside the US going into a US city. Just get on a flight that you've surveiled enough to know that it has air marshals. When we're 30 minutes out one of the guys tries to charge the cockpit. Now we know who the air marshal is (if there is one). If there's not, it's just some crazy guy that went beserk on a plane and we try again some other day. But when Mr. Suit (coat in the summer, short hair, and military straight posture) is busy with the crazy guy, the other five attack him and take his weapon. No matter how capable and well trained he is, the air marshal is going to have a tough time with five assailants in a confined space.

I'm sure that a US-based flight crew wouldn't open the cockpit door no matter how many people they killed in the back. But can we say the same about foreign carriers?

I was on a British Airways flight a few weeks ago. We took off from LHR and about 10 minutes into the flight (with the seat belt sign still on and the plane making a steep ascent and turns) a guy in the back of business class gets up and runs down the aisle -- running really hard like he's going to tackle someone -- and jumps into the loo. I guess he really had to go! My first thought was something else was happening and he was an air marshal, then I thought I guess there's no air marshal because that guy is lucky he's not wearing flexcuffs right now. If that had been a domestic US flight I think there would have been an uproar, but nobody on the BA flight paid any attention. Now if the Brits react that way, how will Air India handle the situation?

And have you noticed that the flight crews don't seem to be as careful about blocking the aisle with the cart when a flight crew member needs to use the lav? Has the threat level lowered and nobody sent me the memo?

So I guess I'd really like to see the Air Marshals start to look a little more like me and not like the guy in the USMC recruiting poster.


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