What is an Air Marshal?

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  • Written By: M. DePietro
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 08 November 2019
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In the United States, the air marshal program is run by the Transportation Security Administration, which is part of the federal government. The main responsibility of a marshal is to prevent crimes, such as acts of terrorism onboard an aircraft and keep passengers and crew safe. Countries other than the United States have similar programs.

The US Air Marshal program begin in 1968. Marshals were initially referred to as sky marshals. The program evolved throughout the years, but was significantly expanded after the terrorist attacks on the Unites States on 11 September 2001. Additional funding was given to recruit, train and employ more air marshals to fly undercover on various international and national flights.

Although not mandatory, many applicants to the air marshal program have a law enforcement background. Potential employees must also go through a physical and psychological screening, as well as a criminal background check. All air marshals must be United States citizens and under the age of thirty-seven at their hire date.

Training to become an air marshal involves classroom work, marksmanship training and hand-to-hand combat classes. Marshals complete two seven-week training segments. The first segment involves classes in criminal behavior observation, international terrorism and laws effecting marshals.


After classroom work is completed, marshals must become extremely proficient marksmen. They also train aboard retired aircraft and go through scenarios they may encounter on the job. After completion of the training, an air marshal is assigned to a field office at anyone of twenty-one locations throughout the Unites States. Marshals may also be assigned to one of the Federal Bureau of Investigations Joint Terrorism Task Force Offices in the US.

For national security purposes not all information about the air marshal program is made public. What is known is marshals may be placed undercover on random flights as well as flights which are considered at risk for terrorist activity. Since it is not known what flight a marshal may be on, they may act as a deterrent for criminal behavior.

The work starts before a marshal leaves the ground. Observation of passengers at the airport is part of a marshals job. They continue to watch passengers onboard the aircraft throughout the course of the flight and intercept a criminal act if needed.

An air marshal's job can be exciting, but is not for everyone. Unlike other law enforcement officers, air marshals usually work alone. Without an immediate backup officer to count on, they only have themselves to rely on. Marshals must have excellent judgment and be alert at all times. They have to make split second decisions which may impact the lives of dozens of people onboard a flight.


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