Airlines to federal air marshals – get out of our first class cabins and sit in coach

A debate is brewing amongst the airlines about the effectiveness of federal air marshals sitting in the first class cabin.

The current air marshal program was based on the events of 9/11, and the fact the would-be terrorists would attempt to take over the cockpit. As past events have shown, the “new” method used by terrorists is to create their mayhem in the coach cabin, using explosives. Having the air marshal up front in a comfy chair isn’t going to help much if the majority of issues are in the rear.

Also, after 9/11, cockpit doors were reinforced, making it almost impossible to storm the cockpit without some major tools.

At the moment, air marshals expect first class seating, and in some cases, a long haul international flight could have three or four marshals taking up pricey seats. Of course, the airlines are quick to point out that this is not a revenue issue, but purely based off safety and the appropriate response to new threats. That may very well be, but I know that paying passengers are not thrilled when they can’t get a first class seat simply because a bunch of air marshals feel they need to be up front.

A spokesman for the air marshal program said that “seating is assigned to maximize the effectiveness of the team. Move further and further back in the plane and it will take longer and longer to respond.”

I’m not entirely sure what he’s basing this on – since all the recent threats were in the back of the plane. With his logic, it takes longer to walk from the back of the plane, to the back of the plane, than it takes to walk from the front to the back. Sitting in the back of the plane also gives a much easier way to watch the entire cabin. With just 40 or 50 rows of seats to maneuver, I’m sure these fit marshals won’t take much longer to get from one end to another.

What are your thoughts? Should the federal air marshal program require their agents to sit in first class, or should they be able to do their job from coach?


[Photo from Flickr/Richard Moross]