In dozens of comments yesterday alone, visitors are proferring suggestions to prevent further recurrences of the nine recent unruly passenger Hawaii flight diversions that this past weekend included two more Hawaii diversions in just a single day. At least some of these are reported to have been alcohol-fueled disturbances. Many suggested that Federal Air Marshals on flights could be the answer. So we delved further into that possibility and another one about alcohol. Here’s our report.
Federal Air Marshal Service (FAMS).
There have been air marshals since 1962, although we all came to be aware of them after the incidents of 9/11 when they became part of the then-new TSA. The program sends armed officers on flights who appear to be regular passengers. But there aren’t many air marshals, and they are being deployed strategically.
Federal Air Marshals have a primary responsibility.
This was first mentioned in comments by regular John W., who said: Air Marshalls are there to stop any potential terrorist attack, nothing else. The reason they don’t confront drunks is if they did, it would be easy for a terrorist to have a partner act drunk to lure out who the Air Marshall is and then have a leg up on him.”
Federal Air Marshals are found on flights where TSA deems there to be an additional risk to the flight’s safety. Thus it appears Air Marshals would not become involved in a passenger behavior issue unless they believe there is an imminent threat to the flight’s safety.
Are there Air Marshals on Hawaii flights?
We can’t say, but all indications are no.
While the FAMS program is still in operation, there is no information about how many marshals are in the air. A search of reliable sources indicates about 3K Air Marshals in total. A number significantly less than that would be flying on any given day. Keeping that in perspective, 25,000 daily domestic flights are in the US. We have also learned that typically Air Marshals travel in pairs, thus further reducing the number of flights they could be on.
Air Marshals are deployed on a threat basis, where the TSA determines the likelihood of threat and dispatches accordingly. For example, some of the most sensitive routes might include east coast cities. TSA said less than 1% of US flights have Air Marshals onboard.
Alcohol on Hawaii flights – Flight attendants say no!
After hiatus during Covid, last year, the airlines resumed sales of alcohol onboard Hawaii flights and others. Why? Money. A prior estimate of airline alcohol sales indicated well over $100m a year.
Sara Nelson, International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO since 2014, and a United Airlines flight attendant representing 50,000 flight attendants from 19 airlines had this to say about unruly airline passengers, “Alcohol was the real fuel.” Nelson has called for a permanent alcohol ban on flights.
FAA on the unruly-passenger situation.
The FAA investigates unruly-passenger incidents that airline crews report to the agency. We certainly assume but can’t say that all of the incidents we’ve reported get to the FAA.
As of last month, FAA said it had reports of 2,539 incidents last year, which initiated 823 investigations, and resulted in 553 enforcement action cases.
Before Covid, in 2019, there were 146 incident investigations. Last year (through December 15), there were 823.
According to the agency, “FAA can propose up to $37,000 per violation for unruly passenger cases. Previously, the maximum civil penalty per violation was $25,000. One incident can result in multiple violations.”