Could Federal Air Marshal Service Prevent Hawaii Flight Disruptions?

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.

Avoiding Hawaii Flight Disruptions With Federal Air Marshal Service?

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.”

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30 thoughts on “Could Federal Air Marshal Service Prevent Hawaii Flight Disruptions?”

  1. I believe that it would be good to have a breakdown of the incidents by age, gender, and if alcohol was involved to identify where things have gone wrong. Once identified recommendations can be made to correct the core antagonist. Fines for this should be more in line with costs incurred. No excuses for this.

  2. How about a Breathalyser at the boarding gate? Cost of disposable mouthpieces are marginal but I think many would regard the enjoyment of many is being spoiled by the behavior of a small minority. Air Marshalls like Draconian sentencing is unlikely to stop occurrences as it is often down to people who are either disturbed or the subject of Alcohol or other substances, however having air marshalls may make resolution easier. Ironically where air marshalls fighting terrorism need to be unidentifiable, to reduce bad behavior maybe a policeman in uniform would have a bigger effect. Cops on planes seems a retrograde step though.

    1. My boy-friend had the same idea ….in Hawaii, they do random drug tests when you fly, so why not do the same for alcohol? Of course, that means there 1st has to be a regulation that says that you cannot fly when you are intoxicated …also, there should be something that people need to sign when they buy their tickts.

  3. Alcohol or not, I think a lot of these disturbances could be avoided if they just made it more comfortable to fly, instead of packing us in like sardines. I want room to cross my legs and to be able to reach down to my bag under the seat without contorting myself!

  4. I don’t understand why the airlines don’t demand the FAA put these morons on the Do Not Fly list for at least five years (giving them some time to grow up).

  5. Not all flight attendants are anti-alcohol. I chatted with a Southwest flight attendant on a flight during Covid (when no alcohol was being served). He told me he was looking forward to alcohol being reintroduced as he felt it was calming to many passengers. That opinion surprised me, but it came from his daily experience.

  6. If the airline’s ban alcohol on all flights, what happens to the passengers who drink excessive prior to their flight at the airport. Who’s going to monitor that issue.

  7. Thank you for your reporting of unruly passengers.
    I was wondering if you would be able to comment on the true cost of an airplane, having to be diverted by an unruly passenger?
    Obviously, there are fuel costs, labor costs, law enforcement, follow up and court costs. But the biggest cost would be helping passengers who had to suffer through a diversion.
    Dr. Bob

    1. I also wanted to follow up on my previous comment here about the true cost of a diversion because of an unruly passenger. There is another major consideration here, and how many passengers who are intoxicated to the point of needing immediate medical help, eventually lead to a diversion,

      I speak from both experience as a doctor, and as a son when I was called by air traffic control, and the pilot directly while my father was en route to Reno NV and had significant breathing issues. It was my Medical decision to Not divert the plane to Denver.
      My father admitted he had too many martinis. And was so embarrassed. How much money would have this costed the airline and passengers probably around $50,000 may be much more.

      1. 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.

        This guy is 100% correct. Anyone saying anything to the contrary is wrong.

    2. Hi Bob.

      Thanks for asking. We have so many people here who know more about that than we do. Hopefully, they’ll give us a hand in answering.


      1. I adore Hawaii and lived in Singapore, Tokyo, Manila, and Geneva for 14 years before coming back to United States.
        I am 56 and as you might imagine and know that flying back-and-forth between Narita or Haneda to Manila or Guam, and I can give you much better information on a timeline, but the main point here is that people who over indulge in alcohol and become drunk ruin many peoples lives, and dreams of going on a vacation or simply going on a simple business meeting with the intent of closing a deal and going and growing forward.

  8. Wow, I am shocked how many commentators are unwilling or unable to fly a few hours without drinking alcohol.
    Seems like such a small sacrifice for safety.
    Stop serving alcohol in the airports also and TSA can stop drunks at the checkpoint.
    Problem solved.
    Have an extra Mai Tai at your hotel to celebrate arriving safely.

  9. I am in favor of a ban on alcohol on all flights. Airlines are squeezing every last dime they can get out of passengers. It is time they do the right thing instead of filling their coffers.

    1. I wonder if the airlines should have their own or FAA have LEO’s (Law Enforcement Officers) on board to enforce Federal Air Laws. Like the FAMS they would work on pairs. Maybe not armed like the FAMS, but restraints ( cuffs, leg irons, his ties) to secure unruly part one on board the aircraft.
      But like most changes come after a terrible tragedy happens.

  10. No. Air marshals are expensive, not cost effective. Notice to passengers of video camera and body camera observation would deter most resistance to flight attendant direct orders. That would be money well spent.


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