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Now I haven’t had the pleasure of meeting one of these, which is a good thing, but a lot of people don’t actually know about this service and why they even exist, we help clear that up today. Firstly we need to look at how they actually got started. It all links back to President John F. Kennedy.
He created the Federal Air Marshal Service due to the first successful hijacking of a US Airliner, of which the man demanded to be flown to Cuba and then two more followed in 1961. He held a press conference in August of 1961 and said the following “Now, let me say that we are — have ordered today on a number of our planes a Border Patrolman who will ride on a number of our flights. We are also going to insist that every airplane lock its door and that the door be strong enough to prevent entrance by force. The key to the door will be held by those inside the cabin so that pressure cannot be put on the members of the crew outside to have the door opened.” now their original name was due to them being trained by the US Border Patrol in Texas. Many years later, they were issued firearms to carry while executing their duties and received combat training from the FBI.
Moving to the late 1960s the U.S. Marshals Service started an Air Marshal Division based in Miami since most of the hijackings in the US had originated in Florida. In 1974 the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) took over running the Air Marshal program and cut its ranks since the introduction of X-Ray screening at American airports. They were absorbed into US Customs service and were very rare on flights now.
The year was 1985, and the Lebanese Civil War was still very much alive when a group of Hezbollah terrorists hijacked TWA flight 847 brandishing firearms and grenades. The plane was then under their control and forced the plane to Beirut, and they demanded the release of 700 Muslim prisoners from an Israeli prison. So everyone took them seriously they murdered United States Navy diver Robert Stethem, and the plane continued to fly between Algiers and Beirut as negotiations continued before the group fled. After this incident, Reagan ordered Air Marshals to be put on all US international flights and called for them to be armed. Several countries opposed them having firearms when landing but they were quickly changed after being talked to.
Then came the day that the world stood still, 9/11. There were only 33 active Marshals, and none of them were assigned to domestic flights. After this horrific event, it saw an overhaul of the American aviation industry. It saw the introduction of the TSA and 4,000 new Air Marshals were recruited. They undergo a rigorous training program to make sure they can perform their duties to ensure American flights' safety.
Before you start searching for how to become one of these Marshals, we need to remind you that this is not a glamorous job. They have no rules which can govern how long they work for like other flight crew. Some of them can encounter as many as 5-time zone changes a week something many crews complain about.