Federal Air Marshal

Federal air marshals are men and women who defend travelers from crime on aircraft and when national transportation security issues are taking place. They work under the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and serve the main duty of stopping criminals and terrorists from hijacking planes.

Air marshals are key players in homeland security operations and coordinate with many other federal agencies, including the FBI, CIA, Homeland Security, NSA and more. They often serve as members of the FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force as well as serving in the National Targeting Center and Counterterrorism Centers. When security levels are elevated, air marshals are called upon to support homeland security duties.

This field requires rigorous training involving seven weeks of basic law enforcement education which is customized to the specific duties of the air marshal. This phase is followed by specific, targeted training and requires the student to obtain high degrees of proficiency in marksmanship, strategy and tactics, constitutional law, EMT training, self-defense, profiling and other police and law enforcement knowledge.

What Does a Federal Air Marshal Do?

Air marshals work long hours in a physically and emotionally dangerous and demanding profession. They must maintain a high degree of physical fitness at all times. As a federal air marshal, you may be called upon to perform any of the following duties and more:

  • Interstate travel with short notice
  • Restrain unruly passengers
  • Detain and arrest criminals
  • Defend yourself and others from violent offenders
  • Engage in discretion and professionalism at all times
  • Keep a clear head in dangerous emergency situations
  • Coordinate evacuation and negotiations efforts
  • Work with other law enforcement agencies
  • Present and testify in court

Where Does a Federal Air Marshal Work?

The primary work location for a federal air marshal is on airplanes. This means you will spend a great deal of your time in airports and flying between cities and states. Many people underestimate the physical toll this kind of constant air travel can take—this, combined with the confrontational nature of the job, is why air marshals must be in peak condition at all times. They are also some of the most effective and proficient marksmen in law enforcement. Should an air marshal have to discharge their firearm, it will likely be in a situation where they must ensure that they hit their target with minimal risk to the other passengers or the aircraft itself.

Serving as an air marshal can be an exciting job and is ideal for those who excel at physical and emotional challenges and are able to adapt to rapidly changing situations. No law enforcement official wants to be put into a situation where they have to behave as a hero, but this can sometimes be the result of stopping a terrorist or criminal takeover of a plane, or even settling down an erratic, unruly and panicked passenger.

Not all air marshals work on planes or in the field on active duty. Some work in conjunction with other law enforcement agencies, such as the National Counterterrorism Center, in coordinating the activities of their fellow officers or engaging in more investigative capacities.

Federal Air Marshal Salary and Job Outlook

Like other federal agents, air marshals are paid on a federal General Schedule system. Their exact rate of pay is determined by where they fall on this schedule, which in turn is related to their education, experience, expertise and seniority in the job. Air marshals generally fall within the G to I range of the schedule and their annual salary ranges from around $60,000 per year to over $92,000 per year. 

Career Opportunities & Job Demand 

With concerns about terrorism constantly looming large and seeming to grow every day, air marshals are in higher demand than ever before. It is difficult to place hard numbers on the employment outlook, as the government keeps a lock on the number of air marshals currently in service. This is because their job is entirely undercover in nature and the government doesn’t want criminals to estimate the odds of an air marshal being aboard a given flight.

However, the career itself is exceptionally competitive—you will need to be at your best and come in at the top of your class to gain entry into this profession. If you think this job is right for you, keep in great physical and emotional shape and conduct yourself with the utmost professionalism. Study and work hard, and you might find yourself among this elite group of federal police.

Additional Careers in Law Enforcement

Consider these additional careers in law enforcement.

Police Officer
Crime Scene Investigator
FBI Agent
Game Warden
Police Detective
Private Investigator
State Trooper
U.S. Marshal