My “run-in” with two Federal Air Marshals last week…

I’m freshly back from my first ride on an A380 and had a great time – trip report is forthcoming. My quick weekend adventure began with a flight on United’s premium service from Los Angeles to JFK and as I’ve been doing since taking big international trips, I film my journey from start to end and publish a video trip report on my YouTube page.

I’ve been on oodles of United Airlines “p.s.” flights during the past several years and have taken many pics before of the seat, cabin, service items, etc. This was the first time, though, that I actually filmed while boarding the cabin and it, again, was to document my journey as there are a huge amount of aerophiles out there who enjoy watching such videos. The best of which, in my opinion, are from sfflyer123, also a frequent United flyer.

I was particularly careful not to capture crew as I know filming them is prohibited and I also do my best inside the cabin to ensure the faces of fellow passengers aren’t captured – I really wouldn’t want my own appearing in some random person’s video blog.

I had exit row seat 9A on my LAX-JFK flight and was among the first to board. I filmed my approach to the seat and panned around a bit revealing the ridiculous amount of legroom the area provides. Since there was no one around in view, I got some great video, but knew there were people behind me noticing my actions.

Throughout the flight I took more video and pics of the menu and food, out the window, the view forward to the next seat, etc. While I do always feel a bit weird about it and I know the guy next to me at the minimum noticed, I think it’s pretty obvious I’m just a geek and enjoy capturing my journey.

The flight was fantastic and I had a great and friendly crew serving business class, even chatting briefly with one of the flight attendants as I waited for the lavatory at the front of the cabin.

Although I’m not someone who likes to strike up a conversation with my seatmate, we did share a couple of brief sentences that were friendly during the flight when it seemed appropriate without being antisocial.

Anyway, upon landing and parking at the gate, I grabbed my bags from the overhead and exchanged pleasant goodbyes with the crew and headed out the jetway. I generally walk with “purpose” and I was particularly keen to get to Terminal 4 to maximize my time in the lounges there, so made a beeline for the nearby escalator to the departures level to catch the AirTrain.

About halfway there, I noticed a gentleman to my left catching up and starting to say something directly at me. Not hearing him, I keep walking but turned to him and said, “Pardon?” He says something to the effect of “I need to ask you a few questions. I’m a Federal Air Marshal.”

He continues, “A passenger noticed you were filming in the exit row and I need to speak to you about that. Can we step to the side?” By this point another man approaches and explains they’re both Federal Air Marshals and he presents his ID. I stopped, obviously.

After looking at the ID, I figured it was legit and they both very politely explained again that someone noticed me filming in the exit row and they needed to know why. I immediately explained that I’m a travel blogger and that I review airline service for my own website and and provided them with my ID and business card upon request.

They were both incredibly friendly and non-aggressive and one asked to see a couple of the videos I took. I replayed some of them and they took a note of my ID and asked where I was headed. They briefly conferred with each other in front of me acknowledging that I’m not a threat and then thanked me for my time and were on their way.

I’m not sure where the FAMs were seated, but it must have been behind me since I wasn’t approached until halfway through the terminal. They didn’t ask me to delete my videos, for which I was thankful, so my shots will happily appear in my upcoming video trip report.

It was an interesting experience, but it did get me to pause and remember that some flyers aren’t enthusiasts and probably do get freaked out if they see something unusual like filming in the cabin. The “If you see something, say something…” mantra nowadays worked on my flight, it seems.

Any other “avgeeks” out there have a similar experience?



  1. I have often wondered whether bloggers get questioned like this for videoing. Surprised it does not happen more often as more folks enjoy building trip logs the air marshals handled it well.

  2. As posted on my FB share of your blog post:

    “You’re not bothered that you were accosted by the air marshals long after you were off the plane? You are happy that they took note of your ID? Did you demand their identification before you talked to them?

    Nice giving up liberty for blogging.”

    • @MarkXS: I wasn’t “accosted” as they were friendly, not hostile or aggressive. I honestly don’t care they took note of my ID… if Homeland Security wanted to know more about me, all they’d have to do is ask United for more info about the passenger in 9A on flight xxx. United has WAY more info on my than my driver’s license (especially as having been a former employee). Also, they offered their identification to me. It was remarkably friendly and not as you seem to be taking it.

  3. I’ve met a few FAM’s in my previous life working at an airline. Many are very nice and polite people. That being said, a few have expressed the attitude that their job only occurs “gate to gate.” Surprising they would admit their jobs, especially since you were obviously not a “threat” since the plane had landed. However, it is refreshing to see two air-related employees showing professional, courteous, and safe service. Good work and thank you FAM’s, you guys are a credit to your jobs!

    • @Noah: These two FAMs were indeed a credit to their jobs. I did wonder why I wasn’t approached during the flight, actually, but I suppose the “undercoverness” of their jobs would require anonymity until a situation occurred that would absolutely require intervention.

  4. A couple of years ago I flew to the airport in Jacksonville, NC. It’s one of the smallest airports I’ve been to, so while I was waiting on my ride, I walked across the street and took a photo.

    I went back over to the terminal to wait, and a police officer came over and asked me why I was taking photos.

    The police officer was friendly and she was kind of amused that I thought the airport was so small, but because someone had reported my “suspicious behavior”, she had to see my ID, the photo on the phone, and get some info from me for an incident report.

    Now I’m paranoid about taking a photo on a plane or around an airport.

    • @Debbie: Thanks! Those vids were shot with a Sony handicam I no longer have. My new one isn’t quite as nice, but it’s still a Sony. Stay tuned for the video report!

  5. WOW! That’s unreal. The only time I’ve encountered an Air Marshall was on a flight from CLT to TPA when a fight broke out two uniformed service men and an Air Marshall had to restrain the guy. Glad they were nicer to you 🙂

    • @Matthew: Nope, I have no idea what their authority is on the ground. Given my responsiveness, credentials and overall “personality,” if I were a FAM, I’d give me a pass, too. That said, I’m curious to look up what they could’ve done… hmm.

  6. @Matthew- Federal Air Marshal’s are Federal Law Enforcement Officers so have the ability to detain you just like any other Federal officer (FBI, etc.). Their area of jurisdiction, however, is in any arena dealing with transportation, so the airport is definately within their perview. Thats why you see them on any joint operation dealing with trains, ferry’s, etc.

  7. Oh boy. If anyone thinks someone with malicious intent is going to take photos of an airplane or airport in plain sight, they have issues.

    A criminal is going to do it covertly and you’ll never know. Why would they risk getting on the FAM/Fed/etc radar?

    Come on people. Get your head on straight and quit freaking out.

  8. As someone who escaped certain death in tower 1 by a mere quirk of fate, I am not remotely concerned with the goings on in the cabin. Perhaps I should be. I flew 26,000 miles in March in don’t recall being nervous once at about anything. If some nervous nellie is really having a panic attack about a little picture or video taking on a flight, they should stop flying altogether or see their physician for a giant Xanax prescription. Life’s too short to stumble through it worrying about bogeymen…

  9. Oh you mmeruhhcuns! Why should you feel so scared to take a picture? I agree with Matt take a xanax and calm down and stop living in the age of McCarthy. COMMUNIST! You don’t like coke or mcdonald’s?!?!? COMMUNIST! You must be suspicious!

  10. Air Marshals are federal law enforcement agents with authority to carry guns and arrest people just like any of the other federal agents you have heard of like FBI, DEA or ATF etc, their primary focus is the transportation areas like airports, trains stations and the planes and trains that run through them. But just like any other federal agent, their powers dont end at the passenger pick up lane. 24 hours anywhere in the united states or its territories (like puerto rico or the US virgin island) they are still federal law enforcement officers and retain that power.

  11. If you take the time to read the credentials that they present, you will see they are well within their right to detain you in the airport.

  12. FIrst you folks need to learn the law. It’s not a detention if you voluntarily submitted to questioning. Had the individual refused to talk to the Air Marshal then it might have elevated to a detention. Also Air Marshals are federal officers who have the same authority as any other federal agent. Finally read the federal notice at the security entrance to every airport and you will realize you subject to all security procedures including random screening. The Air Marshals were nice, courteous, and professional. How about just appreciate that they are their and are not only doing their job but doing so respectfully.

  13. If you don’t think terrorist planning might not involve pre-mission filming and picture taking of intended targets you are an idiot! The Air Marshals were correct in questioning the individual and being satisfied nothing criminal was afoot they politely thanked the cooperating individual and moved on. Good Job!

  14. FAMS have no jurisdiction in the air or when the door is closed on the ground, the FBI does. FAMS have no jurisdiction in the airport, trains, ferries, etc. either, local law enforcement does. They are simply guards on the aircraft who eliminate a threat by deadly force or detain until landing at which point they must call local law enforcement who inturn calls the FBI. They do not criminally charge anyone with a crime, the FBI does, should the US Atty. decide there is enough to prosecute. They are a deterrent and nothing more. While their creds list a wide variety of law enforcement duties, they perform few to none.

  15. In response to daves comment all i can say is wrong on all counts. Do some research then speak from an educated place. Federal air marshals have arrest authority in the us and its territories. They not only can detain but make lawful arrests . They usually do not conduct investigations of cases those get handed off to the FBI. But arrests for crimes committed in their front of them is clearly in their purview. At no time do they hand off jurisdiction or authority to local law enforcement however they work with local police and request assistance from them on a regular basis. Do not believe allot of comments by people saying they have no authority because when have you seen a federal who didnt have authority. No brainer there. The auhority and abilities of a FAM is clearly spelled out by federal statute

  16. Ok, I’ve never had problems on a plane, but on the ground, yes. I live half an hour away from Akron-Canton regional, an hour from Cleveland and Pittsburgh, and twenty min from Youngstown – warren regional. I like to film and take pics of aircraft, usually at Akron, it’s fairly busy and a very nice airport. The airport offers no place to watch aircraft, so I set up in the rental car parking lot, next to jet bridges 11 and 10. I can always see a 747sp, and AirTran 717 and the CRJ of us air and delta, as well as a319. I even dared to set up a tripod, because I had to snap pics from behind a fence, and its not that user friendly. The tripod goes over the fence, and I can film landings rather well. My first day, a man in business attire, saw me filming behind us airways facility there, and he came over, looked at what I was doing, we both smiled and acknowledged each other, and he walked away. I believe him to be a marshal, if you saw the location, a business person would not have walked back there. Who knows.

  17. See in Australia I think all photos in the airport or aircraft are prohibited, but don’t hold me to that. I’m not even aware of the powers of Australian Air Marshals

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