Federal air marshals frequently pose as good Samaritans volunteering to help flight attendants deal with drunken or unruly travelers. Since the attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, air marshals and airline pilots have reported cases of individuals’ behaving suspiciously to be evaluating onboard security. It is believed that terrorists fly on commercial airlines to and within the U.S. to look for weak links in layers of the still-evolving aviation security system. The ploys have ranged from faking illnesses to disobeying orders from flight attendants to sit down to a few cases of individuals running toward the cockpit door in apparent efforts to flush any air marshals from their seats.
A major concern among air marshals is being identified by terrorists. Until earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security enforced a formal dress code for air marshals–suits and ties–that made them stand out from the more casual appearance of many passengers. Said one marshal: “I am in jeopardy because a lot of the passengers know instantly who we are.” He said there is widespread opposition among air marshals to the Transportation Security Administration decision relaxing the ban on passengers bringing scissors and short blades aboard planes. “A terrorist knows who I am and how to slit my throat by placing two credit cards together,” the marshal said. “I don’t want to make it any easier for him.”