Here’s an interesting reader report about losing a first class seat to an air marshall. Has this ever happened to you?
Chris, I am an avid reader of your site. Have you ever done a story about the Federal Air Marshal service and their inclination to travel first class? It came to my attention recently because my wife and I had award tickets from LAX to London with seats that were confirmed and assigned in first class. In double checking the details before the flight my wife’s assigned seat suddenly became unassigned and the first cabin was full. In calling American Airlines and eventually talking to the supervisor it became clear that American had nothing to do with it and there was in fact nothing they could do. Further research showed that the only explanation was that a federal air marshal decided they wanted that seat. American did what they could to accommodate us but obviously we lost our first class seats.
I am a course 100 percent in favor of security and would be very happy to have an air marshal on that flight. However the 777 American is using only had two rows in first class and plenty of empty seats in business class very close to the pilot. If there was a legitimate national security reason that my wife lost her seat then that’s just something we would accept.
However in doing more research and it seems that the Federal Air Marshal service has been accused of being a bunch of cowboys that just like to travel first class whenever they feel like it and they consider it to be a perk to take a confirmed seat whenever the whim strikes. I can understand there may be occasions when a situation arises and they did not have the opportunity to reserve a seat ahead of time. However there are stories on the internet about air marshals demanding first-class seats on flights where it was not clear they were performing a professional service.
Any rate in all my years of flying this is the first time I have run across it but in looking at the Internet it is a problem that strikes apparently on a frequent basis. I’m sure the airlines also do not like having customers who have first-class tickets either through awards or payment to be displaced at the last minute.
I thought it may be of interest to your readers although of course I would not want to be identified. Thanks
Hi L.R: Yes, you are not alone in the frustration of losing a first class seat assignment due to the presence of an federal air marshal or FAM. Since FAMs always work in teams, when there is one air marshal on board in first, there’s another one onboard somewhere else… in either coach, business or first class. While it always seems unfair to experience the joy of an upgrade, only to have it yanked away from you at the last minute, FAMs do ride in first class so they can guard cockpit doors.
The same thing happened to me recently on a Virgin America flight to San Francisco. I used my Elevate points for a last minute upgrade to first class (over the phone) and was assigned seat 2A. But when I got to the airport and printed out my boarding pass, I had been reassigned to economy class…and not even Main Cabin Select! When I protested to airline staff, I got a sheepish “there’s not anything we can do about this” look. I was not a happy camper, but I guess it’s the price we pay for better security. The key is to get your money or points back if downgraded and the airlines don’t always make that easy.
There was a move afoot about five years ago where airlines petitioned the government to end the practice of allowing air marshals in first class, but that sorta died without a final ruling…unless I missed something.
Readers, what are your thoughts and experienced with federal air marshals? Ever been bumped by one? Please leave your comments below.
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