Mar­shals ‘de­nied board­ing’ af­ter gate agent asks for wrong pa­per­work

The Washington Times Weekly - - National - By Au­drey Hud­son

A team of fed­eral air mar­shals was pre­vented from pro­tect­ing a re­cent flight from Ron­ald Rea­gan Wash­ing­ton Na­tional Air­port be­cause a gate agent er­ro­neously said they did not have the cor­rect pa­per­work, say mar­shals familiar with the in­ci­dent.

Of­fi­cials with Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Air­ports Author­ity (MWAA) were called in to re­move the mar­shals from US Air­ways Flight 3464 de­part­ing Nov. 8 for Bradley In­ter­na­tional Air­port in Wind­sor Locks, Conn. “Right now we know, ob­vi­ously, that fed­eral air mar­shals were de­nied board­ing,” said Fed­eral Air Mar­shal Ser­vice (FAMS) spokesman Co­nan Bruce.

Mar­shals knowl­edge­able about this case and oth­ers told The Wash­ing­ton Times on the con­di­tion of anonymity that the gate agent de­manded pa­per­work which is re­quired of other law-en­force­ment of­fi­cials, but not from fed­eral air mar­shals who are on duty to pro­tect the plane from a ter­ror­ist at­tack.

The flight ar­rived late, and pas­sen­gers were im­me­di­ately boarded while mar­shals showed their iden­ti­fi­ca­tion to the gate agent and head flight at­ten­dant. They asked to brief the cap­tain then boarded the plane.

The mar­shals were first rousted from their seats to re­port to the jet bridge, where the gate agent de­manded pa­per­work in­tended for off-duty law-en­force­ment of­fi­cers car­ry­ing weapons. The mar­shals told the gate agent that they were on mis­sion sta­tus and the pa­per­work was not re­quired, and they re­turned to their seats.

The mar­shals were called to the jet bridge a sec­ond time to speak with the cap­tain, and the mar­shals then re­turned to their seats.

Min­utes later, the mar­shals were called again to the jet bridge a third time, where MWAA of­fi­cers or­dered the mar­shals to exit the plane.

Even the in­ter­ven­tion of high­erups in the Home­land Se­cu­rity De­part­ment could not per­suade the air­line to al­low the armed law-en­force­ment agents aboard, and the plane de­parted un­pro­tected an hour and a half late, the sources said.

Calls for com­ment to Repub­lic Air­lines, which owns US Air­ways, were not re­turned.

Air Mar­shal Di­rec­tor Dana Brown has pledged to re­write the board­ing rules, which mar­shals say are de­fined dif­fer­ently by air­lines and of­ten ex­poses their un­der­cover iden­ti­ties.

Mr. Bruce said the agency is work­ing with the air­line to re­view the in­ci­dent, “get the facts and find out what hap­pened.”

Asked whether sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tions have oc­curred in which air­lines barred mar­shals from board­ing, Mr. Bruce said “I’m sure it has in the past five years; it isn’t the first in­ci­dent.”

“I would not say it’s a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence. Af­ter we ex­panded the pro­gram and added so many thou­sands of mar­shals, it was a learn­ing process for the air­lines and us. I would not say it was a regu- lar oc­cur­rence, maybe early on, but not a reg­u­lar oc­cur­rence now,” Mr. Bruce said.

“It is im­por­tant to point out we work hand in hand with the air­lines. It’s a co­op­er­a­tive ef­fort; that’s why we have a li­ai­son di­vi­sion,” Mr. Bruce said. “We’ll fig­ure it out, we’ll re­view it, but I don’t want to spec­u­late un­til we have all the facts.”

Mar­shals say this isn’t the first time they have en­coun­tered an­i­mos­ity from air­lines and the flight crews whom they pro­tect.

“There were hun­dreds of in­ci­dents like this,” one air mar­shal said of the pe­riod shortly af­ter the Septem­ber 11 ter­ror­ist at­tacks. “Air mar­shals fi­nally stopped fil­ing re­ports be­cause the air mar­shal usu­ally ends up be­ing in­ves­ti­gated for not be­ing able to co­op­er­ate.”

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