Air Marshals: The Assholes Of The Sky

Anyone who travels regularly wants to believe that federal air marshals are friendly heroes who are aboard every single flight. (C'mon, it's possible). But the reality, unfortunately, is not so sunny. According to a new government report, air marshals might be fine to share a three-hour flight with, but they don't sound like they'd be too great to work with, particularly if you're a woman.

The report, from the Department of Homeland Security, shares the results of a two-year-long investigation into allegations of widespread misconduct and discrimination within the service. The full report is being released on Thursday, but CBS's Armen Keteyian got an advance look and has shared some of the more disturbing parts. The basic finding was, "Federal Air Marshals repeatedly portrayed their supervisors as vindictive, aggressive, and guilty of favoritism." That certainly doesn't sound good, but here are some more disturbing specifics:

  • Thirty-three percent of the female employees surveyed believed they had been discriminated against.
  • A total of 454 formal or informal equal opportunity complaints were filed by employees between Sept 2006 and April 2011.
  • "...employees perceptions of discrimination and retaliation are extensive..."
  • Despite all this, the report concluded "...our review does not support a finding of widespread discrimination and retaliation."

Well, it may not be "widespread" but those kinds of problems are definitely not ideal for any workplace, especially not for a federal law enforcement agency. While it's tempting to think these problems have arisen simply because the agents have been driven mad from spending so much time enduring the horror and indignities of air travel, the problems are much more deep-rooted than that.

A CBS News investigation uncovered many of the same problems two years ago, and, at that point, the agency was described as being "dominated by an 'old boys' club of white male supervisors, mainly ex-Secret Service agents." They found problems with at least 14 field offices, and in the Orlando office there was even a board where "managers allegedly used derogatory code words to refer to homosexuals, African-Americans and veterans — employees who would be harassed or get undesirable assignments." Ugh. So much for the friendly skies.

Anyway, the good news is that even though they may be obnoxious and discriminatory colleagues, the report says these problems have not compromised their mission of keeping the skies safe. The Air Marshal Service has said they're already implementing the report's recommendations, and now Congress is also on their case. So perhaps change will happen sooner rather than later—though reforming an old boys club filled with crusty law enforcement bros probably won't happen overnight. In the meantime, before you go all Bridesmaids on anyone you suspect of being an air marshal, make sure to quiz the agent about their ethics and workplace behaviors first, to make sure they're worthy of your time and attention.

Report cites air marshals for sexism, harassment [CBS News]

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