Some federal air marshals have been denied entry to flights they are assigned to protect when their names matched those on the terrorist no-fly list, and the agency says it's now taking steps to make sure their agents are allowed to board in the future.
The problem with federal air marshals (FAM) names matching those of suspected terrorists on the no-fly list has persisted for years, say air marshals familiar with the situation.
One air marshal said it has been “a major problem, where guys are denied boarding by the airline.”
“In some cases, planes have departed without any coverage because the airline employees were adamant they would not fly,” the air marshal said. “I've seen guys actually being denied boarding.”
A second air marshal says one agent “has been getting harassed for six years because his exact name is on the no-fly list.”
Earlier this month the agency issued a new security directive (SD) “to address those situations where air carriers deny FAMs boarding based on 'no-fly list' names matches.”
The memo was issued April 23 from the assistant director of the office of flight operations.
Gregory Alter, spokesman for the Federal Air Marshal Service, said the new directive “mitigates any misidentification concerns by empowering airlines to quickly clear an air marshal’s status after positively identifying their law enforcement status.”
“In rare instances air marshals, like all travelers, are occasionally misidentified as being on a watch because of name or personal identifier similarities to individuals actually on the lists,” Mr. Alter said.
The air marshal service does not release how many agents are employed, and declined to specify the number of agents whose names are similar to those of wanted or suspected terrorists.
The new procedures are classified as “sensitive security information” and address both domestic and international check-in procedures.
“FAMs may encounter situations where this SD has not yet reached every air carrier customer service representative (CSR),” the memo said.
“If a FAM is denied boarding based on 'no fly list' issues, FAMS should request to speak to an air carrier supervisory CSR. If the air carrier continues to deny the FAM a boarding pass, FAMS should contact (their supervisor) as soon as possible for assistance,” the memo said.