At least two Federal Air Marshals were told to carry on working and put on missions to protect commercial flights while either waiting for the results from a COVID-19 test or after struggling to get tested it has been alleged. The marshals told Yahoo! News that they then went on to spend extended periods of time with colleagues in other cities who would later test positive for the novel Coronavirus
“I was a superspreader, it pains me to say, but that’s what I was,” one of the air marshals, who remains anonymous, said after he apparently infected his colleagues with the virus. Both events happened in the Summer and it’s not known whether there have been any recent cases of FAM’s being asked to work missions while waiting for a test result.
The Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says there have been 98 confirmed cases of air marshals falling ill with COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic and the agency said it takes every incident “very seriously”.
“All employees are instructed to seek medical attention at the first sign of illness or symptom, and have the full benefit of flexible leave and sick leave policies,” a spokesperson for the TSA told us.
“FAMS and officers in the airport environment face millions of passengers each week and high compliance with TSA safety measures and use of provided personal protective equipment have helped mitigate case counts in areas with high rates of public infections,” the emailed statement continued.
But the two unions that represent air marshals believe that even with personal protective equipment, some of their members are being infected while on a flight.
John Casaretti, president of the Air Marshal Association, said he knew of “one case at the start of the outbreak that is linked with certainty to a European flight”. That was before airlines required passengers and staff to wear face masks at all times, and before cleaning efforts were ramped up.
And Sonya Hightower LaBosco, president of the separate Air Marshal National Council, also believes other air marshals have become infected while on a mission. “Absolutely, we know they got it flying,” she commented, although both unions were unable to provide evidence to back up their claims and admitted it was difficult to pinpoint exactly where infection happened.
In response, the TSA said “members of the TSA family are contracting COVID-19 outside of the workplace, so the need to take precautions in their personal time continues to be extremely important to our mission.”
The agency also said it was taking “extraordinary steps” during the pandemic to protect both its roughly 60,000 strong workforce and the traveling public.
The allegations come as the aviation industry launches an offensive to reassure nervous passengers about the safety of air travel. A slew of studies have been released in recent days confirming that the risk of transmission onboard a commercial aircraft is negligible.
Airlines point to mandatory face mask requirements, along with powerful air filters and enhanced cleaning protocols, as a multi-layered approach that significantly reduces the risk of catching COVID-19 on a plane.
The latest study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health concluded that though this layered approach, the risk of SARS-CoV-2 “transmission on an aircraft is reduced to very low levels” and that everyday activities like grocery shopping or eating out in a restaurant carried a higher risk of infection.
The independent report was sponsored by a consortium of airlines and other aviation industry players.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.