Earlier this week on Monday, I was flying from Los Angeles to Dallas on American Airlines and continuing to the Washington DC area. I received an e-mail notification from American Airlines stating that I had received a First Class upgrade. Every time I get these e-mails, I get really giddy and start to fire up the American Airlines iPhone app to choose my seat since I was automatically given seat 5B. The app stated that 3B was the only available First class seat which is an undesirable bulkhead aisle with limited legroom. I was quite satisfied with 5B.
My red-eye flight from LA to Dallas was at 1:10am and I naturally always get to the airport three hours early, no matter if it’s international or domestic. I always arrive early because I have a place to relax in the Admirals Club lounge and get some work done. Again, I checked the app to see if a window seat opened up and nothing came up except seat 3B. I also saw that no one was on the standby upgrade list as well.
Boarding began at 12:30am, 30 minutes before scheduled departure and the gate agent called for First Class customers to begin boarding. I was first to board and handed my boarding pass to the gate agent. After she scanned my boarding pass, the machine beeped three times in a row. She said, “Your seat has been blocked and you have been moved”. I saw the seat assignment and it was the dreaded bulkhead aisle, seat 3B.
In my mind, I was thinking maybe the seat was broken and out of service, but as I took my seat in 3B, I saw that 5B was perfectly fine. I placed my belongings in the overhead bin and took my seat. As I saw other passengers board, I couldn’t help but notice that a man had my exact boarding pass in hand which said 5B. I knew it was my boarding pass because it was crinkled with the exact same writing that TSA had drew in the exact same area with a red pen.
At this point, I was in total disbelief and messaged my friend on what just happened. I couldn’t help but glance back and see who was sitting in 5B and I started thinking if he was a federal air marshal. I started Googling “How to spot a federal air marshall” and that was one of the most common reasons why people lose their confirmed seat assignments in First Class.
I was intrigued at this point since I never give much thought about Federal Air Marshals being onboard at any given time on the plane. I popped up the American Airlines app once again to see if 5B was available and mysteriously all the seats were taken even though no one was on the upgrade list with 1 available seat prior to boarding.
Passengers were still boarding at this time and I overheard a male passenger telling the flight attendant that he was an air marshal. The flight attendant said “Oh where are you seated?” The man replied, “I’m in the exit row, but tap me on the shoulder if you need anything”. I was in very close proximity to the galley couldn’t believe what I had just heard. I thought federal air marshals didn’t have to identify themselves, but I guess I was wrong.
Once all the passengers finished boarding, the gate agent came onboard and said to the flight attendant, “We’re leaving with 1 seat right?” The flight attendant confirmed that 1 seat in First Class was going out empty. I turned my head back to glance and saw that every single First Class seat was taken. This was another indicator that seat 5B was a federal air marshal. The gate agent left and the boarding door was closed.
Suddenly my neighbor in seat 3A asked me if I wanted to switch seats so his wife in 6A could sit next to him. I said, “Sure” and as I got up to row 6, the flight attendant said, “What are you doing?” and the suspected federal air marshal in 5B chimed in and told the flight attendant that “They’re switching seats so they can sit together”. I thought that was strange that 5B would chime in on the situation which raised my suspicions about him being a federal air marshal.
I was relieved that I was sitting in seat 6A since there was legroom and best of all, I could see 5B in plain view since I was in row 6, the last row of the first class cabin. I was excited and nervous at the same time because the thought of something bad happening on the plane almost gave me an anxiety attack. I wonder who were they watching or if they had intel that something bad was going to happen on this flight.
After the flight reached cruising altitude, I couldn’t help but notice my new neighbor besides me in seat 6B. He was a tall male with quite an athletic build, but he kept taking up most of the elbow space even in spacious first class. He touched elbows with me a few times and quickly retreated to his own personal space. He was also fidgeting with his hands and moving around his leg as well. Perhaps I was paranoid at this time because of the federal air marshals on board.
As I was snapping pictures through the window for Instagram, he tapped me on the shoulder and offered me a piece of trident chewing gum (all this without a word being said). I said no thanks because I don’t chew gum and I don’t’ want to know what that piece of gum was laced with. Yes, I was definitely paranoid.
I connected to the onboard Gogo Wifi and continued reading an article about “How to spot a federal air marshall” I read that they actually had to identify themselves as federal air marshals to the crew which I didn’t know. I thought they had to be ‘secret’ onboard passengers. Furthermore, they often sit in aisle seats and that it’s often in First Class. I also read that they have to be awake fully throughout the flight and they can’t recline their seat. The latter intrigued me because I had full view of the suspected federal air marshal in seat 5B and wanted to see how he behaved throughout the entire duration of this redeye flight.
The flight attendant passed by the cabin with warm nuts and took drink orders followed by a snack basket which consisted of sandwiches, Milano cookies, and bananas. I chose the Arugula, Pesto, and Roasted Tomato on Rosemary Square bread.
I’ve previously had these awful small First Class sandwiches before and wrote about how The New American Airlines Snack Basket Sandwiches Are Utterly Disgusting.
I couldn’t help but notice that the suspected air marshal in seat 5B selected the sandwich and a banana. The flight attendant had only served seat 5B and myself since everyone else was asleep on this red-eye flight. My neighbor was wide awake as well and declined the beverage and food offerings.
While I was having my warm nuts, my neighbor decided to use the restroom and I thought to myself “Oh my god, why did he have to get up?” As he moved towards the First class lavatory, I saw that the suspected air marshal in seat 5B tilt his head forward as if he was interested in what was going on.
My neighbor came back out of the lavatory and immediately the suspected air marshal in 5B went to use the lavatory. In my mind I was thinking “What the heck is going on?” and of course I was totally paranoid. My mind was going through questions like “Did he plant something in the bathroom?” and “Why was 5B so interested in using the lavatory shortly after 6B?”
I was really interested in seeing what the suspected federal air marshal in 5B was going to do throughout the flight. My neighbor fell asleep and I was paying close attention to the actions of 5B. By now, everyone was asleep except me and him. He turned on his reading light and pulled out a crossword puzzle from a newspaper. He also took out a small notepad and started writing notes and didn’t recline his seat.
The flight from Los Angeles to Dallas was a quick 2 hours and 20 minutes and I stayed awake throughout the entire time. Eventually nothing happened on the plane, but I confirmed my suspicions on seat 5B being a federal air marshal. The flight was definitely an adrenaline rush and almost seemed like a movie.
Have you ever had an experience with a Federal Air Marshal onboard your flight?