Air Marshal: Job Description, Duties and Salary

Sep 18, 2019

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become an air marshal. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about degree programs, job duties and training to find out if this is the career for you.

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Air marshals work as plain-clothed officers on planes and in airports, preventing criminal activity, identifying suspicious individuals, making arrests and working with other members of various law enforcement agencies. Those considering a career as an air marshal should hold a bachelor's degree in criminal justice, or a high school diploma and multiple years of relevant experience.

Essential Information

Air marshals work for the federal Transportation Security Administration as plain-clothed officers on aircraft and at airports. They protect citizens by detecting and preventing criminal activity. Air marshals must be in good physical condition, accurate with a firearm, and accustomed to frequent travel. Some employers may accept candidates with their high school diploma and at least three years of relevant experience, especially veterans. However, a bachelor's degree in criminal justice may be beneficial for this career.

Required Education Varies; a combination of relevant experience and high school diploma may be sufficient, especially for veterans. A bachelor's degree, especially in criminal justice, may be beneficial.
Other Requirements Completion of TSA training program, including psychological evaluation and background check. Air marshals must also be able to carry a firearm.
Projected Job Growth (2018-2028)* 1% decline (all transportation security screeners)
Annual Salary (2019)** $67,193 for sky or air marshals

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics **

Job Description

Air marshals, also known as federal air marshals, work for the federal Transportation Security Administration (TSA) and protect passengers and crews on domestic and international flights and at airports ( It is their job to identify and apprehend dangerous individuals and prevent criminal activity. They often work alone, carry a firearm, and must blend in with passengers.

Job Duties

Air marshals participate in a mandatory physical fitness program. Due to the long hours and potential risks of their work, they must maintain strength and flexibility. In the event that they need to physically restrain a passenger or protect themselves, they must be proficient in self-defense and able to respond quickly in tight quarters. They prepare for these tasks by attending a training academy prior to working in the field.

Air marshals must also be able to protect themselves and travelers using firearms. Because of the potential risk to citizens, it is crucial that they are well-trained and discreet. The TSA reported that air marshals rank among the most accurate in handguns among law enforcement officers.

Because they work in airports and on flights, air marshals spend a great deal of time traveling. They are on call at all times and may be required to relocate based on the needs of the agency. Air marshals arrest individuals who commit crimes in their presence or who have given a marshal a reason to believe that a felony has occurred. In doing so, air marshals may seek warrants, interview witnesses, and deliver information to the U.S. Attorney or other officials.

Air marshals also work with other law enforcement officers. They work in positions at various organizations such as the FBI and the National Counterterrorism Center. During special events and times of concern, their assignments may be re-distributed.


The TSA uses a discrete system of pay grades. This system, known as an SV grading system, is different from the General Schedule (GS) scales used by other federal agencies. The SV system assigns a letter to each pay range, with air marshals in the G-I range. As of June 2019, the annual salary for air marshals ranged from $39,000 to $118,000, according to the TSA.

Air marshals must be in good physical condition, know self-defense, be able to carry a firearm, and endure frequent travel. There is expected to be a minimal or no change in job opportunities for all transportation security screeners, including air marshals, through the year 2028.

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