"Want to be Wyatt Earp on a plane?"
That was the title of the job announcement tacked to the employment board at my college. "Be a Skymarshal with the United States Customs Service! Keep the skies safe!"
Being an English major without a teaching certificate...well, job prospects were not pouring in. So I applied. 4 weeks later I was off to Fort Belvior, Virginia, for training. My very first time on a plane. Oh, yeah, I had never touched a handgun either. Another 4 weeks later, I was a Skymarshal. I remember thinking, "Boy, this is cool." I also remember thinking, "Boy, this is crazy."
I was twenty-two years old (and looked about 17), still desperately shy, but now responsible for the lives of two hundred passengers and the crew at 30,000 feet.
On my first flight, my partner was an old guy, about 35. We always flew in pairs and in plain clothes. One of the flight attendants asked him, "Where's your partner?"
He replied, "In seat 5B."
She came up and looked at me, walked back to him and said, "You've got to be kidding."
We were not allowed to drink or sleep on the plane. We flew a lot, including places that a hijacker would have to be extraordinarily crazy to want to go there. So, for a year of my life I spent hours and hours of boredom, punctuated by minutes of sheer terror. Usually involving information from flight attendants regarding plane malfunctions. I would always say, "Thank you for sharing that."
Up until one of my last flights, I had never really been concerned about an actual hijacking. I was sitting up front, when a guy came scurrying by, much too fast...heading for the cockpit door. Apparently the training had paid off. Reflexively, I jumped from my seat and caught him just as his hand grabbed the cockpit door handle. I grabbed his shoulder, turned him around. Before I could say anything he asked, "Is this the bathroom?"
I pointed him to the bathroom in the rear of the plane and went back to my seat, thankful I didn't need the bathroom too. I remember sitting there shaking for the rest of the flight.
The Skymarshal Program, jointly operated by Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. Customs Service, was
Then, sadly, 9/11 came along. Skymarshals made a comeback. So here's to the men and women keeping the skies safe. May their boredom far outweigh their terror.