Just when it appeared the skies would be safer, the air marshals, those undercover lawmen whose beat is on planes in flight, are quitting, a dozen or so each week.
They're fed up, and rightly so, with schedules that sometimes put them on flights for 10 days running, at 12 to 16 hours a day. The work is running them down, making them ill on flights, and, more important, keeping them less than alert.
Whether the number departed is the 250 cited in news reports or the 80 the Transportation Security Administration insists is correct, it is startling, though they are a small percentage of the 6,000 estimated to have been hired since Sept. 11. These were meant to be very good jobs. Now, besides the departures, many others have been calling in sick, just to get a break. What's needed are limits to in-flight service, such as pilots and flight attendants have.
The Transportation Department's assurance that the traveling public has little to worry about rings hollow, as does its observation that in the private sector this level of attrition would be commendable and not a sign of managerial misfeasance.
But we've all had our noses rubbed in the flaws of the private sector lately. Keeping the public trust and assuring public safety requires much more than cut-throat private-sector labor tactics.
Every working stiff, and that includes most of us, knows that those work schedules are not optimal to get the best out of people, so the Transportation Department's statement that none of the marshals' complaints, alone or in concert, constitutes a crisis is not believable.
This program has management problems that need addressing. As one marshal told USAToday, “We were promised the Garden of Eden. We were given hell.” There shouldn't be a disaster before a remedy is found.