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Can a flight attendant carry a gun?

The topic of whether flight attendants should be allowed to carry guns on airplanes has been debated for years. While some argue that arming flight attendants would improve security and allow them to defend against terrorists, others say it could lead to more accidents and would not be effective at stopping an attack. This article will examine the pros and cons, legal issues, training requirements, and alternatives to arming flight attendants.


Prior to the 1970s, it was not uncommon for commercial airline flight attendants to carry handguns. This practice was discontinued over concerns of accidental discharge or misuse of the firearms. After the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, the debate over arming flight attendants reignited. Proponents argued that arming properly trained attendants could serve as an extra layer of security and a last line of defense against hijackers.

In 2002, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) launched the Federal Flight Deck Officer (FFDO) program that allowed pilots to volunteer for firearms training and carry concealed handguns in the cockpit. The program was later expanded to allow certain crew members to join. However, flight attendants were notably excluded from the FFDO program. This means that as of 2023, flight attendants remain unarmed on commercial flights in the United States.

Arguments For Arming Flight Attendants

Proponents of arming flight attendants make the following arguments:

  • Deterrent effect – The presence of visibly armed flight attendants could deter would-be hijackers or attackers.
  • Last line of defense – Flight attendants could stop an attack on the cockpit or passenger cabin as a last resort.
  • Supplement air marshals – There are a limited number of federal air marshals; armed attendants could supplement their presence.
  • Faster response time – Attendants are already in the passenger cabin and could react quicker than marshals or airport security.
  • More flight staff would have protection – Currently only pilots can carry in the FFDO program; allowing flight attendants would give more crew members the ability to defend themselves.

Groups like the Airline Pilots Security Alliance advocate for allowing flight attendants to volunteer for training and carry firearms on board. They argue it is an important layer of security to have multiple armed people spread throughout the aircraft ready to respond.

Arguments Against Arming Flight Attendants

Opponents of arming flight attendants point to the following concerns:

  • Increased risk of accidents – Guns on board planes could lead to unintentional shootings or other accidents in the close quarters of an aircraft.
  • Insufficient training – The limited recurrent training required may be inadequate to prepare attendants for in-flight shootings.
  • Not an effective deterrent – Armed flight attendants may not deter or minimize the damage inflicted by terrorists.
  • Airline culture doesn’t mix with guns – Airlines prefer a customer service focused environment and oppose the idea of attendants carrying lethal weapons.
  • Alternatives are better – Improving cockpit doors, allowing pilots guns, increasing air marshals, and enhanced airport screening would be more effective.
  • Liability concerns – Airlines may face increased liability for accidental shootings.
  • Public discomfort – Some passengers may be uneasy around visibly armed attendants.

Flight attendant unions and most airlines have historically opposed arming flight attendants due to concerns over safety, liability, training, and customer perception. Many argue that firearms on commercial aircraft should be limited to pilots and specialized law enforcement officers.

Legal Considerations

There are some legal considerations surrounding the arming of flight attendants on commercial flights:

  • Federal Aviation Regulations – There are no existing FAA regulations that prohibit flight attendants from carrying firearms. However, airlines and labor groups would likely need to lobby for a change in FAA policy to explicitly allow attendants to be armed.
  • TSA Regulations – The TSA governs security screening of all crew members and would need to implement new procedures to allow flight attendants to carry firearms on board.
  • Federal Flight Deck Officer Program – This program would likely need to be expanded from just pilots to include flight attendants as well.
  • State Laws – Flight attendants would need to comply with relevant state laws regarding concealed carry permits, firearms licensing, and safe storage of firearms when not on duty.
  • Airline Policies – Individual airlines would need to update their own policies regarding use of force, storage of firearms, and other protocols.

Ultimately, allowing flight attendants to be armed would require agreement between numerous stakeholders as well as navigating the complex patchwork of existing laws and regulations.

Training Requirements

If flight attendants were permitted to carry firearms, they would have to go through specialized training first. Here are some of the training requirements that would likely be implemented:

  • Classroom training – This would cover legal protocols, hostile situation response, use of force policies, and firearm handling safety.
  • Live fire training – Attendants would complete live fire shooting exercises using the approved firearm types.
  • Scenario-based training – Interactive drills and simulated hijacking scenarios would prepare attendants for high-stress in-flight emergencies.
  • Force-on-force exercises – Using specialized equipment like Simunition, attendants would undergo force-on-force mock drills against role players acting as terrorists.
  • Weapon retention training – Attendants would be extensively trained on keeping control of their firearms to prevent potential hijackers from taking the weapon.
  • Recurrent training – Annual requalification would likely be required to maintain proficiency and an active flight status in the program.
  • Physical fitness standards – Attendants may need to undergo regular fitness assessments to remain in the program.
  • Field training – After classroom instruction, attendants would complete supervised field training during actual flights.

Proper and recurrent training would be essential for flight attendants to respond effectively to threats while prioritizing passenger and crew safety. The costs associated with training would also be a consideration if attendants were armed.

Potential Alternatives

There are a few alternatives that some experts propose instead of arming flight attendants:

  • Increase the number of air marshals – Hiring more specially trained federal air marshals to ride on flights could bolster security.
  • Enhanced airport screening – Improving passenger and baggage screening may better address threats before they board planes.
  • Reinforced cockpit doors – Physically blocking access to the flight deck serves as the last line of defense.
  • Non-lethal weapons – Equipping attendants with pepper spray or stun guns could allow them to disable threats without firearms.
  • Advanced surveillance networks – Expanded use of passenger profiling, behavioral analysis, and real-time threat monitoring could flag issues on the ground.
  • Better crew training – More focus on de-escalation, self-defense, identifying suspicious behavior, and procedures during emergencies.

Rather than arming them, some argue these alternatives would provide flight attendants with effective tools to manage threats and function in their primary roles as safety professionals and customer service representatives.


While the idea of arming flight attendants generates strong opinions on both sides, there does not appear to be an imminent policy change on the horizon. The FAA and major airlines still oppose guns in the passenger cabin other than for limited federal air marshals or pilots in the FFDO program. Significant legal, regulatory, training, and liability challenges exist as well.

Yet some continue to believe that having visibly armed flight attendants would act as an effective deterrent and last line of defense. The discussion comes down to weighing enhanced security capabilities against potential safety risks and logistical difficulties. Absent another major terrorist incident targeting commercial flights, flight attendants carrying firearms remains unlikely in the near future.

With proper training, clearly defined protocols, reinforcement of cockpit security, and potential non-lethal options, flight attendants can still be empowered to maximize the safety of passengers even if not armed with guns. Rather than relying on a last resort measure like firearms, a holistic focus on prevention, deterrence, de-escalation, and incident response may provide a more balanced approach to managing threats in the aircraft cabin.