If you have been following the Colton Harris-Moore saga recently, you know he was caught and flown via “Con Air” from Miami to Seattle. Even though he had stolen some planes to fly himself and had a huge love for aviation, this was his first flight on an airliner. Seeing the photo of the MD-80 taking him across country, it made me wonder what the real “Con Air” is like versus seeing it in movies and I decided to check it out.
It is much different than what’s portrayed in the movie Con Air or the flight sequence on US Marshals. Due to FAA regulations, passengers cannot be locked into their seats or in cages. However, this doesn’t mean they get a nice ride. Inmates have their legs and hands locked together and depending on the situation, could be wearing a full face mask. There is no meal service and having to use the restroom means you get escorted by a few guards.
In 1995 the air fleets of the Immigration and Naturalization Services (now known as ICE) and the US Marshals were combined under the new name Justice Prisoner and Alien Transportation System (JPATS). The JPATS transports criminals all over the country for a courtÂ appearanceÂ or to be transferred to a new facility. They also conduct deportation flights, taking deportable illegal aliens to their home country. In 2009 JPATS moved 345,862 prisoners and almost 200,000 were transported via air.
A prisoner is not told of his flight until the last possible minute and schedules are kept secret. This limits someone’s ability to mess with the flight and the passenger’s ability to formulate an escape plan. Guards are not able to carry guns or even mace. They are trained in proper security proceduresÂ to make sure the flight gets to itsÂ destinationÂ and keep the criminals properly in their seats.
Most of the prisoners flying JPATS are federal detainees and illegal aliens moving between US Marshal offices, Federal Bureau of Prisons correctional facilities and international destinations for the removal of deportable aliens.Â But JPATS also offers to move military, state and local prisoners through cooperative agreements for a cost. In 2005, the cost for an out side agency to fly a prisoner one way was about $1150.00 and they don’t even get peanuts. But they do get security and possibly temporary housing until being picked up at their destination if needed.
I had a hard time trying to track down the current JPATS fleet, but found luck when speaking with Scott A. Wilhelm Cheif of Flight Operations for JPATS. He told me, “We (JPATS)Â currently operate the following owned/leased aircraft:Â 6 MD-83, 2 Hawker 800, 1 Saab 2000Â and 1 BE-99.” The smaller aircraft will be used for the best of the best criminals who are deemed too dangerous to fly with the general population.
So if you think your next flight is like being in a cattle car, you might want to think about the fine folks flying on a JPATS flight. They might be free for the passengers, but they won’t have nearly as much fun at their destination.
* Photo of chartered Champion Air Boeing 727 to transport convicts seen at KPAE
* Photos of some of the aircraft used (scroll down)
* Story how JPSATS is helpful via US Marshal’s website
* Journalist takes a JPSATS flight via the Guardian
Thanks Dorothy!Image by: Joe Stremph