In my years as an airline pilot, every armed person boarding our aircraft had to be introduced to the cockpit crew—at least to the captain. The armed person was brought down the jetway by the gate agent ahead of general boarding. We would look at their ID and find out their seat number.
At a minimum, the senior flight attendant also knew so that if he or she somehow spotted the gun on the individual, they wouldn't freak out.
$98 MILLION VERSUS A .38 REVOLVER
I mostly flew the Eastern Shuttle between Washington and New York and we carried a lot of famous people who were under Secret Service or State Department protection—so those folks made armed guards common.
Armed guards were also common because we carried billions of dollars in cash. You can imagine that with fresh cash being printed in D.C., and with New York City being the financial capital of the country, a lot of money was moved up there. And with us leaving every hour, on the hour, they knew we could get it to New York City while the ink was still wet. (These days, with so many of our financial transactions being processed electronically, there's probably not nearly as much cash that's being moved between the two cities.)
In addition to being introduced to the armed agent, we were also told how much money was in the hold. It was always at least $50 million. The most common load was $70 million, comprised of 50 standard bags of $1.4 million each. The largest amount of money I ever transported was $98 million in cash, which was spread among 70 bags. (And this was back in the 1980s, when $98 million was a lot of money; it's just pocket change these days, right?)
Bottom line: it is illegal for any armed person to board a commercial U.S. airline without the captain's knowledge. (In 2014, USA Today reported that not all air marshals love this rule; they understand why they need to make their presence known to the captain, but worry that they could receive special treatment from the cabin crew that could give their position away.)
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