Colorful leaves fall all around us, clogging gutters and making the way slippery. Leaves aren’t the only objects falling from the sky; Fall makes my yard a hard-hat area due to walnut trees shedding baseball-size nuts.
Falling nuts also mean it is football season in Indiana. Back in my day, colleges chartered buses to whisk the campus royalty to games, but no more. Colleges flush with tax-payer dollars now summon airliners to jet their teams throughout the Midwest, and sometimes to the left and right coasts. It’s not unusual to see United Boeing 737s and other big airplanes at Bloomington, Lafayette, and Terre Haute.
Speaking of Terre Haute, it has one of the longest runways in Indiana, and it is home to several institutions of higher education; hence, one might encounter a procession of fans giving the team a rousing sendoff at the airdrome. Indiana State University and Rose Hulman are only two institutions fielding teams through the airport. However, there is another institution busing their teams via Hulman Field—the United States Federal Penitentiary.
Frequently and irregularly, police escorted commercial buses drive through Hulman Field’s gates to an all-white painted Boeing 737 marked only by the N number. Unlike the returning ISU Sycamores, when this airplane lands, people in tactical garb sporting M-16s hit the ground and fan out to various points around the aircraft. Burley flight attendants from your worst airline nightmare deplane wearing blue jackets emblazoned with the bright gold letters—BOP (Bureau of Prisons).
This nondescript airline is colloquially known as ConAir to Club Fed. The government refers to it as JPATS (Joint Prisoner and Alien Transportation System), but the feds don’t really want to talk about it. Marshal Matt Dillon is long dead, but the federal marshals run JPATS, though they declined an invitation to come to the Indianapolis Aero Club and tell us more about their special little airline.
Con-Air has its own hub in Oklahoma City, complete with gates and jetbridges, who knew? We know little about their foodservice and seat pitch, but there’s a rumor that they have their very own frequent flyer program.
JPATS has several purposes for flying over a thousand felons in American skies every day as part of their mission. Prisoners, like entertainers and teams, must make appearances in distant locations, only theirs are in court. It’s also desirable to keep prisoners circulated to reduce the likelihood of gangs and cliques forming within the prison.
Therefore, JPATS airliners crisscross the United States, stopping at cities with federal prisons. According to the U. S. Marshal website, JPATS is one of the largest prisoner transportation systems in the world. They admit receiving over 715 transportation requests a day, and they even fly internationally. Surprisingly, JPATS flights can sometimes show up on Flight Aware.
So, next time you find yourself wedged into the middle seat between a couple of, shall we say, supersized fellow passengers, think about ConAir. If you think TSA’s agents get a little personal as they grope around looking for your Uzi, or can of shaving cream, remember that JPATS passengers arrive planeside in leg and arm shackles. “Cause you can still fly the friendly skies when you’re doin time, you don’t need a ticket to ride this line, all you gotta do is commit a federal crime.”