The Jan. 2 front-page article "For Air Marshals, a Steep Takeoff" gave the impression that federal air marshals travel mostly incognito.

While flying into or out of Reagan National Airport about seven times during the past three months, I have easily identified the marshals. They board before any other passengers, do not always have tickets pulled at the gate and are sometimes obvious about scoping out everybody and turning around in their seats.

Don't get me wrong -- I am generally pleased by their presence. But undercover they are not.

JOY K. REYNOLDS

Washington

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On a recent trip out of Reagan National Airport, I found the practices of air marshals to be the opposite of what The Post reported. While I was standing in the business-class line at the Delta counter, a well-dressed man joined the line and was promptly engaged in conversation by another man of the same age who was equally well dressed. Their conversation ranged from what they had been up to since completing training to some issue on a snowy flight into Des Moines.

It was obvious from the conversation that they were federal sky marshals. This was confirmed when they got to the counter and held up identical black leather identification cases containing light-blue Transportation Security Administration ID badges and quickly departed without the gate agent asking them all the usual questions.

I thought perhaps I was the only one aware of this, until another passenger made a statement about the not-so-stealthy agents and several others snickered.

DOUG MANUEL

Herndon