In 1978, Baton Rouge pilot Barry Seal, who flies commercial jets for TWA, is recruited by a CIA case officer calling himself Monty Schafer. He asks Seal, who has been smuggling Cuban cigars into the country via Canada, to fly clandestine reconnaissance missions for the CIA over Central America using a small plane with cameras installed. At first Seal's wife Lucy thinks he's still with TWA, but eventually she is excited by the wealth generated by his "new company". Later in the 1980s, Schafer asks Seal to start acting as a courier between the CIA and General Noriega in Panama. During a mission, the Medellín Cartel picks Seal up and asks him to fly cocaine on his return flights to the United States. Seal accepts and starts flying the cartel's cocaine to Louisiana. The CIA turns a blind eye to the drug smuggling, but the DEA tracks Seal down. To avoid the authorities, Schafer moves Seal and his family to the remote town of Mena, Arkansas.