It pays to trust your instincts and no one knows that better than Shelia Fedrick. NBC reported that the Alaska Airlines flight attendant was working a flight from Seattle to San Francisco when she noticed something "off" about a pair of passengers. Her quick thinking led to the rescue of a human trafficking victim.
A young girl who appeared to be about 14 or 15 years old had noticeably poor hygiene. Her blonde locks were greasy, she had visible bruises and, according to 49-year old Fedrick, she "looked like she had been through pure hell." The girl was in the window seat next to an impeccably well-dressed older man. The juxtaposition of these two traveling together would make anyone wonder what their relationship was.
Fedrick attempted to engage them both in conversation but the older man became quite defensive. She had to find a way to pry the girl away from him, so the bathroom presented the perfect opportunity. Fedrick convinced the teen to use the restroom and told her to use the pen and paper to write a note if she was in trouble. The quick-thinking flight attendant had already written her phone number down. "I left a note in one of the bathrooms," Fedrick said. "She wrote back on the note and said 'I need help.'"
Fedrick then called the pilot to report what she had witnessed and he alerted the authorities. When the plane landed in San Francisco, police were waiting in the terminal. They boarded the plane and made their way to aisle 10, taking the trafficking suspect into custody.
Last year alone, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement arrested some 2,000 human traffickers and identified around 400 victims. Former flight attendant Nancy Rivard founded Airline Ambassadors to aid in this effort. Her mission is to train flight attendants to spot and report, not apprehend, human traffickers.
Any or all of the following are red flags that Rivard trains flight attendants to be on the lookout for:
- Passengers who appear fearful, ashamed, or nervous.
- People traveling with seemingly non-relatives.
- Passengers who have visible bruises, cuts, or scars.
- Aggressive companions who speak for alleged victims, are possessive, defensive, and/or controlling.
- Signs of intoxication or under the influence of a drug.
The goal is to make sure that the situation does not escalate. Flights can last several hours, so being nonthreatening and acting as normal as possible is critical. If you are ever flying the friendly skies and see something that is questionable, contact a flight attendant as soon as possible and let them handle the situation. It is better to be safe than sorry.