Sheila Frederick now helps train other flight attendants.

By Cailey Rizzo
February 06, 2017
Flight Attendants Look Out for Human Trafficking
Credit: Mutlu Kurtbas/Getty Images

It is commonly reported that human trafficking increases around high-profile events, especially the Super Bowl. Although some have refuted this claim based on a lack of statistics, visibility around human trafficking skyrockets around the football game every year.

Last week, hundreds of flight attendants gathered in Houston for a seminar on how to spot signs of human trafficking. It’s an annual event that has been given increased importance—in 2016, reports of human trafficking in the United States increased by 35 percent.

The organizers of the event, Airline Ambassadors International (AAI), aim to help “orphans and vulnerable children worldwide by leveraging connections with the airline industry towards humanitarian service.”

Congress passed a rule last year that requires flight attendants to receive human trafficking training, but AAI wants to go further.

At the event, attendants were taught to look for a disheveled appearance, a passenger who insists on speaking for their companion, or signs that a victim was drugged. Attendees at the event learned from experienced flight attendants who have dealt with human trafficking, like Sheila Frederick.

Frederick, a flight attendant for Alaska Airlines, had a dramatic experience when she stopped a flight trafficking incident on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco in 2011.

While assisting two passengers, an older man and a young girl, Frederick noticed a few suspicious things. First, there was a drastic age difference between the two—and the girl had a dirty appearance while the man was well-dressed. He also insisted on speaking for her and became defensive when Frederick tried to communicate with her directly.

Frederick recognized the signs of human trafficking and left a note for the girl in the bathroom. When the girl indicated that she needed help, Frederick had the pilot warn police on the ground, who were waiting in the terminal when the plane landed.

The trafficker was arrested and the girl (with whom Frederick still has contact) has moved on to a normal life. She is currently attending college.

"I've been a flight attendant for 10 years and it’s like I am going all the way back to when I was in training, and I was like, I could have seen these young girls and young boys and didn't even know," Frederick told local Florida news station WTSP.

It’s estimated that more than 50,000 women and girls are trafficked into the United States every year. Last year, over 7,500 cases of human trafficking were reported across the country, according to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.