How A Flight Attendant's Training Helped Save A Teenage Girl From Human Trafficking

The girl "looked like she had been through pure hell."

Flight attendants have emerged as an invaluable line of defense against the scourge of human trafficking in the past few years, and Shelia Fedrick's story is proof of just that. Over Super Bowl weekend, NBC News reported an incident from years ago when Fedrick, an Alaska Airlines flight attendant, rescued a teenage girl from human trafficking

On a flight from Seattle to San Francisco, Fedrick spotted a disheveled-looking girl, about 15 or 16, she guessed, who "looked like she had been through pure hell." Fedrick told NBC News that the contrast between the blonde girl and her travel companion, an older, well-dressed man, sounded a warning in her head.

The man became defensive when she tried to chat with them, so Fedrick, under her breath, urged the girl to go to the bathroom, where she left a note on the mirror for her. The girl wrote back on the note that she needed help. 

Fedrick alerted the pilot about the two passengers, and when the airplane arrived in San Francisco, the police were waiting in the terminal. 


John Gomez / Shutterstock

The incident shows how vital a role flight attendants can play in combating human trafficking. An increasing number of flight attendants are being trained to look out for signs of human trafficking. Last year, flight attendant Heather Poole detailed in an op-ed for Mashable how similar training at work helped her spot human trafficking in her neighborhood, too. She wrote:

A few years ago, my airline started training us on spotting telltale signs of human trafficking on the plane. Can the passenger speak for themselves, or is someone with them controlling what they say? Does the passenger avoid eye contact? Do they appear fearful, anxious, tense, depressed, nervous, submissive? Are they dressed inappropriately, or do they have few possessions — even on a long flight? Can the passenger move independently, or are they accompanied by someone seemingly controlling their every movement? 

Poole wrote that large events, like the Super Bowl, often cause an uptick in human trafficking in the area. 

Among those pushing for more flight attendants to receive this training is Airline Ambassadors, an organization founded by former flight attendant Nancy Rivard, NBC News reported. Together with Sandra Fiorini, who in 2010 testified before Congress about the trafficking she saw taking place in the four decades she worked as a flight attendant, Rivard and others travel across the country to teach flight attendants how to recognize and handle human trafficking on airplanes.

Each year, there are an estimated 2 million victims of human trafficking who are shipped like cattle across countries and continents. Although tackling the problem requires a concerted, multinational effort, flight attendants like Fedrick are an imperative piece of the puzzle to eliminating human trafficking. 

Cover image via Shutterstock


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