A flight attendant had her eyes and ears wide open — and as a result, rescued a passenger on a plane from continued human trafficking.
It’s a story that is widely resonating for a reason: Last year, there were 8,042 cases of human trafficking in the U.S., according to a report released last week by Polaris, a nonprofit organization.
Sheila Fedrick was working on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco in 2011 when she noticed a disheveled girl, believed to be about 14 or 15 years old at the time, sitting in the window seat. The girl sat right next to what Fedrick described as “a well-dressed older man” — and though the duo made an odd pair, they were clearly traveling together.
The teen “looked like she had been through pure hell,” Fedrick told WTSP in Tampa, Florida.
The flight attendant could have gone about her business. After all, in a world so hung up on political correctness and a “live and let live” attitude, plenty of people would have looked the other way. Plenty of people probably already had in regard to this couple.
But Fedrick noticed that when she spoke to the two passengers, the girl would not look at her or even speak; she left all the talking to the older man. Fedrick said the man “would become defensive when I tried to make conversation,” she told NBC News.
The quick-thinking flight attendant couldn’t let it go. She eventually relayed a message to the girl to go to the restroom — where Fedrick left a note for her on the mirror.
How the teen managed to pry herself loose from her captor to get to the bathroom is anyone’s guess.
But “she wrote on the note she needed help,” Fedrick told NBC.
[lz_bulleted_list title=”Warning Signs of Victimization” source=”www.cnn.com”]Traveler not dressed appropriately|She has a tattoo with a bar code|She can’t provide flight details|Communication seems scripted or inconsistent|She can’t move about freely or is being controlled, watched, followed|She may be dressed in sexualized manner, drugged, malnourished, or show signs of abuse[/lz_bulleted_list]
The flight attendant alerted the pilot — who contacted police. Law enforcement was waiting for the man at the terminal when the plane landed; he was arrested immediately.
Fedrick reportedly has kept in contact with the girl since this near-miss — the girl is now in college. As a result of this incident, more flight attendants today are undergoing instruction on how to spot human trafficking, said Airline Ambassadors, a group that trains attendants on the signs of trafficking.
“The front line employees are not being trained” by their airlines, Nancy Rivard, president of the organization, told NBC. Rivard and several of her team flew to Houston before the Super Bowl to hold a two-day training session for airline employees on how to spot victims or traffickers.
Here’s why this is so critical for parents or anyone else today: Human trafficking jumped a disturbing 35.7 percent in the United States in 2016, according to a new report from the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
Long before the teen and the older man boarded that fateful flight back in 2011, a cab driver or some other driver likely took them to the airport. The pair got their tickets at a service counter, checked their baggage, and maybe even got something to eat — necessitating attention from wait staff. So multiple people probably saw the odd couple at some point in time.
But it was Fedrick who noticed something amiss about this duo — and shunned any possible discomfort or embarrassment in order to take action that potentially saved this young girl’s life.