Flight attendant Shelia Frederick was making her rounds on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco when she noticed something strange: a blonde teenager wearing wrinkled, old clothing was seated by a window, next to a well-dressed older man. The girl had a large bruise on her leg. When Shelia noticed her, the girl looked up.
“Her eyes just pierced my soul,” remembered Fredrick. “They fixed on me and I knew something was wrong and I needed to help her.”
Fredrick went to the nearest lavatory and placed a note for the girl where she could find it. She also left a pen.
When she returned to the young girl, the man seated next to her was eyeing a menu. Fredrick looked at the girl and mouthed “go to the bathroom.”
The girl followed Fredrick’s instructions. Sure enough, when Fredrick checked the note, she had written back:
“I need help.”
Fredrick called the captain, who arranged for police to be waiting in the terminal when the plane arrived in San Francisco. The teen was a victim in an incident of human trafficking. She had been kidnapped for over two months by the time she and Fredrick locked eyes.
“Traffickers use commercial airlines all the time because it keeps them anonymous,” said Nancy Rivard. Rivard was an American Airlines flight attendant before she founded Airline Ambassadors International in 2009.
Rivard identified multiple trafficking victims before becoming frustrated by the lack of training that she and her coworkers received in the area. She founded Airline Ambassadors to teach crew members how to spot victims. Airline Ambassadors now works alongside US Customs and Border Protection to stop human trafficking in its tracks.
“It’s incredible this isn’t industry-wide yet,” Rivard asserted. That said, more and more airlines are starting to implement similar training.
Fredrick identified the teen back in 2011. Since then, Frederick has become an Airline Ambassadors member and has received training in how to identify human trafficking incidents.
“I tell people to be aware of their surroundings,” said Fredrick. “There are so many warning signs. Look closely.”
A few months after the incident occurred, Fredrick was surprised to receive a phone call from the young girl she rescued. She called to “say thank you and that she was back with her family, in therapy,” Fredrick remembered.
Fredrick and the girl still keep in touch every so often. According to Fredrick, the girl is now attending college, working towards a brighter future.
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