Shelia Fedrick, who works for Alaska Airlines, became concerned for a girl aged 14 or 15 who was sitting next to an older man on a flight from Seattle to San Francisco. She said that the man looked smart but the girl appeared as though ‘she had been put through pure hell’. When she tried to speak to the girl the man would speak for her and he became defensive so she decided to act. Shelia told NBC: ‘I left a note in one of the bathrooms. She wrote back and said “I need help”.’ She told the pilot what had happened and he arranged for police to be waiting for them when they arrived at the airport.
Sheila was speaking about the 2011 incident as a group known as Airline Ambassadors started training 100 flight attendants to spot the signs of human trafficking. The charity helps to inform air staff about the signs of trafficking and what to do if they have suspicions. Nancy Rivard, president of the group said: ‘Our team discussed the issue, and because we were alert to what to look for, correctly identified three cases of trafficking on our departing flights. On [airlines] Delta, JetBlue and US Air. ‘In every case, the flight attendants agreed with our assessment but did not know what to do. We showed them the National Hotline phone number and advised them to alert the pilots. ‘Pilots notified Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE) to pay special attention to these individuals at customs. ‘We were right in every case, and because of the flight attendants action, these children were saved from a life of slavery, pornography or prostitution.’
She said: ‘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.’ Shelia had written her number on the note and the trafficked girl memorised the digits. A few weeks later the air steward was in contact with the girl and they still are today.