Everyday Heroes

How These Flight Attendants Are Being Trained To Spot And Stop Human Trafficking

These eyes in the sky are making a real difference in the fight against human trafficking.

The important work of flight attendants often goes under-appreciated. After all, passenger interactions with them are often limited to asking them for a pillow or some peanuts.

But, these crew members are so much more than in-air drink servers, they are also in charge of our safety and sanity should anything go wrong. Just watch “Sully” for a fine example of their heroic endeavors.

But, it’s not just their herculean effort during disasters that flight attendants deserve some extra credit for, some flight attendants are going above and beyond the call of duty by becoming in-flight watchdogs helping to combat the ever-growing human trafficking epidemic.

These special flight attendants are taking big steps to make sure all flight attendants are able to recognize the signs of human trafficking and to stop it in its tracks.

It all started when flight attendants volunteering for Airline Ambassadors International went on a humanitarian aid trip to Cambodia in 2009. There, they learned about the devastating issue of human trafficking and became determined to help.

Under the leadership of their president Nancy Rivard, AAI created a training program to recognize signs of human trafficking. Since then, they have provided training sessions to over 4,000 individuals at airports in the U.S. and across the globe.

Attendees are encouraged to look for indications that a passenger may be a victim. Trafficked victims are often unusually submissive and accompanied by someone who is far better dressed. They may also appear malnourished, avoid eye contact and be watchful to the point of paranoia.

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The training is working. The very same year they committed to begin helping, flight attendants correctly identified human traffic victims on four flights and have saved countless others since.

Rivard told NBCNews the flight attendants are trained not to directly confront the trafficker. Once a flight attendant suspects human trafficking, they must call the pilot and let the proper authorities take it from there.

“We tell people not to try to rescue because you can endanger the victim and yourself,” she said.

There has never been a more important time for Rivard and her team to increase awareness and education, as the problem of human trafficking continues to grow.

UNICEF estimates 21 million people are being trafficked around the world—forced into prostitution, pornography, sweat-shop work, armed forces and migrant farming. An estimated 1.2 million of these victims are children. Because most traffickers use commercial flights to cheaply transport victims, the AAI program could have a huge impact.

Knowing this, Rivard and her team are lobbying Congress to make this type of training mandatory for all airline personnel. In the meantime, they will continue to hold voluntary workshops and trainings in airports.