Alaska Airline flight attendant Shelia Fedrick didn’t board the plane that fateful day in 2011 thinking she’d become a hero. But soon after the flight from Seattle to San Francisco took off, Fedrick noticed the young girl with dishevelled clothing and greasy-blonde hair. She looked like she’d been through hell. Next to her was a well-dressed, much older man. Fedrick’s instincts told her something was wrong, so she attempted to strike up a conversation with the two. The girl remained silent while the man became defensive. At that point, Fedrick devised a plan.
She went to the bathroom and pasted a note for the girl on the mirror. Fedrick then returned to aisle 10 and whispered to the teen—whom she guessed was around 14 years-old—to visit the bathroom. Once there, the girl found the note asking if she needed help. The girl wrote on the note that she did.
Fedrick then notified the pilot, who quickly contacted law enforcement officers in San Francisco. They were waiting for the man at the terminal when the flight landed. He was questioned, taken into custody, and arrested. And the fourteen year-old was saved from sex slavery.
Five years later, Fedrick and the girl she rescued—now a college student—are still in touch.
The International Labor Organization estimates that there are currently 4.5 million people trapped in the sexual slavery worldwide. In 2016 2,000 people were arrested for human trafficking by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and 400 victims were freed.
Airline Ambassadors International, an organization that teaches flight attendants to look for signs of sex trafficking and provides training on intervention, is doing its best to ensure that there are more Shelia Fedricks in the not-always-friendly skies. To date over 1,000 flight attendants have received this special training.
All angels fly. And at least one wears a uniform.
Shelia Fedrick is a hero you should know. And I’m Dr. Ross Porter.