ST. PETERSBURG – The story of flight attendant Shelia Fedrick rescuing a teenage girl is all over social media. She shared her story with 10News and now we’re learning more about the program that’s training flight attendants nationwide to spot and stop human trafficking.
Airline Ambassadors International is pushing airlines and others in the travel and hospitality industries to require better awareness training for employees.
The group holds training sessions across the nation on how to spot human trafficking victims, traffickers and how to respond and report the crime.
“I can remember wishing people who looked at me could see me,” said Donna Hubbard, who, 38 years ago, became a victim of human trafficking while herself working as a flight attendant.
“I was young and I was very naïve and I was star struck,” she recalled. “I fell into the hands of a pimp who eventually traded me to a gang.”
In the decades since, Hubbard has found not only her freedom but also her way back to the skies.
She is once again working as a flight attendant and in April 2015 went through in-depth training from Airline Ambassadors International.
It was that training, not her personal experience as a survivor of human trafficking, that helped her identify a young boy being trafficked. Last fall during a flight from Honduras to Miami she knew something wasn't right.
“It was not at all what we thought we would see. He was in excruciating pain, but he's also lethargic. He was very sweaty and the people he was traveling with were actually carrying him and he seemed to be too old to be carried. He had to be somewhere between 5 and 8,” Hubbard said.
She started asking questions. Hubbard says the stories from the adults did not add up and there were more red flags.
Airline Ambassadors International teaches victims may appear drugged or confused, and they could be wearing inappropriate clothing.
The child was dressed in clothes that indeed seemed inappropriate, and there was more.
“This little boy seemed lethargic. He literally seemed drugged,” said Hubbard.
Hubbard and her co-worker alerted the flight deck as well as authorities on the ground. The boy got the help he needed, but she doesn’t know where he is today.
“I don't want to say I rescued him but I definitely provided his release,” she said.
Airline Ambassadors International has lobbied Congress to require better awareness training for flight attendants. The group has made strides with the Federal Aviation Administration, but they say more needs to be done.
“The scariest thing is not doing anything, and for so long we as flight attendants have seen things that don't look right, but we're not sure who to report it to. We’re not sure what to report. You’re not a survivor until you're rescued,” said Hubbard.