Monday, June 17, 2013

Travel and Hospitality Industries Often At Front Lines in Reporting Human Trafficking

Due to the nature of human trafficking, travel and hotel employees are often the first line of defense when it comes to stopping human trafficking. Numerous airline stewardesses have reported stories in which they noticed suspicious behavior, but often didn't know where to report it.

For example, American Airlines flight attendant Sandra Fiori launched this initiative after seeing an 18-year-old teenage boy travelling with an infant who still had his umbilical chord attached. She noted that for the 6 hour flight, the boy only had a bottle of formula and two diapers stuck in his back pocket. However, when she reported this to authorities, she received no response. She contacted the Innocents at Risk project, who helped her create this initiative. The program now collaborates with the Innocents at Risk Project, the US Customs and Border Patrol, and many airlines such as Delta, U.S. Airways, and American Airlines, to run training sessions for flight crews on how to spot red flags.

Red Flags

  • Individuals may be accompanied by someone who controls their every movement (such as not permitting them to go to the lavatory or move about the cabin)
  • Has injuries of signs of physical abuse
  • Appears malnourished
  • Seems disorientated
  • Avoids eye contact
  • Seems fearful of authorities, especially law enforcement
  • In regards to children
    • Children appear uncomfortable with their travelling companions
    • The travelling companions appear to shield them from attendants
    • Seems fearful to talk
    • Appears to be confused or disoriented
    • Appears to be drugged
    • Children are dressed shabbily compared to their well-dress companions
    • Several children of different nationalities, all around the same age, accompanying adults who do not appear related to the children
View the kind of brochure that flight attendants get to better identify victims here.

Since the launch of this program, airlines have seen a marked improvement. Flight attendants now know what they are looking for, and have a hotline in which to make their reports.

Here are some of their stories:

In 2010, flight attendants noted that twice a week, young girls were flying from Moscow to Chicago, all with one-way tickets. They all said that they were getting "modelling" or "going to work in TV" in New York City. Flight attendants reported this to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), who set up a sting on the flight and were able to uncover a criminal organization and recover the girls.

Another example: a flight attendant spoke with one young girl flying first class from Chicago to Fort Lauderdale. The girl said she had never flown before, and that the seat was a gift from an older man she had met online. The flight attendant reported it to authorities, who returned the girl home.

Flight attendants are not the only employees who are being trained. The Department of Transportation reported that as of 2012 they have 55,000 employees trained to identify human trafficking.

The same applies to the hotel industry. Mary Carlson Nelson, chairman of Carlson, which owns brands such as Raddison, Country Inn and Suites, and TGI Friday, says that they have 80,000 hotel employees in 81 countries who are trained to notice signs of human trafficking and how to report it. Front desk employees look for clues such as signs of abuse or fear among potential victims; young people made up to look older; and clients who pay with cash, are reluctant to provide identification or have no luggage. Other signs are tattoos or branding, girls travelling with older men who do not appear to be their fathers, and travelers who have two different passports of origin. Employees are encouraged to ask the girl where she is going.

To learn more about these programs, visit

Jasmine Prokscha

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