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These Flight Attendants Who Fight Human Trafficking are the Real Heroes of Super Bowl Sunday



In the lead-up to Super Bowl LI, the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots are training and preparing exhaustively for the big game in Houston. But last week, a group of around 100 flight attendants undertook a much more important training for this weekend–to identify and assist victims of human trafficking.

Airline Ambassadors is a nonprofit which, in addition to many other services, offers training to help airline employees recognize and rescue human trafficking victims on their flights. They organized a training session in the Houston area to prepare local flight attendants for what they might encounter during Super Bowl weekend.

The two-day training included victims’ testimony and a primer on the signs that a passenger may be trafficked: frightened, nervous demeanor; a travel companion who doesn’t seem related to them and insists on speaking for them and handling their ID; a drugged or bruised appearance. The flight attendants then practiced their skills in Houston’s crowded William P. Hobby Airport.

Perhaps most importantly, the training teaches flight attendants how not to engage with a problem. Instead of confronting the trafficker themselves, they are supposed to alert the pilot, who will call ahead and arrange for authorities to meet the plane when it lands at the destination.

“We tell people not to try to rescue because you can endanger the victim and yourself,” said Nancy Rivard, the founder of Airline Ambassadors and a former flight attendant herself.

Andrea Hobart, an Airline Ambassador trainer and current flight attendant, said, “It’s the difficult part [of our training], but once we report it, we’re supposed to let it go. Even though it’s hard to let it go, you transfer it into the hands of the authorities, and they’ll pursue the case.”

I had personally never heard of Airline Ambassadors before, and I was excited to read about their program. However, as the Daily Dot points out, events-specific trainings like these can help to reinforce some of the myths around human trafficking. There is plenty of debate about whether large events actually cause an increase in human trafficking, and focusing on them can divert attention from the persistent, daily trafficking that takes place in cities across the world.

For instance, California just rescued dozens of victims and arrested hundreds of perpetrators in a human trafficking sweep, and there was no big event to precipitate that investigation or the activities of those trafficking rings.

Still, with all the type devoted to speculation about ads, movie trailers, game stats, and gambling, it was hard for me to be annoyed at an article that acknowledged one of the tragic human costs of America’s most commercial national celebration.

(Via NBC News and The Daily Dot; image via screengrab of a report on Airline Ambassadors’ past trainings)

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