When three young women and a man boarded his flight, Wesley Hirata just had a bad feeling.
The seasoned flight attendant, who has been with Hawaiian Airlines for the past 16 years, was concerned when he noticed an older man walking onto the plane with three young women. They didn’t seem like they belonged together.
While this usually wouldn’t be cause for concern — families come in all different shapes and sizes, after all — Hirata couldn’t shake his instincts.
He talked to the group (though what he asked wasn’t specified) and still had more questions. So he spoke to his fellow attendants, and they decided to check the manifest. What they found was shocking: All three women were traveling under the same name. One of them, reports state, was visibly underage.
Hirata communicated with authorities, who met the plane when it touched down in Honolulu. After questioning, it was determined that what Hirata had reported was a case of human trafficking.
Hirata is one in a long line of flight attendants who have saved the day.
In 2011, Sheila Frederick stopped such a crime on an Alaska Airlines flight from Seattle to San Francisco when she noticed a well-dressed man board with a disheveled girl.
When the man wouldn’t let Frederick speak to the child, the flight attendant left a note for her in the bathroom, asking her to indicate if she needed help. Soon after, the young passenger took Frederick up on her offer, Frederick radioed for help, and the young girl was saved.
In 2015, Congress made it mandatory for flight attendants to be trained in spotting human trafficking. Airline Ambassadors International — a nonprofit made up of airline employees who “travel to make a difference” — holds a yearly seminar on trafficking for flight personnel on an annual basis. And the Association of Flight Attendants, a union with over 50,000 members, has also made stopping the horrible crime of human trafficking an integral part of its mission.
Human trafficking is a global crisis we can all work to end.
According to UNICEF, there are approximately 21 million trafficked people all across the world. 5.5 million of those people are reported to be children. It’s not just a crime; it’s a business that brings in billions of dollars a year. And that means it’s up to all of us to fight to stop it.
So what can you do if you’re on a flight and are concerned that someone might be in trouble? “Trust your gut and prior experience [and] report the situation without alarming or confronting the passengers in a suspicious manner,” Hirata told KITV 4.
Of course, that doesn’t mean you can or should report everything you find suspicious — we’ve all got to think critically and everyone’s got biases — but we should all keep an eye out for signs of trafficking in our communities.