Delta and United flight attendants reveal how they spot victims of human trafficking

Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty ImagesFlight attendants are trained to spot victims of human trafficking.
  • About 460,000 victims of human trafficking were identified between 2012 and 2018, according to the US State Department.
  • To combat this issue, airlines in 2016 began training flight attendants to identify signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking.
  • Five flight attendants and Brady Byrnes, the managing director of flight-service recruitment, training, and administration for American Airlines, described to Business Insider eight ways that flight attendants are trained to spot victims of human trafficking.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

About 460,000 victims of human trafficking were identified between 2012 and 2018, according to the US State Department.

To combat this issue, airlines in 2016 began training flight attendants to identify signs that a person may be a victim of human trafficking.

Of course, it’s important that flight attendants not profile certain kinds of passengers or put themselves in danger, Brady Byrnes, the managing director of flight-service recruitment, training, and administration for American Airlines, told Business Insider last year.

“We don’t want to put our flight attendants in any harm whatsoever,” he said.

If they suspect a passenger may be a victim of human trafficking, American Airlines flight attendants are trained to report their concerns to the flight’s captain, who can contact the airline’s system-operations-control employees to find out more about the backgrounds of the potential victim and his or her companion, like if they have one-way tickets, Byrnes said.

Byrnes and five flight attendants described to Business Insider eight ways they’re trained to spot victims of human trafficking. Four of the flight attendants asked for anonymity because of a fear of reprisal from their employers.

If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking, you can call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888.


A young passenger and an adult are travelling together but don’t look alike and don’t have the same last name.

Shutterstock/Ruben M. Ramos

Sources: A flight attendant for Delta Air Lines and a flight attendant for United Airlines who spoke with Business Insider on condition of anonymity


A young passenger is travelling without luggage.

Leonhard Foeger/Reuters

Sources: A Delta flight attendant on condition of anonymity, Brady Byrnes


An adult travelling companion does not allow a young passenger to place a drink order or talk to the flight attendant about where he or she is travelling.

Robert Alexander/Getty Images

Sources: A Delta flight attendant, a Spirit Airlines flight attendant, and a flight attendant for Envoy Air who spoke with Business Insider on condition of anonymity, Sally Ann MacLagan (a flight attendant for Mesa Airlines), Brady Byrnes


A young passenger is constantly being watched by an adult companion.

Source: A Delta flight attendant who spoke with Business Insider on condition of anonymity


When asked about his or her trip, a young passenger’s answers frequently change.

Richard Baker/In Pictures via Getty Images

Source: Sally Ann MacLagan


A young passenger’s hand stays very close to an adult’s hand, possibly concealing a handcuff.

Source: Sally Ann MacLagan


A young passenger won’t acknowledge or make eye contact with the flight attendant.

Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Sources: A flight attendant for Spirit Airlines, a flight attendant for Envoy Air, a flight attendant for United Airlines who to spoke to Business Insider on condition of anonymity, Brady Byrnes


A young passenger can’t go to the bathroom without being accompanied by an adult.

David Becker/Associated Press

Source: A flight attendant for Spirit Airlines who to spoke to Business Insider on condition of anonymity

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