And you thought they just served drinks.
When I was a little girl, whenever I left the house my mother always warned me to be careful. She was terrified of me getting kidnapped.
I would just roll my eyes and nod, promise to be good, and then presumably dash away on my bicycle singing every song from Disney's Aladdin at the loudest volume possible because I was a kid and that's what kids do.
The truth of the matter is that my mother wasn't being paranoid.
Human trafficking is the second largest (and growing) crime in the world. It rakes in over $150 billion annually, with more than 2 million women and children being trafficked to be sold as slaves or sex workers each year.
I know, it sounds like something out of a medieval history tome, but it's real, it happens, and it isn't always sketchy dudes wearing dirty trench coats who are doing the abducting.
Appearances can be super deceiving, y'all, I know of what I speak. I once went on a date with a guy who looked like a finance executive only to discover he heard voices and lived inside his car ... with his girlfriend.
Here's what got me thinking about all of this lately ...
Flight attendant Shelia Fedrick was just doing her job serving drinks and helping customers on a flight when her alarm bells went off. She spotted a disheveled and frightened woman traveling with a well-dressed man, alarms bells went off.
She noticed that whatever she asked the young woman, the man would answer. The girl seemed nervous and timid. She wouldn't make eye contact and she seemed to cower beside her companion.
After taking this all in, Shelia told the young woman to go the bathroom when the man couldn't hear. In the bathroom she found a note asking if she needed help. She answered "yes" and the police were waiting to arrest her kidnapper when the plane landed.
Shelia is a hero absolutely, but reading about this I learned that stories like this one are way more common than you might think.
Very often it's flight attendants who act as the first line of defense when it comes to identifying and rescuing trafficked people. Who knew, right?
Back 2010, American Airlines flight attendant Sandra Fiorini was so passionate about this responsibility that she testified in front of Congress about the need for more education for her fellow employees. Now, knowing how to spot, identify, and report human trafficking is a big part of flight attendants' job training.
It's because of her work that flight attendants like Sheila Fedrick are able to swoop to the rescue of the kidnapped and the trafficked.
When I'm on a plane, I usually just view the flight attendant as the quickest means of access to as many free Diet Cokes as my poor little body can handle.
The truth of the matter is that they are so much more than sky waiters.
If you want to learn more about human trafficking and what you can do to stay safe and to help your fellow women, visit Innocents at Risk for more information.