A father who was traveling on a domestic flight with his daughter was mistakenly suspected of human trafficking by American Airlines flight attendants.
Francisco De Jesus told King 5 News that he was flying from Seattle-Tacoma Airport (SEA) to Charlotte Douglas North Carolina Airport (CLT) with his 13-year old daughter in early May 2023 to celebrate his eldest daughter’s graduation.
According to De Jesus, he got up to use the lavatory during the flight and when he returned to his seat he noticed that his daughter was wearing wings, given to her by flight attendants.
De Jesus’ daughter said that she was asked by flight attendants questions like where she was going and who she was going to meet.
De Jesus said he did not think much of it until they arrived in North Carolina where they were greeted by several officials. One of them introduced himself as the head of security for CLT airport.
De Jesus and his daughter were questioned in detail by security where father and daughter were told that flight attendants are trained to look for signs of human trafficking.
“They were very professional. They saw the situation for what it was immediately,” De Jesus told King 5 News.
“My question that I would like to have answered is how did they get to label me as a human trafficker? I had my iPad; we were watching a movie. She had her phone. I mean, these are things that I thought a dad and a daughter traveling would do,” De Jesus added.
American Airlines eventually reached out to De Jesus, and issued the following statement to King 5 News about the incident.
“Our frontline team members are trained to navigate a variety of safety issues, including recognizing the potential signs of human trafficking. We strive to create a positive, welcoming environment for everyone who travels with us and apologize for any misunderstanding that may have occurred.”
Human trafficking: A real issue recognized by IATA
According to DeliverFund, a company that creates technology to fight human trafficking, the United States ranks as one of the worst countries in the world for human trafficking, with an estimated 199,000 incidents occurring annually.
The number of reported cases, however, is much smaller.
Worldwide, the International Air Transport Association (IATA) recognizes that human trafficking is the fastest growing and second largest criminal industry in the world.
A 2022 report by the International Labour Organization (ILO), Walk Free, and International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimated that in 2021, about 50 million people were living in modern slavery in 2021: 28 million in forced labor and 22 million trapped in forced marriages.
In 2018, a resolution denouncing human trafficking was passed at the IATA General meeting.
The resolution reaffirmed IATA airline members’ commitment to several actions to help counter human trafficking:
- Sharing of best practices
- Staff training
IATA offers free training and guidelines for front-facing airline employees to spot behaviors consistent with trafficking situations and report their observations to the authorities both at airports and during flights.