January 25, 2023
Director of Government Affairs, Delta Air Lines
Director of International Relations, The Houston Airport System
Christopher R. Bidwell
Senior Vice President, Security, Airports Council International - North America
International Vice President, Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO
Senior Adviser, COR III, Blue Lightning Initiative, U.S. Department of Homeland Security
During a panel at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Transportation Sector Efforts to Combat Human Trafficking event, aviation experts discussed how they are spreading awareness on how to stop trafficking.
Airports Must Train Personnel to Spot Signs of Human Trafficking
Houston airports are among the first airports to initiate an MOU (Memorandum of Understanding) with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign and the U.S. Department of Transportation to train employees and vendors on trafficking indicators.
Scott Alexander, director of international relations for The Houston Airport System, said that the airport system has trained over 28,000 people in about two and a half years. “We have a very simple way to do that, and that’s through our badging system. If you’re an employee at the airport, no matter what entity, you have to have a badge.”
He also noted that the airport’s 1,200 employees are required to participate in web-based aviation security training.
Human Trafficking Initiatives Must Start From the Top Down
Skiffington Holderness, director of government affairs at Delta Air Lines, said that for anti-human trafficking initiatives to be successful, they must start from the top down. “At Delta, we have been blessed that in 2011 our CEO decided to jump into this cause with both feet, and it’s been helpful to us as an organization as we combat human trafficking.”
Delta implemented Blue Lightning computer-based training to help frontline employees identify and report potential cases of human trafficking and, guided by Polaris, created mandatory anti-human trafficking training for flight attendants. More than 56,000 employees worldwide have been trained to remain alert to possible trafficking situations in airports, on flights, and in their communities.
Further, Delta has partnered with nonprofits to empower survivors, and “this is something that our company cares about at our very core,” Holderness added.
Flight Attendants Are Among the Key Stakeholders to Report Signs of Human Trafficking
Keturah Johnson, international vice president for the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, said that flight attendants are among the key stakeholders that have pushed for changing the paradigm in the transportation sector.
She said, “Training is in place for more than a hundred thousand flight attendants, and I think it’s important to know that all of us, when we travel, can also be eyes in the skies.”
In 2018, the International Civil Aviation Organization published guidelines for training cabin crew on identifying and responding to trafficking in persons. According to Johnson, flight attendants fight every day against human trafficking and will continue to do so.
The ACI-NA Is Leading the Charge to Help Its Member Airports Fight Human Trafficking
Christopher Bidwell, senior vice president of security at Airports Council International – North America, mentioned that the association joined the Blue Lighting initiative (BLI). The initiative, led by the U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) and U.S. Customs and Border Protection, is an element of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Blue Campaign. BLI trains aviation industry personnel to identify potential traffickers and human trafficking victims and report their suspicions to federal law enforcement.
“It’s been encouraging to hear about the resources that airports are putting in place because that’s the message that we’re getting back from our member airports,” said Bidwell. “As an organization, we are a signatory to the pledge of Transportation Leaders Against Human Trafficking.” The DOT pledge calls on industry leaders, among others, to join the agency in committing to employee education, raising awareness, and measuring collective impact.
It Can Be Difficult to Spot Human Trafficking in Rural Areas
Individuals tend to perceive that human trafficking is a big city problem where illegal activity is easier to slip under the radar at busy transportation hubs. Melanie Herman, director of corporate security at Cape Air, said, “Smaller rural areas can be just as impacted by human trafficking—if not more so—due to community perception that this type of thing couldn’t happen where they live.”
She explained that human trafficking can happen in any geographic location. “Rural and remote areas often have higher rates of poverty, fewer employment opportunities, and higher rates of drug use. It’s even more challenging when communities don’t recognize that this problem really exists.”
Herman said that Cape Air has invested in personnel training to help the airline recognize and report this heinous crime. “Training is required of all of our passenger-facing personnel, crew members, and airport services agents on the front line, and we are now working to extend it as an annual requirement for our city ticket office agents and all central reservations personnel as well as at regional carriers.”