A view from Dave Trott: Fly the friendly skies
A view from Dave Trott

Fly the friendly skies

Shelia Frederick had been a stewardess on Alaska Airlines for ten years.

That day, she was on the Seattle to San Franciso flight.

She noticed a girl, about 14 or 15, travelling with an older man.

Nothing unusual about that.

Except the girl was dishevelled with greasy unkempt hair, while the man was very well dressed.

Shelia offered the girl a drink.

The girl just looked down and shook her head.

The man said: "She doesn’t want anything."

Later, Shelia asked the girl if she wanted anything to eat.

Again, the girl just looked down and shook her head.

The man said: "I told you, she doesn’t want anything."

Shelia was pretty sure the girl was terrified of the man.

The girl wouldn’t make eye contact.

The man wouldn’t let anyone speak directly to the girl.

So Shelia asked another stewardess to distract the man.

While she did, Shelia motioned to the girl to go to the toilet.

The girl asked the man if she could, the man stood up and allowed her out.

Then he followed her to the toilet.

When she got there, it was occupied.

Shelia said "Here, use the crew’s bathroom" and unlocked the other toilet.

The girl went inside, the man waited outside.

When the girl came out, he walked her back to the seat, making sure she had no chance to communicate with anyone.

But inside the toilet, Shelia had taped a message to the mirror asking the girl if she was in some kind of trouble.

Shelia turned it over, on the back was written "Please help me".

Shelia told the captain what was going on.

The captain radioed ahead to San Francisco.

When the plane landed, Shelia asked the passengers, over the loudspeaker, to remain seated while the crew took care of a situation.

Then the police boarded the plane and took the man and girl away.

The man was found to be trafficking in humans and the young girl was one of his victims.

Many months later, Shelia got a phone call – it was from the young girl.

She began crying and thanking Shelia for saving her.

Shelia asked the girl how she managed to contact her.

The girl said, on the plane, she saw the number on Shelia’s stewardess pin and wrote it on her hand.

It was that important to her.

That young girl is now in college.

When Shelia was asked what exactly made her take action, she said she couldn’t say.

She said it was just intuition, something just didn’t seem right.

She just felt something was wrong.

And Shelia’s old-fashioned intuition is what saved that young girl and helped break a human-trafficking ring.

Not technology, not big data, not algorithms.

It was old-fashioned human intuition that worked.

Feelings and intuition, which is something machines can’t do.

But in the rush to make everything automatic and numbers-based, we seem to have thrown intuition away.

We prefer machines interacting with machines, instead of humans interacting with humans.

Dave Trott is the author of Creative Mischief, Predatory Thinking and One Plus One Equals Three.