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According the official website of Homeland Security, “Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including right here in the United States.” Aviation has facilitated and continue to facilitate the human trafficking industry leading to an Aviation Security issue in the U.S. and other parts of the world. Therefore, this research paper aims to investigate the extent of and provide possible solutions to the security issue.

To test the hypothesis that human trafficking is an ongoing problem with regards to aviation security, secondary data will be gathered using various scholarly sources. This information will then be analyzed to determine the threat to aviation security, and recommendations will be provided to minimize or eliminate any ongoing threat.


This project’s topic is human trafficking in the airline industry. According to the United States Department of Justice, trafficking can be defined as: “the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, or obtaining of a person for labor or services, through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of subjection to involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, or slavery. (22 U.S.C. § 7102(9)).”  To put it bluntly, it is a form of modern day slavery. It is one human selling another human against their will. 

The main reason for researching this topic is due to the increasing problem caused by human trafficking which is partially facilitated by the aviation industry. According to Johnson, the human trafficking industry is “tied with arms dealing as the second largest industry in the world”(Johnson et al, 2019), providing $150 billion per year in profits. It is one of the fastest growing criminal enterprises, with the drug industry, in the lead. Overtime, the industry has become more efficient with the developments in aviation. The aviation industry continues to grow overtime, ensuring seamless traveling from place to place. Even as aviation security continues to grow and strengthen, so does trafficking. The seamlessness achieved has made it faster and safer to distribute humans for ill purposes throughout the world.

Human trafficking has been around for centuries.  And in more recent times, ever since air travel came into popularity, it’s become easier to transport victims. Before commercial flights became popular, it would have been next to impossible to transport a victim from one country to another. Now, however, it’s extremely easy to traffic internationally. Surprisingly enough, most airline trafficking incidents happen in the biggest, busiest airports, right in plain sight. It is important to talk about this issue because of how much of a problem it is. The aviation industry makes it extremely easy for traffickers to transport their victims without getting caught. And once that victim leaves the airport, their chances of being rescued are reduced significantly. 

According to Lee, human trafficking is “an area which, in the last decade have attracted a great deal of attention” and has caused “numerous policy interventions to curb traffickers, to facilitate international cooperation, to prevent these criminal activities, and to assist victims” (Di Nicola, 2013). The main issue with human trafficking is the ability to accurately spot its existence in a crowded traveling environment such as an airport, aircraft, or other such places.Since TSA comes into such close contact with so many people each day, there is not nearly enough training enforced to airline employees to recognize and stop trafficking.  Even in the busiest, most secure airports in the world, human trafficking goes unnoticed far too easily. These perpetrators take advantage of the “hustle and bustle” of the airport environment, which is what makes it so difficult to see what’s truly going on. After reading an article written by flight attendant Juliana Peteni on usfca.edu, it became clear just how important proper training is. To summarize, a flight crew noticed a group of kids and two adults who looked suspicious. The children were all wearing color coordinated, similar outfits. The “mother” followed the teenage boys everywhere, even into the bathroom. When the flight attendant suspected something was up, she went up to one of the kids and tried to create any kind of conversation. She asked if the boy wanted any soda, to which the boy looked solemnly at his mother and shook his head no. Once the family deplaned, they were questioned. The parents could not prove that the kids belonged to them, and each child said a different last name. They were arrested, and the children were brought to safety. If the flight attendant had not noticed something unusual was happening, who knows what would have happened to the children. Traffickers often make it impossible for victims to speak up, whether that be by emotional or physical abuse. Incidents like these prove the importance of research, and why it is so crucial to provide a better understanding of the tendencies of both the trafficker and the victim. Human trafficking, more often than not, is especially difficult to spot. 

The industry has noticed the large impact it has on human trafficking and has started employee training to curb its effects. According to INFO 19002, a document released by the Department of Transportation, they have partnered with the Department of Homeland Security to create the “Blue Lightning Initiative (BLI)”. “ The BLI training includes common indicators of human trafficking that aviation employees may encounter, and provides aviation employees with in-flight and on the ground methods to report suspected trafficking to law enforcement officers” (DOT, 2019). Thus far, the DOT has over 100,000 trained employees under the Blue Lightning Initiative to spot the occurrence of human trafficking and report it to Law Enforcement Officers.

Research has shown that 68% of human trafficking victims are trafficked for labor, 22% for sex trade, and the last 10% may be found in State Imposed labor, military, and paramilitary forces. With that said, before it reaches this level, it can be prevented earlier in the process. According to the Blue Lightning Initiative, human trafficking in the aviation environment can be noticed by “individuals not controlling their own ID or travel documents, having restricted movements, lacking knowledge or logical means of reaching their final destination, non-genuine relationships, particularly between child and guardian, being told not to speak or appearing coached on what to say, appearing fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous, and being threatened with harm” (Johnson et al, 2019). And these are just a few. However, this training has began over one year ago and the human trafficking industry still hasn’t been impacted as expected. Therefore, more research needs to be conducted, individuals need to be trained more proficiently, and more awareness needs to be made to involve the traveling public in mitigating the effects of this crime.

In the future, we believe that research and the development of more initiatives will aid in mitigating human trafficking. The general public is currently becoming more aware of the issue, and with encouragement and more awareness, will be willing to intervene in such issues. Additionally, research will present more ways in which traffickers can be spotted and captured and laws to further deter these criminals can be established.

As hopeful future airline pilots, we as a group know that we have a duty to protect our passengers. In fact, it can happen to any one of us or our relatives and we may be the ones responsible for facilitating it. Therefore, it is of utmost importance; a top priority, to spot and stop human trafficking. So, to ensure the safety and well being of each individual, we must understand the severity of human trafficking, and how easy victims can slip through the cracks if not noticed. We are hopeful that as time goes on, and training improves, the airline industry will better adapt to overcome such a serious problem in today’s day and age. 

SWOT Analysis

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