A wingtip and tail section of Delta Air Lines’ new A220 aircraft is seen on Monday, Oct 29, 2018, in Atlanta. Curtis Compton/ccompton@ajc.com

Opinion: Delta’s effort to fight human trafficking

I started my career at Delta as a flight attendant in 1985. It wasn’t until nearly three decades later that I was exposed to the reality of labor and sex trafficking.

My husband received a call one evening from an employee living here in Atlanta. Frantic, she explained that her daughter was missing. Days passed before they were able to find her teenager; once they found her, she had suffered such abuse it was too difficult for her to return home.

That night, the issue of human trafficking came to life in my living room. And “25 million victims in the world” stopped being just a number to me. They became real people, with real families and real stories. As a mother myself, I’ll never forget the fear in that woman’s voice when she was unable to find her child. I asked myself, “how can I help?” The moment is forever etched into my memory and has fueled my passion.

I now lead Delta’s charge as chair of our Executive Steering Committee Fighting Human Trafficking, in addition to my role as the airline advocate on the Department of Transportation’s National In-Flight Sexual Misconduct Task Force.

Delta’s commitment to human trafficking came when we became the first airline to sign ECPAT’s Code of Conduct in 2011. That decision set the tone for our industry and grew into a leading position among global corporations in combating exploitation. As an airline serving over 300 destinations and 200 million customers each year, no one is better positioned to carry this fight across the world than Delta people.

At Delta, we have the privilege of letting human trafficking survivors’ stories guide our journey. In partnership with Atlanta’s Wellspring Living, we have created an apprenticeship program that offers professional development opportunities for survivors. It offers career skills, mentorship and critical experience in helping them make the journey from “survivor” to “thriver.” Beyond building resumes, Delta creates a space where survivors are treated as equals. We keep their history private so these women can trade the identity of human trafficking survivor for new titles: specialist, colleague, friend.

I’m also motivated by the passion of Delta people for this fight. For example, one of our apprentices was exposed to Delta long before she walked through our doors. She was still living the life of human trafficking when one of our flight attendants, Tammy, used her spare time to become her mentor. The woman confided in Tammy, who then connected her to Wellspring, which eventually placed her at Delta. Our fight against trafficking is driven by people at every level of the company.

Delta’s #GetOnBoard campaign tackles human trafficking from angles including developing strong partnerships, training employees, volunteering, engaging customers and lobbying for legislation.

Delta works with local, national and international organizations leading the fight. We have committed $2.5 million to the anti-trafficking experts at Polaris, in support of the U.S. National Human Trafficking Hotline. They have seen a 36 percent increase in contacts from victims since Delta’s original donation.

In partnership with Polaris, we’ve developed training for Delta employees to identify and report human trafficking. Delta has now trained over 86,000 people, aiming for the remaining 4,000 to complete by mid-year. And we have used the input of survivors and data reflecting common trafficking scenarios at airports to inform our program.

As a member of First Lady Marty Kemp’s Georgians for Refuge, Action, Compassion, and Education Commission, I am honored for our training to now be included in the official state training.

I urge you, as Georgians and Americans, to get involved. Consider taking the training yourself. If you’re flying Delta, learn more by watching our in-flight entertainment awareness video. Donate your miles to Polaris at Delta.com/Skywish, providing airfare for survivors to receive critical services or reunite with their families. So far, Delta and our customers have donated over 9 million miles, providing over 100 flights to survivors.

Delta’s 90,000 employees are committed to the fight, but with millions of lives at risk, we cannot afford to waver on the issue. And we will never win this battle alone.

On behalf of our entire family at Delta, we urge you to take action and #GetOnBoard.

Allison Ausband is Delta Air Lines’ senior vice president—in-flight service.

Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.

Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.