In the cult 1997, Quentin Tarantino hit, Jackie Brown, the namesake star of the movie played by Pam Grier, was a tired and fed-up flight attendant, smuggling cocaine and thousands of dollars in gun money for a criminal gang. The plot might sound far-fetched but as a series of recent incidents prove, the reality is closer to fiction than you might think.
Flight attendants are some of the most trusted professionals in the aviation industry – they’re given privileged access by the airlines they work for and very often are allowed to travel without any checks by security or customs staff.
No wonder, Jon Hughes, operations manager at the UK’s National Crime Agency (NCA) recently called corrupt flight attendants “very dangerous people”. Hughes was talking about the latest flight attendant who has just been jailed for trying to smuggle £100,000 of Heroin into the United Kingdom.
Zohaab Sadique was a flight attendant at the premium airline, Emirates, based in Dubai. At least, he was until January 2017, when he was caught by customs officers at Manchester Airport in the North of England with the stash of drugs hidden in his cabin bag.
Sadique had taken advantage of his knowledge of the airline industry and security systems in order to transport the drugs all the way from Pakistan. It’s believed the 30-year-old Sadique had picked up the drugs on a flight returning from Pakistan after bent cleaners strapped the drugs to the side of a bin in one of the plane’s lavatories.
Managing to get through customs and immigration in Dubai, Sadique then stashed the five clear bags of brown powder into his cabin bag for the flight to Manchester. The corrupt flight attendant was only caught when a random check using sniffer dogs unearthed the heroin-stuffed bags behind his seat on a crew bus.
Unfortunately for Sadique, surveillance cameras on the coach showed him remove the drugs from his bag and then desperately attempt to hide them. He was sentenced to eight years in jail after he pleaded guilty at Manchester Crown Court.
But Sadique isn’t the only flight attendant who has been up to similar antics of late. Only a few days ago, an unnamed member of Singapore Airlines cabin crew was arrested at Indira Gandhi International Airport in New Delhi. Believed to be a senior steward for the airline, the cabin crew member has been accused of trying to smuggle 1,048g of gold into India.
The heavy gold chain and bangle were allegedly worn by the steward under his clothing in an attempt to avoid detection. Worth around $50,000 USD, officials claim the smuggler would have been paid just $400 for doing the criminals dirty work.
Then there’s the recent case of a Jet Airways flight attendant who has been caught trying to illegally smuggle $500,000 USD into Hong Kong. What’s even more remarkable in this case, is that the shocked flight attendants expression was caught on video as the money was discovered by security staff.
The 25-year-old flight attendant was actually stopped before boarding the flight – staff found wads of $100 bills wrapped in aluminium foil in an attempt to avoid detection. Unsurprisingly, the flight attendant was arrested and has been sacked by Jet.
And in a more dramatic and Hollywood-esque incident, a JetBlue flight attendant was found trying to smuggle 60 pounds of cocaine in her carry-on in March 2016. The drama unfolded at LAX, the same airport used by Jackie Brown, and when TSA foiled the smuggling operation, the flight attendant flung off her Gucci heels and made a dash for it.
The hot heeled smuggler managed to evade law enforcement and was only brought to justice when she eventually handed herself in.
Why and how these flight attendants got involved in such criminal behaviour in the first place remains a mystery. Whether they were just greedy or being taken advantage of by criminal gangs we don’t know.
Of course, airlines are slightly to blame as well. Many carriers allow their flight attendants to bypass security screening and customs regulations. In Dubai, the government has only just passed a law requiring background checks to be carried out on flight attendants.
After this latest spate of incidents, flight attendants worldwide can probably expect to be subjected to a little more scrutiny.