The person who has received America’s attention and collective fascination this past week was Steven Slater – that Jet Blue flight attendant who wigged out, cursed a passenger, grabbed a couple of beers, and slid down an emergency exit slide in New York.
I’ll confess – my first thought was “he’s my hero!” Anyone who has dealt with the public (waiters, flight attendants, civil servants, customer service reps, etc.) has had days when they wanted to do what he did, even if just for a second. We’ve all thought that we were about to reach our limit, and that we might just feel better if we told a customer/co-worker/employer exactly what we thought of them.
But Slater didn’t just say “take this job and shove it.” No, Mr. Slater went out with a lot more style. First, he cursed the passenger who supposedly offended him. Then he thanked other passengers who were more pleasant. Then he grabbed a few brewskies (perhaps not his first beers of the day from the sounds of it), deployed the emergency slide, and leapt out of the plane. I mean seriously – the movies couldn’t have designed a funnier way to go! And after all this, he headed home, where he was ultimately arrested.
This scenario is one of those things most workers only dream of. We sit at a bar after work and laugh about all the ways we could tell off our customers and walk off the job. “One of these days, I’ll tell a customer to make their own stupid ‘not-quite-but-almost-rosy-pink-in-the-center’ hamburger!” “I’d love to be able to start cursing back at these customers who think they can just scream at me over the phone!” “If the boss tells me one more time that I’m not making quota, I’m going to tell him to do the job himself and see how he does!”
As long as it remains just cocktail talk for a few laughs with friends, it’s healthy venting. I don’t think any of us actually considers following up on our daydreams of going out with a splash. Most of us are mature enough to understand the consequences of those actions. Laughter and camaraderie relieve the stress of dealing with the public these days. And when we relieve the stress, we can keep doing our jobs.
At first I was shocked to read some of the online comments from flight attendants regarding how they have been treated by passengers. What on earth gives passengers the perception that they have free rein to curse at, yell at, laugh at, or throw things at a flight attendant? They’re just trying to do their job. But they are increasingly performing that job in a volatile environment. And flying can bring out the worst in people.
Air travel can bring even the nicest, most pleasant people to the edge of their nerves these days. Remember when flying used to be a glamorous way to travel? Today, the first line you hit is checking in, and it doesn’t even end with speaking to a smiling ticket agent anymore. Now you wait and drag your bags along through the roped-off zigzagging line, only to have someone point you in the direction of a machine – get your own damn ticket from the kiosk, thank you very much. You pay for your checked bag, knowing that your carefully packed clothes are probably going to be rifled through and left in a tangled wad in the suitcase as they check for dynamite residue of whatever.
Then you march to the next long line, where you have to take off your shoes, take off your coat, take off your belt and jewelry, pull out your laptop, pull out your baggie with all your 3 oz. liquid bottles inside, and march through a metal detector, only to have to put all those clothes back on and repack your bags at the end of the line with plastic bins full of everyone else’s belongings rolling at you at high speed.
By now, you and your fellow passengers are getting grumpy in a hurry (and not just the cranky Boomers!). You’re tired, hot, hungry and thirsty. And you still have to find the right moving sidewalk (aka: conveyor belt) to get yourself to the proper gate. The passengers who didn’t give themselves enough time to get through the torturous lines are now sprinting down the moving sidewalks, careening into people as their wheeled baggage bounces along behind them. I once let out a “Hey!” after some guy almost knocked me over in Detroit, and instead of an apology I got a “Kiss my ass!” in response. Nice.
Don’t even get me started on airport food, with few exceptions. Washington International has a Five Guys burger joint that’s terrific (but you’ll be facing yet another line). Charlotte has a nice assortment of places, and they have those great rocking chairs sitting all over to rest in if you have the time.
When you’re finally ready to get on the plane (if it shows up on time, if the crew is ready, and if the weather is cooperating), you’re back in line again. Even with assigned seating, it’s a rush to board, because everyone wants to grab the overhead bins for their enormous carry-ons. Now that checked baggage has a fee, people are getting ridiculous with their carry-ons. You can tell that some of these things weigh fifty pounds or more. Despite the airlines’ best efforts to show the maximum size, everyone pushes the limit. And heaven forbid if someone has to be stopped from taking their carry-on onboard with them – then the real battles begin.
So yes, I guess I can see how passengers might be tempted to take their many frustrations out on flight attendants, even if it is the wrong thing to do. And I can understand how flight attendants can look so haggard at the end of a shift. They’ve been dealing with our vitriol all day (or night) long. It has to take a toll.
It’s fun to laugh at Steven Slater’s meltdown, but we all know his response to the situation was really immature, and he’ll have to face the consequences for his actions. He’s not really a hero – he’s just someone who’s in a situation that we can identify with in these stressful times.
I always try to be polite when traveling, but I know I don’t always succeed. The next time I travel, I will make a serious effort to be more kind to my flight attendants and fellow passengers. A few more smiles and laughs might go a long way towards relieving the tension of air travel, and if we all give it a try, the skies might start being more friendly again.