Thursday, August 12, 2010

Come (Sit Down, Shut Up, and) Fly With Me

By now, most of us have read about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who recently snapped after one rude passenger too many, got on the microphone and opened up his mind to the rest of them, and took the emergency chute out the door, straight into the arms of fifteen-minutes of fame. That, and he was arrested. What may have cost him his job made him a hero to others of the trade, including Bobby Laurie*, who expounds on their sentiments for The Daily Beast:

I remember landing in Key West, Florida [when] we deplaned, cleaned the cabin (that’s right, sometimes we’re the cleaners, too) and started to re-board the aircraft. I was working in the front, and the captain called me into the flight deck. Apparently there was a problem with our brakes and it wasn’t safe for us to fly the aircraft until it was fixed. I got to break the news to the full flight. People began screaming at me instantly. One passenger yelled at me that he had a meeting to get to. I would have liked to snap back, “Would you like to get there alive?” But I just smiled and said sweetly, “I’m so sorry. Hopefully they can fix this fast.”

What is missing from these stories, and others like them, is not how rude customers can be. Anyone in a service-related business can identify with that scenario, including those who stay on the ground. But both Time and Newsweek had cover stories on the discourtesy of the airline industry in the summer of 2001. Then came 9-11, and with it, the get-out-of-jail-free card to treat every passenger as a mass murderer just waiting for a reason. Imagine a complete stranger, with a very broad definition of "probable cause," having the license to go through your personal belongings, including those items you would just as soon most people not see (which is why we used to call them "unmentionables"), without ever being allowed to intervene. Those on the receiving end are made to feel like Jews trying to get out of Austria in 1938. What if the official breaks something? Do you really think his supervisor is going to be quick with an apology and an offer to compensate? You know better. So do they.

In the summer of 2003, I drove to the airport the day before leaving, and showed my portable guitar to the check-in desk, to confirm that I could indeed take it on the plane and store it in the overhead compartment. Think I was going to take chances with those crazy baboons in the luggage department? No sir! Seven years later, with even tougher restrictions, I'm not so sure that would be enough of a precaution. But I haven't flown since, and I avoid it whenever possible.

This is a message to flight attendants everywhere: Slater is not a hero. He's just another guy who got pissed off at his job serving customers, only with the luxury of doing it colorfully. You have people with loaded guns and the Patriot Act on your side. Your passengers have a destination, and have already spent two or more hours trying to get there, without ever leaving. They are running intolerably late, and are completely at your mercy. Some of them may act like jerks, and they really shouldn't, but they've already met even bigger ones by the time they get to you.

Now, where are my damn peanuts?

UPDATE: Allahpundit of offers his usual stunning analysis, as well as what may be the rest of the story. Click here, and let the snark-fest begin.

* Author of a blog entitled "Up Up & A Gay." It always has to be about that, huh, guys?

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