09 September 2010

Treat everyone with politeness, 
even those who are rude to you--
not because they are nice, 
but because you are. 

When Steven Slater delivered his parting shot at the rude, annoying passenger and then slid down the emergency chute with a couple of bottles of beer in hand, he probably lived out many a flight attendant's darkest fantasy and provided them with a guilty, vicarious thrill, even though it's clear the airport, the police, and the JetBlue management are taking a decidedly dimmer view of his antics. Slater's become an Internet sensation for having allowed his temper to boil over at a passenger during what started out as a routine taxi across the tarmac.

By all accounts, the passenger Slater chewed out over the intercom system was indeed a problem--she'd been in an earlier altercation over overhead bin storage, she refused to stay seated until the plane stopped moving, she opened an overhead compartment and could have hurt others sitting nearby if the luggage she was after had shifted, and the coup de grace--she cursed at Slater after he tried to stop her and ended up cutting his head with a corner of the bag she she was trying to maneuver.

Irrespective of anything else--costs, safety considerations, security breaches, and the like--I'm just stunned by the overall incivility of the incident. When did air travelers decide that it's okay to treat the people paid to assist in ensuring their safety badly? I don't need to repeat what the passenger called Slater here, but had those four syllables been aimed at me, I'd have been enraged, too. Something inside Slater snapped. After more than two decades of flying with increasingly hostile, nasty, and unheeding passengers, he'd had enough, and dropped his smile and solicitous manner to strike back.

I've been on flights with people who are like the woman with the luggage. It's like they travel in some extra-dimensional space where nobody else exists. They're too busy making sure they're comfortable and have what they need to notice that there are other people around waiting for their seats, some overhead storage space, a cup of coffee, or a pillow. With these people, you can expect delays and aggravation at every step of the journey--they have difficulties checking in ("What do you mean, I have to pay extra for 200 pounds of luggage?" or "What do you mean, the plane is full and I can't change my seat assignment?"); they expect flight attendants to disregard the rules as they enter the plane ("This isn't really a carry-on bag--it's my makeup case!"); they cannot stow their gear and seat themselves in fewer than five minutes; they either chat during or ignore completely the pre-flight safety instructions; they behave like Mexican jumping beans hopping in and out of their seats all through the flight, even when flight attendants are pushing carts through the aisles; and when the flight ends, they jump up one final time and clog up the aisles for another five to ten minutes while people must wait for them to re-orient themselves to reality.

Worst of all, though, are the passengers who do all the above, and complain loudly to anyone who will listen (in a plane, it's a relatively captive audience) about the poor quality of everything, including the flight attendants. These passengers want everyone to know how special they are, and how deserving of better treatment.

JetBlue and Slater have parted ways. Passengers no longer have to worry about being chastised for being nasty.

Excuse me. I think I should call my broker and invest in rail, boat, and bus companies. Chances are pretty good that the skies won't be friendly any time soon.


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