Wednesday, August 11, 2010


A wing and a spat

Yesterday, I made a flippant reference to an incident on JetBlue on Monday, in which a flight attendant went postal.[1] It does sound silly, but, really, the incident could use a little closer look.

The flight attendant, Steven Slater, got involved in a tiff with a passenger, who apparently disobeyed significant flight crew instructions (one violation) and hit Mr Slater with his bag (possibly an accident, or possibly assault, a second violation). Instead of apologizing for the whack, the passenger “cursed at” the employee.

That’s the point at which Mr Slater lost control, berating the passenger on the plane’s p.a. system, announcing his resignation to everyone, deploying an escape chute, and sliding out on it.

Haven’t we all wanted to do that, or something like it, at one point or another?

He was arrested at his home in Belle Harbor, Queens, a few miles from the airport, and charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.

“When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds,” a law enforcement official said. “If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed.”

In a statement, JetBlue said it was working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to investigate the episode. “At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk,” the company said.

OK, I know the airline has to make quite sure this sort of thing doesn’t happen, and treating it too lightly might encourage other employees to behave in kind. Mr Slater should clearly be sacked, though that hardly seems to matter, given that he’d already said au revoir. But arrest him? Please, “reckless endangerment” seems quite a stretch. And the two quotes above are contradictory, one saying that someone could have been killed and the other saying that no one was ever at risk.[2]

And why was Mr Slater arrested, and not the passenger, who, as I noted above, committed at least one infraction, and maybe two? By all accounts, it’s the passenger who was the truly nasty one in this incident.

But we’re far too quick to go arresting people lately, especially with regard to anything involving air travel. We need some perspective.

Then we have this:

The episode is the latest round in what is seen as an increasingly hostile relationship between airlines and passengers.

Uh-oh. There’s that unattributed passive voice that NY Times standards editor Philip Corbett often complains about. Who sees it that way, exactly? Let’s be specific, here. The examples they give are a couple of the sort that we can expect every now and then. I haven’t been hearing of a spate of bloodletting on airplanes, and we all know that luggage gets damaged here and there. An occasional case of employees involved in a theft ring isn’t surprising either.

I dare to think that an increase in complaints posted to the Internet might simply be due to more people posting things to the Internet over time, what with the ubiquity of Twitter, Facebook, and various blogs. And let’s be realistic: when someone creates a web site called, what do we expect to see there, in large quantities?

But here’s a telling statement:

While JetBlue’s flight attendants are not unionized, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, Corey Caldwell, said anxieties were common on planes. “Anyone who has traveled since Sept. 11 understands that being in the cabin is stressful these days,” Ms. Caldwell said.

Hm, and whose fault is that? It’s more stressful than it needs to be, because of our overreactions to imagined threats. We’re dealing just fine with idiots who attempt to detonate their shoes and their underpants, without a need to be either overbearing (the flight crew) or rebellious (the passengers). Everyone just needs to recognize that the stress is self-generated, and calm down and lighten up.

I do a lot of travelling by plane, and that’s how I see it. I’m not stressed. It’s all OK. There’s no reason for either side, here, to let its collective blood pressure get out of control.

[1] OK, not “postal”, exactly; he didn’t pull out any weapons. I’m taking some liberty here.

[2] We could take it as creative wording: maybe the only people “at risk” were airport employees, who might have been on the ground, but who aren’t “customers or crew members”. Still....

1 comment:

Katie said...

There are times when I'd like to dramatically quit my job, but I don't because I haven't won the lottery. I understand the groundswell of support Slater is getting because I doubt there isn't one person who hasn't encountered rude behaviour. BTW, the passenger was a woman, not that that matters.