Ian Anderson 4 p.m., Dec. 21
I hate to fly. I used to like it, but now it is an exercise in trying to achieve Ghandi-like transcendence above the desire to kick someone in the ‘nads. So, imagine my delight today when I opened the paper to read that JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, after encountering the ghastly typical passenger flying these days, “snapped”. There are a couple different versions of the story floating around, but according to Mr. Slater, this is what actually happened.
Two female passengers got into a fight over the overhead bin space, and during the ensuing tussle, Mr. Slater was struck in the head, either by a piece of luggage or the door to the bin. Apparently this is what passes as tolerable behavior now that airlines are desperate for positive reviews, as normally you would think this charming display of incivility would, in the past, been grounds for ejection from the plane. Think again. Well, one of these classy travelers was required to check her bag, and when finding out upon landing that said bag was not immediately available to her, became enraged and unleashed a barrage of profanity at Mr. Slater. When Mr. Slater, who to this point had been attempting to avoid conflict with her asked for an apology, she told him to “go f yourself” and called him a “mother-fer”.
Mr. Slater proceeded to the intercom, thanked those who in the last 20 years had shown dignity and respect and told the rest “that’s enough!....go f*** yourselves”, plus a few more choice words. He then activated the emergency evacuation chute at the service exit, grabbed a beer from the beverage cart, and slid his way to what is inevitably going to be much more than 15 minutes of fame.
Flying used to be fun, but even before 9/11, business travel to the extent we encounter it now has soured the experience. When I used to fly in the ‘80s, everyone was on their way to having a good time, and it showed in the attitude of the passengers. It was mostly adults, because parents did not take their toddlers with them on vacation. There were the occasional business travelers, but now everyone has a laptop and an agenda. I have encountered the rudest, most insufferable jerks imaginable while en route, them pushing me down the aisle as I look for my seat, or taking all the overhead space because they are far too important to wait for luggage. I always check my bag. It’s just too hard to deal with people trying to trample you as you attempt to squish your bag into the dinky compartment already overstuffed with duffle bags. I actually once had a guy sitting next to me watch porn the entire flight on his laptop, only finally shifting his screen when I gave him a dirty look.
Mr. Slater is being arraigned on charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment, both felonies. I wonder if these charges will stick, given that he is turning into an overnight sensation, a kind of poster boy for the downtrodden, the “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” American who can no longer stand the arrogance of the so-called paying customer who “is always right”, who abuses that privilege to the point of physical altercations. At what point do you finally say “take this job and shove it”? I mean, do you have to let people scream at you and possibly hurt you in order to keep your job these days? I hope Mr. Slater gets his appearances on Oprah and Ellen and David and Jay and gets to tell his side of the story. I hope he does not receive too much negative press, although like I said, that does not appear to be the case. There has been one account that when he was arrested he appeared to have been having “sexual relations”. Guy doesn’t waste any time. Well, whatever. I’m sure all kinds of stuff is going to come out about him, but I’m glad he got his beer and his 15 minutes.
Some may be appalled at Mr. Slater’s behavior, considering that these are the folks who we entrust our lives with when hurtling through the air at 30,000 feet, and professional behavior in the face of such outbursts from unruly passengers is the expected protocol. I cannot imagine having the tolerance to deal with angry passengers everyday, all day, for my entire career, in a space that can best be described as suffocating. The overcrowding, the crying babies, the kids, the sick people, and this new breed of person with the “don’t tell me what to do” demeanor. Flight attendants are dealing with more and more hostility from passengers as their rudeness and ignoring or outright defiance of directions from the flight attendants escalates. We worry about passengers snapping. I say if the passengers don’t start behaving and acting like adults, we may have a different person to worry about. And maybe next time, that person won’t wait until the plane is on the ground.