Jet Blue flight attendant Steven Slater made news yesterday when he exited a plane via the inflatable exit chute following an altercation with a passenger. According to the New York Times “the passenger cursed at Mr. Slater, he grabbed the intercom, cursed her out, bid passengers goodbye, grabbed a beer and activated the inflatable exit chute.” Slater’s court appointed lawyer says the passenger was physically and verbally abusive to Slater at the beginning of the flight.
You can read the full story here and here.
The details are still a little murky, but it sounds like the passenger was out of line, Mr. Slater got fed up, and split. Really it’s a surprise to me that this hasn’t happened before. I wonder, to what degree do we hold the airlines responsible for this? Granted, two individuals lost their temper here but are the airlines at fault as well, for creating a poisoned atmosphere around their service experience?
Americans have come to expect the worst out of their air travel experiences. Flights are delayed, equipment is broken, both dignity and luggage are lost and hidden fee’s are incurred at every turn. Yes that’s a bit dramatic but really people remember the bad experiences, not the good ones.
At the same time, flight attendants have been forced to become their employers thugs, keeping the angry masses at bay and completing what often feels like a bait-and-switch transaction between the airlines and their customers. The end result is that passengers and service providers could lose it at any moment. Yesterday they did.
So, before Jet Blue turns on its PR team and starts dropping boat loads of cash into advertising campaigns stressing just how level headed and calm they are, they might want to make some substantive moves towards improving what is currently a broken air travel experience. They could hire some more staff, invest in some conflict resolution training, or just give everybody a beer and let them exit down the slide. Whatever they settle on, they’ll have to do more than try to talk themselves out of the situation, or point fingers at angry passengers and unstable employees. The only real solution is to make air travel sane again.