Who among us has not been on the losing side of a battle with a customer or a boss? Yesterday, a new hero emerged for the put upon service industry. One Steve Slater suffered the indignity of one too many nasty customers and decided to do something about it.
Steve was a JetBlue flight attendant on a short trip landing in New York. As the plane approached the gate, a passenger decided her time was more valuable than that of anyone else on the plane and she rose from her seat. When asked to sit back down, she refused. At this point various accounts of the story diverge but either she pulled luggage from the overhead compartment that struck Mr. Slater on the head, or the head strike occurred earlier in the flight. Suffice it to say, this woman was making Steve’s day a living hell. She added insult to injury by cursing Steve out.
That’s when Steve Slater transformed from the-customer’s-always-right servant to a justifiably pissed off human being. Steve took to the plane’s PA system and cussed out the pain in the ass passenger and then depending on which version of the story you read, either thanked the rest of the passengers for a great 20 years OR simply said “there goes 20 years of my career”. With that he deployed the emergency chute on the plane, and with a couple of beers in hand, took his leave.
When I first heard this story yesterday my reaction ranged between mild amusement and mild disapproval of Steve Slater’s behavior. However, after hearing more of the story today, I’ve become quite the fan of Flight Attendant Steve. I was reminded of the now accepted practice in movie theaters of the audience getting up and leaving as soon as the credits start rolling. When I was growing up, that simply wasn’t done. You sat and watched the whole damn film. But now everyone has “somewhere to go” and “no time to waste”. The film industry’s response is to occasionally put a blooper reel during the closing credits, or have one final zinger after the credits have stopped. I’m always pleased when this happens because I know that all the important people with places to go have missed a great punchline.
This behavior on planes is the same thing. Everyone is just so important with such important things to do. Even in the case when you are worried about missing a connecting flight the simple fact is you can’t get off the plane until it comes to a stop and the doors open. Getting out of your seat before the plane even gets to the gate makes no sense other than that it gives you a misplaced sense of “readiness”. When flight attendants remind you to follow the rules, you should follow them. Unfortunately, the rude passenger in this incident was only guilty of rudeness according to the police. I’d like to see her arrested for interfering with an airline crew member.
Steve Slater not only flushed his career down the toilet but he may very well face prison time. While unfortunate for him, it provides catharsis for the rest of us who have witnessed self-centered customers treat service industry workers like scum. For just a few moments as Steve slid down that plane chute, it was servant: one, snotty customer: zero.
An Alaska Postscript
While filming her reality series, Sarah Palin ran into a disgruntled Alaskan. In the midst of the to and fro between them, Sarah offered the usual platitudes about her defense of America and puzzlingly seemed to mock the fact that her interlocutor was a teacher. So, as usual, I give Sarah a C- for content. But in this case, contrary to some of the expert political pundits on TV, I give Sarah an A+ for political courage. In the age of Sharron Angle when you can call a press conference and then not take any questions from the press, the fact that Sarah not only didn’t avoid this unhappy Alaskan but actually engaged with her on camera shows some serious, as she would put it, cajones. For those who take her “folksy charm” at face value, this was a winning moment for Mrs. Palin.
Yesterday marked the sad end to a life of service that had seen some rough times recently. Former Alaskan Senator Ted Stevens, authority on the “series of tubes” known as the Internet, died in an Alaskan plane crash. Some 30 years ago, Stevens had survived a plane crash in which he lost his wife. It makes one wonder if the man was just cursed. More recently, Stevens ran into ethical problems in the Senate and then lost his seat in an election. Steven’s ethics violations were dismissed by Eric Holder who cited prosecutorial misconduct. Loyal readers of this blog know that I always felt Stevens got a bum deal especially in light of his advanced age and years of service. May the longest-serving Republican Senator rest in peace.