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by Paul Kiser
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Paul Kiser

Last week Steven Slater was anointed as the working person’s hero by CNN and based on Internet response it would seem that most admire this jetBlue flight attendant and his dramatic act of quitting his job over the intercom, grabbing two beers, opening the plane door, inflating the emergency escape slide, and leaping into history. His behavior was allegedly in response to a passenger that refused to listen to his order to sit down as the plane taxied to the gate, and it has somehow elevated Slater to fame and offers of mega-financial deals.

Yet, the facts indicate that he is anything but heroic, and more accurately described as an arrogant, customer-loathing, self-obsessed man who betrayed the passengers on his plane and showed how control-obsessed some flight attendants have become in putting their petty desires over customer service.

Steven Slater - It's all about him

First, the facts of the alleged incident that supposedly drove him to his tantrum are in dispute. He claims that while the plane was taxiing to the gate a passenger stood up to get his bag and that while confronting the passenger the bag came down and hit him in the head. Yet, passengers claim the injury to his head was there earlier in the flight and no one can validate his fight with a passenger. By his own admission, Slater said he has thought about doing this act for 20 years.

Also, when Slater opened the starboard door and blew the slide, the plane was at the gate with the jetway in place. If the port side external door was not open, it could have been easily opened and he could have exited without the big show that took a plane out of service….but it wouldn’t have been as dramatic.

I do not doubt that there was some incident, but it seems that the facts according to Steven Slater don’t quite match the story. If a passenger stood up and began getting his bags before the plane had made a complete stop then that passenger was certainly in the wrong, but here is the catch, flight attendants have almost unlimited authority and if there was a major issue Slater only had to report the incident and the passenger would be spending some quality time with the New York Police. The passenger has no such power over the flight attendants, so why would Steven Slater portray himself as some beaten down victim at the mercy of a passenger?

Note that Steven Slater’s drama not only disrupted and punished the passengers on his flight, but his act also affected the passengers waiting to board that plane when it left New York. The plane had to be taken out of service leaving hundreds of people stranded. Slater’s co-workers were left to clean up his mess and he is a hero? To whom? What possible positive example does this petty, childish, little boy set for anyone? That bad behavior is rewarded?

Of course there are problem passengers. I have witnessed people who are rude, offensive, and ignorant of everyone around them. I will not defend these people, but I will say that most passengers are well-behaved even when they are dealing with a ground staff or flight crew that has belittled and/or humiliated them.

What I see more often on planes is not rude passengers, but rude flight crews that revel in power over their customers. No where in the business world do employees hold more power than flight attendants have over their passengers. Bizarre rules that have no meaning are enforced beyond common sense.

My favorite rule is turning off all electronic devices. Most Southwest flight attendants use the phrase, “..anything with an on/off switch must be completely turned off.” The rationale is that electronic devices will interfere with the plane’s ‘sensitive’ avionics, which is not true. Every urban area is blanketed with cell phone towers, microwave towers, and millions of electronic devices that transmit electromagnetic signals. Below 10,000 feet are electromagnetic waves that are far more powerful than anything a passenger can carry on a plane. If there were a danger of electronic interference it is more likely to come from external signals, rather than internal signals. In addition, the FAA and the airlines have yet to re-create an avionics problem that they could trace back to a mobile phone or an passenger’s electronic device. However, every airline enforces these rules even though they are only FAA advisories, NOT requirements.

The mix of petty rules and petty flight attendants, along with airlines that see passengers as the evil that they must deal with in order to gain a better dividend for their investor has created an abusive situation in the skies and on the ground. It’s not an excuse but passengers are reacting to the way they are being treated. I don’t condone bad behavior by passengers, but I’ll be damned if some drama queen* should be glorified for being the worst customer representative in an industry that hates their customer but still wants their money.

(*I know Steven Slater is openly gay and I am not slamming gays with the ‘drama queen’ remark. In theatre, and in life, there are drama queens, both male and female, and if the shoe fits…)

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