A Tale of Two Airline Heroes

You’ve heard about Steven Slater.

He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who got fed up, bitched out a nasty passenger over the flight intercom, grabbed two beers, then escaped via the emergency slide (the YouTube is the Taiwanese animation dedicated to his meltdown).

And he’s become the latest hero to those who are fed up with their lack of dignity on the job — or the equally large number of people who are fed up with the lack of dignity when flying.

I don’t blame people for empathizing with Slater (though I do confess to having gotten into a cursefest with a flight attendant who tried to check my bag — one of the first on the plane — because her own was taking up an entire overhead bin).

But I do find it telling given last year’s airline hero: Chesley “Sully” Sullenberger, the pilot who saved 155 passengers by successfully landing a US Airways jet in the Hudson river (note, BorowitzReport is the first person I saw make this comparison). I made the point then that the success of the landing and evacuation likely had something to do with the fact that the all-union crew and (with the exception of the Coast Guard) first responders had had years of safety training largely won through organizing.

This year’s airline hero, by contrast, works for an airline that has avoided unions.

Mind you, I’m not crazy enough to believe that flight attendants on any of America’s crappy unionized airlines have much more dignity at work, particularly in the face of crabby passengers. And the indignity of flying is pretty much universal in this country.

But it will be interesting to see what happens with Slater (who has not yet been fired from his job).

And more generally, it is a telling statement about where we are headed as a country when last year’s dramatic plane landing has been replaced by the deployment of the emergency chute by one disgruntled employee.

  1. bobschacht says:

    Part of what we’re seeing here is the transition from the good old days of air travel, when the passenger was treated as a *customer*, to the current state of affairs, where passengers are increasingly treated like cargo– to get as many packed in as tightly and efficiently as possible. If you feel like sardines in a can when you fly, it may be because you are being packed like sardines in a can.

    BTW, this is what happens when price is the primary variable of competition when you buy your ticket. If you don’t like being treated like a sardine, you can always pay for first class.

    Bob in AZ

    • Twain says:

      THe airlines certainly don’t treat passengers very well, but have you looked at the passengers lately. The last few time I traveled I was shocked at the behavior. And most of the passengers were dressed as if they were getting ready to take out the garbage. I don’t require that people be dressed in suits but it would be nice if they showered and shaved.

  2. KenMuldrew says:

    I think the White House briefing room should install a beer fridge and an inflatable slide emergency exit so that the next time Gibbs has a meltdown, he can paint it up with some style like this guy Slater.

  3. Ruth Calvo says:

    Because of extra charges to check baggage, I have recently joined a group I used to look down on, who stuff everything into a piece of luggage that then has to be shoved into limited space in competition with other passengers’ luggage in the overhead bins. I guess very soon you will hear of the lady who deployed the escape chute and pushed the rest of the passengers off. I usually try to be understanding, but this is pushing my outer envelope.

  4. posaune says:

    Good thing Slater will get a Brooklyn jury instead of a Manhattan. All the difference in the world.
    And Slater’s a pretty gentle sort, it seems — remember Bernie Goetz?

    • cbl2 says:

      it is a huge $$$ deal to blow a chute. in training, we used already inflated slides rolled up like a sleeping bag we then had to unfurl

      I shudder to think what this guy cost his crew and their passengers in delay time.

    • bobschacht says:

      $25,000 damage to the plane?

      How did that happen? When a slide deploys, does it automatically damage the plane? Or does it take $25,000 to stuff the inflatable slide back into deployable condition? And that’s considered “damage”?

      Bob in AZ

      • alan1tx says:

        The cost to replace the chute, according to the police report, is more than $25,000. Additionally, JetBlue could lose tens of thousands of dollars more, while the jet out of service for repairs.

        25 large plus down time.

        • IntelVet says:

          A blown slide can cost as much as what you say, however, nearly all slides are inspected every several years, where they are tested and inspected for wear, some parts are replaced and, for the most part, costs are basically labor and minimal.

          While 25k may be the worst case (entire slide trashed), I imagine a simple inspection and repack is all that is required in this case. I also imagine JetBlue carries at least one in stock at JFK so I would imagine a delay would not exceed an hour, it could actually be installed, if necessary, while boarding takes place (R1 door).

            • IntelVet says:

              Basic inspection of components like what you said.

              In this case, if at the gate, there may have been tearing of the fabric if it deployed onto tugs and/or baggage carts, requiring replacement. That would certainly drive up costs, but, I suspect that did not happen.

              Aside from recharging the canisters and repacking the slide, I cannot imagine anywhere close to 25k worth of costs.

              • bmaz says:

                I used to be a private pilot and have flown on airlines a lot. And have unfortunate personal knowledge of the auto airbag deployment and replacement analogy. Which is a long way of saying I don’t know dick shit. But based on that nothing, I have no doubt they can gin the total up into that range but it is substantially bogus (which never stops a “victim” of a “crime” when a claim can be made for restitution and this I am expert on). My guess would be that for 25 large you could replace the whole fucking door w/slide as a unit. And, as to “downtime”, that is also bogus, the on site repair services at major metropolitan airports are certified FAA compliance and certification inspectors, so it just does not require that much down time you would think.

    • temptingfate says:

      Maybe the airline hasn’t fired him yet while they figure out how they are going to get the 25 grand back from an unemployed guy with few prospects.

      “So what did you do at your last job?”

  5. temptingfate says:

    I’ve noticed headlines around this guy Slater but not being a TV watcher it didn’t seem like a hero story. So the popular theme now is to identify with whoever gets the loudest the fastest? If the passenger had shouted at the cranky attendant and left the plane that way, in our fear filled times, that person could be in lockup right now. I have no reason to respect a guy that knows that the airline system protects him from aggressively responding passengers and uses that to act like a combination of thug and baby.

    Personally I think the entire process of flying, including the sheep-dip lines, the searches and suspicion, make it far more unpleasant than it is worth unless I’m going to another country.

  6. Dearie says:

    I’ve flown quite a bit this summer and have been amazed by the attitudes and appearances of many of the flight crew. Bad enough that the passenger in front of me has his head in my lap. But, really, is it just too hard for a flight attendant to comb her hair before taking to the air? Sheesh. I miss the ‘fly-me’ girls who were college graduates, looked great and acted nice to the passengers! And, yes, I am a feminist and thought the labeling to be quite insulting, but flight attendants in those days just seemed to be so much more helpful and considerate.

    • BayStateLibrul says:

      Airlines haven’t been the same since dereg and the firing of the ATC’s…

      Let’s blame this baby on Ronnie Boy.

  7. AitchD says:

    On a flight from Columbus OH to Pittsburgh decades ago on a twin-engine prop, the very pleasant ‘stewardess’ asked me – insisted, actually, but gently – to please move and take a center seat, to balance the plane better. I was the only passenger. On another flight from/to the same, the plane was full. I sat in the back. Lunch was served. The plane landed before the lunches reached us. I could stay and eat or disembark.

    Anymore, too many people fly; too many people eat at restaurants; too many people go to college.

  8. onitgoes says:

    I have mixed emotions. I fly a lot, and it’s a giant pain. The majority of passengers and airline crew tend to be reasonable & do their best to be courteous to one another in unseemly and cramped conditions.

    That said, I feel like passenger rudeness is on the rise. Perhaps it has something to do with crappy tv shows that celebrate and encourage being rude, mean and nasty (or rightwing pundits behaving similarly)?? Unsure, but some passengers can be really snotty and obnoxious, and often for no really good reason.

    While I don’t think what Slater did was a good response, I can relate to his frustration. I’ve certainly experienced totally unreasonable passenger behavior on a number of occassions. And being a flight attendant is a pretty thankless job, yet they have a lot of responsibility in emergency situations.

    • Dearie says:

      I’ve actually been amazed that most of the passengers are as compliant as they are given the miserable conditions. But there always seems to be some jerk who won’t turn off his phone, or some passenger who won’t get seated in a timely fashion (probably, if I’m being fair, due to to trying to store some carry-on.) I’d rather, really, that airlines raise their rates and give better service. But I hate the new fees — $25 to check a bag, for example. Nuts! Just charge what it costs to fly the route.

  9. mocha says:

    Flying has turned into a pain. The indignity and hassle of the security check, more crowded flights, smaller seats, no standing up to go to the front restroom until the last person sits down, keep your seat belt fastened the whole flight, little food…and on and on. I gave up on trying to carry everything on. I’m getting older, I have to be able to manage for myself because no one will help you put your bag in the overhead and it’s not worth getting a hernia, I’ll risk them losing my bag. Although I don’t cheer for what Slater did, because of the damage and trouble he caused for the innocents on the plane, I think it is a cry for some relief from the hassles. I don’t know what the solution is but I don’t think air travel is ever going to go back to those halcyon days of walking right off the street to the gate with all your friends and enjoying a full meal and a snack on cross-country non-stop flight. But obeying the basic rules is a good start. Get on the plane and try to sit down quickly. Read the emergency card. Find your exit. Turn off your stuff. And don’t stand up and try to get your bag out of the overhead until you hear the “ding” or get the high sign from the flight attendant. It’s for your safety. Whether you like it or not, you are part of a group. Everybody has someplace to get to. You’re not the only one. For both flight attendants and customers – show some basic human respect to each other. Say please and thank you. Some of the nicest flights I’ve been on are on Southwest when the flight attendants use some humor. I will admit, I’ve experienced long in-terminal delays, but never more than an hour on the tarmac. [/rant]

  10. Dearie says:

    I’d love to visit an airplane museum just to remember what leg room looked like in the 1960s. I’d probably weep.

  11. AitchD says:

    ew, your take (e.g, the lede) shows a take something like Philip Roth’s – an as-yet indescribable wit well beyond the ironic. It would be great, after world peace is achieved, and after Cheney goes to prison, and all the other ills are redressed, if you could find some time to write a novel.

  12. cregan says:

    Sulley’s only come up rarely, so a comparison is a bit tough. Especially since comparison to nearly anyone would come up short.

    I hope the attendant doesn’t get any serious legal trouble. The chute deal was a bit over the top, but maybe understandable. Apparently, the passenger was getting up to get their bag before the plane had come to a stop. Who likes to be abused while they are working by people who think their ticket gives them the right to batter the workers “because they paid for it.”

    I wouldn’t say a union had any impact either way. Some would say union protection gives employees the feeling they don’t have to give anyone (customers or management) any more than the most basic kind of service.

    Today, we suffer from a very bad lack of customer service mentality by people who think their job is owed to them and a corresponding lack of manners by customers (who maybe are just at the end of their rope due to lack of any real service). Not many care about the needs of anyone that isn’t them.

    Lots of people who care about the needs of some remote, amorphous group of people, but not the person standing right in front of them.

    • IntelVet says:

      Today, we suffer from a very bad lack of customer service mentality by people who think their job is owed to them and a corresponding lack of manners by customers (who maybe are just at the end of their rope due to lack of any real service). Not many care about the needs of anyone that isn’t them.

      As an airline employee, I really take exception to this statement. With a few outliers, everyone I work with are well aware that most passengers are naive about the airport environment and bend over backwards to compensate. I, personally, intervene with those few who do not. Not a one thinks their job is “owed to them”. Ever. Nearly every one is acutely aware they could be on the street in a New York minute, especially with a five time DUI champ for a CEO and mental retarded sand people for middle management.

      Sorry for the rant.

      • cregan says:

        Listen, I feel your pain. That’s why I said I don’t think the FA should get any serious penalty. I give him the benefit of the doubt.

        But, on the other hand, there is plenty of indifferent service out there.

        By the way, I love flying. I’ve always had good experiences with attendants. I’ve had some problems with other passengers, but for a hundred people packed in tight quarters (not a natural state of being), they mostly do pretty well.

        Let me revise my statement. Just a ball park opinion, but I think about 60 percent of those serving the public give decent service. 20 percent give excellent service and about 20 percent serve themselves. But, those 20 percent give the rest a black eye.

        • IntelVet says:

          No pain here. Airlines are a perfect example of an unregulated industry.

          But, those 20 percent give the rest a black eye.

          Indeed. and it is not always the same 20 percent. :-)

    • tejanarusa says:

      Oh, I like that one. Hope Jenny doesn’t have trouble finding a better job. AT least she got the satisfaction of quitting for a good reason.

      Oh, and re: flying: I really feel for flight attendants. Getting banged on the head just had to be the last straw for Slater. I love that he grabbed the beers on his way out. Yeah, deploying the chute was over the top, and has consequences he wasn’t considering (or caring about). So, mixed feelings. But, having once quit a semi-piddly temp job after my bitchy not-boss-but-thought-she-was sniped at me one time too many (during my divorce, move, and lots of generally tension-inducing stuff) by standing up at my keyboard, turning off the computer, and declaring (yes)
      “I don’t have to take this. I QUIT.” (Yes, I said it in all caps), snatching up my stuff, and marching out.

      While the said not-my-boss sputtered and yelled imprecations after me, along the lines of “you can’t do this! You’ll regret it!”
      Nope, never did. Really, really enjoyed doing it, too.

      Oh, and fly Southwest whenever possible. It’s packed, but the crew usually has a sense of humor, and before I gave up and checked my bag last trip, there was always a gentleman to help me lift or lower the bag from the overhead. Oh, and I checked the bag because…no baggage fees!

  13. alan1tx says:

    Slater’s Story Raises Suspicion

    Passengers: JetBlue Attendant Never Argued With Anyone

    Some hero.