I'm not among those who consider JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater a folk hero for his imaginative — if not exactly daring — escape from a jetliner and one particularly unruly passenger last week. This guy is not exactly Sully Sullenberger.
Yet, I have to admit that in the world of gray sameness that commodity airline travel is, Slater at least dished up a dollop of much-needed color.
New York Times columnist Michael Wilson captured the essence of the event on Tuesday in his "About New York" column: "How thrilling the ride off the back of a jet and down that inflatable emergency slide must have been ... cold beer in his hand, wind in his hair, the seat of his JetBlue uniform gliding merrily toward the runway. Woo-hoo!"
Woo-hoo! indeed, although Slater's cry might sound more like "Wah-wah!" en route to a prison term if federal authorities have their way.
Hero? Hardly. But I do consider Slater a victim. During my last dozen or so flights, I have noted a disturbing collapse in passenger civility when dealing with flight crews and an increased flouting of rules and procedures.
On one recent flight, a passenger in my row was still talking on her cell phone as the plane lifted off from the runway, despite three warnings from a flight attendant to turn off the device.
Each time she was warned, the woman pretended to comply but pulled out the phone, still connected, and continued her conversation as the attendant passed on down the aisle.
As the plane took off, she shouted to whoever was on the other end of the line that she was going to have to hang up now because the engines were so loud she couldn't hear anything.
I have seen flight attendants berated for the taste and temperature of the water they served, for not leaving an entire can of soda instead of pouring half a can into a cup of ice, for the pitiful quality of the in-flight snack and for not allowing one passenger to move to an exit row seat that was empty because no one had wanted to pay the premium to sit there.
Sure, some of those same things annoy me and other passengers, but there are civil ways to articulate one's displeasure, and haranguing an attendant isn't one of them.
It's not surprising that passengers snap. Between being herded, probed, prodded and insulted by TSA goons and being nickel-and-dimed to death by airlines, passengers seem angrier than ever.
Carry-on luggage problems are the most recent source of friction between passenger and attendant, as was apparently the case on Slater's JetBlue flight. Charging for checked bags has changed the whole carry-on game and exacerbated passenger frustration no end.
Unfortunately, passengers take out that anger on the only visible representative of the airline with whom we come in contact: the flight attendant.
Given the abuse passengers dole out to them, I'm not surprised that Slater went AWOL; I'm surprised some attendant hasn't yet gone postal. Thank goodness they have to pass through metal detectors to get to work.
And let's be honest: How many of us would take a ride down an inflatable emergency slide on some particularly frustrating workday if our employers provided them?
— Rob Fixmer