THE WORKING STIFF – By Darren Garnick
The Boston Herald
August 11, 2010
Prediction: The stressed-out flight attendant who swore at JetBlue passengers, grabbed two beers and plunged down the inflatable escape hatch on Monday will sign a reality show deal by the end of the week.
Steven Slater pulled a “Snagglepuss” at New York’s JFK International Airport. Remember that pink mountain lion in the Hanna Barbera cartoons who darted for the nearest door whenever things spun out of control? “Exxxxxit – Stage right!”
Based on the preliminary press reports, this temper tantrum seems justified.
After JetBlue flight 1052 from Pittsburgh landed, Slater asked a passenger to sit down and not remove anything from the overhead compartment until instructed to do so. The passenger refused to budge and (accidentally?) struck the flight attendant in the head with his luggage.
Slater asked for an apology. An argument ensued and the passenger dropped the F-bomb. After serving the profanity back on the airplane’s intercom, Slater switched on the emergency slide, jumped out and fled to the terminal. According to the NY Daily News, he later gleefully ripped off his uniform necktie on the parking lot shuttle – a symbolic gesture of freedom.
As of yesterday morning, Slater’s fan page on Facebook had more than 50,000 friends. He is facing criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing charges, with a potential sentence of up to seven years in jail.
The foul-mouthed flight attendant certainly did damage to the JetBlue brand – at least for the parents with young children on the plane – but his hissy fit was hardly an “endangerment” to the passengers’ lives.
Here’s the moral of the Steven Slater story: The customer is not always right.
JetBlue has a Customer Bill of Rights – enacted after an inexcusable incident a few years back when passengers were stuck on the runway for 11 hours in an ice storm – but the company needs to stick up for its employees when the customer goes bezerk.
Slater was extremely proud of being a flight attendant. His MySpace page is a virtual JetBlue fanpage with a world map of where he’s traveled, and photos of him smiling with his ID badge and showing off a model airplane. He also jokes that in a “former life,” he was actress Karen Black, who played the head stewardess in the kitschy disaster movie “Airport ’75.”
Career satisfaction erodes rather quickly when you’re verbally abused and smacked in the head. Just for doing your job.
Slater says his hero is Uli Derickson, the flight attendant credited for saving passenger lives in 1985 during the hijacking of TWA Flight 847. That attack resulted in the murder of U.S. Navy diver Robert Stethem, whose body was callously dumped at the Beirut airport by Islamic terrorists. But Derickson was able to calm the hijackers’ rage with her soothing personality and prevent further bloodshed.
We know that Slater is no Uli Derickson. And that his luggage dispute was no international crisis. But nevertheless, this hothead is now a hero to demoralized flight attendants – and customer service workers — everywhere.
Don’t we all sometimes wish we had a bouncy slide solution to our problems?
Darren Garnick’s “Working Stiff” column runs every Wednesday in the Herald. Check out the Stiff blog at http://www.bostonherald.com/blogs