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Jet Blues

Jet Blues

The Jet Blue flight attendant fighting for his 15 minutes of fame—and who could have easily killed anyone standing beneath that exit chute he triggered—will undoubtedly make the rounds as the cotemporary symbol of the movie Network’s Howard Beale (“I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take it any more!”). He probably has an agent by now. As we mistakenly applaud his “fed up as an art form” behavior, I wonder how many other people will vent their spleen despite the danger: a police officer who shoots a jaywalker; an air traffic controller who directs two planes into each other; a nurse who starts pulling out feeding tubes?

Will they all go on Oprah?

What we’re actually seeing is a huge case of being in denial, coupled with redirected anger, supported by massive narcissism.

In an age where everyone has the opportunity on social media platforms and via instant recordings to publicize their every shrug and moan, we all take on an exaggerated feeling of self-importance, a belief that our own common, human travails have a genuine gravitas and must be seen by everyone as especially important and due for instant remediation. This guy engaged in a juvenile temper tantrum with adult repercussions and many people are applauding him for the retrogression.

He’s an ass.

Flight attendants will tell you that they are there for our safety. But they are also there for our comfort, and that is the preponderance of their actual work on most flights. I fly only first class, and the level of service is fine about 75 percent of the time domestically (about 90 percent on foreign carriers). It’s a tough job when an airline like American has removed everything from pillows for your head to olives for your martini in the name of profit. I look back there in coach, especially on long trips, and I wonder why all those people aren’t violent at any given time.

On one Spirit Airlines flight, the attendant raced down the aisle—she had not heard the bell indicating we were permitted to rise—screaming at people to sit back down. She had also threatened to call security at the departure gate when I had my feet on the bulkhead, which she claimed was “unsanitary.” When I pointed to a woman across the way with her feet up, the flight attendant just stomped away. (She had apparently overheard me on the phone with my wife explaining I’d be late because the airline had had such a sloppy boarding process, and she took umbrage.) I couldn’t understand how this kind of inappropriate reaction was missed by her supervision. There are almost always early signs.

The latest iteration of our personal, too-public Facebook soap boxes appears to be the right to “vent” and express our perceived victimization at will. We’ve morphed from “The customer is always right,” to “The customers are a royal pain, why do we need them?”

There is no question that airline management, with the exception of the likes of Gordon Bethune or Herb Kelleher, has been as dimwitted as can be in good times and bad. They don’t treat their employees very well as a rule, and the working conditions have degraded as much for cabin and flight crews as they have for passengers, maybe worse. But I don’t attack flight crews because the airline isn’t giving me a meal during a three-hour fight, or the seating area is too cramped, or the lavatory is filthy. I deal with it.

I’ve been hit by passenger luggage, and I’ve hit passengers with my luggage. Stuff happens. Some people are civil, some are rude. Such is life on a public conveyance. I’m not especially trained to deal with it but we all seem to use our common sense and persevere. Those passengers trapped for hours on hot planes where the authorities were too stupid to let them off didn’t hold the crew hostage, though I don’t believe any jury would have convicted them if they had. They complained, but they acted rationally. They didn’t trigger the escape slides and raid the liquor cart, though they easily could have.

This flight attendant with his beer slide and YouTube hits will be glorified for just not being willing to take it any more. And that will enable the next person with little self-restraint, a poor self-image, and total self-absorption to push it one more level. Probably, someone will be hurt.

That’s worse than a crime. It’s ignorant. And you’re an accomplice if you support it.

© Alan Weiss 2010. All rights reserved.

Written by

Alan Weiss is a consultant, speaker, and author of over 60 books. His consulting firm, Summit Consulting Group, Inc., has attracted clients from over 500 leading organizations around the world.

Comments: 8

  • August 11, 2010

    Well stated Alan.

  • Gretchen

    August 12, 2010

    I like your thoughtful post. There is bad behavior by passengers and flight attendants alike. The reason is the cramming in of so many bodies, like sardines almost, into such a small space. As you pointed out not everyone reacts irrationally under such conditions but it is true that the percentage of people who will behave badly will increase as space decreases. And as you alluded to, those who have more space like in first class, are less likely to lash out.

    As the lion says in the short claymation film “Creature Comforts” by Nick Park, “I need my space!”

  • Alan Weiss

    August 12, 2010

    Well said, Gretchen. Since we all know that, it’s unfortunate that both passengers and cabin crew don’t always deal with it better.

  • Daniel Rose

    August 13, 2010

    Very well put, Alan. In any case, the room inside a domestic airliner practically ensures contact with other passengers luggage. It’s difficult to avoid in such confined space. Maybe we need to start getting flight attendants to undertake confined space permit certification!

  • Alan Weiss

    August 13, 2010

    There is commentary today from other passengers that the flight attendant may have actually started the argument. I wouldn’t be surprised if the entire episode was planned. He wants his 15 minutes. He ought to be jailed or we’re going to see a YouTube outbreak of this stuff.

  • August 13, 2010

    I make a point of being overly nice to airline employees. A little discussion and a lot of thank you’s go a long way. I’ve received many “perks” including an upgrade for my son (who probably shouldn’t have got an upgrade).

  • Alan Weiss

    August 13, 2010

    That’s pretty good advice to get good service anywhere. I carry rewards cards that American and USAirways give me because of my status. I give them out whenever I encounter excellent service and they are clearly greatly appreciated.

  • Tim Wilson

    August 14, 2010

    Alan,

    Let me start out by saying this guy was and is a jerk.

    The unintended consequences of his actions will have repercussions on his fellow flight crew. According to other accounts he was behaving like the backend of a mule throughout the flight. If the passengers noticed it then his crewmates must have also but chose to ignore it. It may be conjecture on my part, but I have to believe he was complaining throughout the entire flight to any of the flight crew that would listen.

    His story is unraveling. Reports are coming out that he was the aggressor.

    I agree with John about being overly nice to airline employees. When I use to travel it always worked for me and it got me an upgrade to first class a couple of times.

    As I said he was a jerk and that’s what I wrote in my blog.

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