An Anonymous Flight Attendant's Take On Jet Blue Folk Hero Steven Slater
by Dan Savage
on Tue, Aug 10, 2010 at 1:21 PM
I have a good friend who's a flight attendant. I asked him what he thought of Steven Slater and he agreed to let me post his response to Slog so long as I left his name and airline out.
As a flight attendant, I'm very curious about the passenger involved. What happened to her? Why isn't her name, MySpace page, photos, and family history all over the Internet? If the story most outlets are reporting is correct, this woman broke a federal law—twice. First when she disregarded the captain's seat-belt sign, and second when she refused to comply with a directive from a member of the flight crew.
If this woman was up before the seat belt sign was removed, it was clearly a safety issue that a flight attendant should have addressed, even more so if she was removing a bag from the overhead bin. If you've ever had to stop your car short at a stop light, you know how people and objects can go flying forward. That force increases exponentially when you go from a two-ton car to a twenty-ton steel tube; when planes stop short people and objects can and do go flying. Being up and out of your seat before the safety brake gets set is not just a physical threat to the person who's moving around, but also to all the people around that he or she could fall onto or into.
It is this physical threat that makes staying seated when the seat belt sign is on a FEDERALLY MANDATED SAFETY RULE. And yes, there are many of these rules on a plane, regarding all kinds of things. Turning your cell phone off. Bringing your seat back up. Pushing your purse under the seat in front of you. And it's important to note that just because passengers don't always bother to understand the reasons behind these rules, that doesn't mean they aren't valid. Flight attendants are not making these things up, we're not asking you to follow these rules just for our own amusement, we really couldn't give a shit about your purse, what's in it, who designed it, how much you paid for it, etc.
Flight attendants spend time making announcements—the vast majority of which are ignored—and then issuing reminders to people. We are always telling people they must be seated and not using the lavatory when the seat belt sign is on. (Again, flight attendants really don't care when you urinate. Really, really don't. We may not understand why you didn't use the bathroom—the much bigger, much cleaner, much better-smelling bathroom in the airport BEFORE you got on a plane with 137 people and two lavs each the size of a postage stamp, but that was your call and we're fine with it.) So when flight attendants make a PA announcement that the seat belt sign is on, and the captain has requested passengers remain seated and respect his infinitely stronger knowledge of both aviation safety in general and today's weather/flying conditions in particular, it is hoped that people will do so.
But many people do not. Which puts flight attendants in a terrible position. In addition to be be there for your safety, the vast majority of flight attendants want to be there for your comfort as well. We want happy passengers. Happy passengers make our jobs easier. (Sleeping passengers even more so.) The vast majority of us really want you to enjoy your flight, and will do what's possible within the rules (of the FAA) and the regulations (of The Company) to ensure that. However, some situations are such that flight attendants are forced to step in and enforce a rule, either for a person's own safety, the safety of someone else in the vicinity, or to maintain the integrity of the flight deck door. Which mostly boils down to having to tell a passenger not to do something they want to do.
Now on to poor Steven.
The rest of the anonymous flight attendant's email after the jump...
It's impossible for anyone not on that flight to know what really happened in the specific incident, and perhaps more importantly what led up to it. Had he and the passenger already had words during the flight? Was this an ongoing tug of war that started with one thing, escalated to another, and climaxed at the gate? Did she purposefully hit him with his bag, or was it accidental? If it was accidental, did she see no need to apologize (despite it being the civil thing to do) because it was, in fact, an accident? Did she call him a homophobic name? If he was hit in the head, how hurt was he? Could the combination of a concussion and racing adrenaline have affected his judgement?
How many days had he been out on this particular trip? How had the other passengers on this flight been? Was the hotel provided by JetBlue the night before decent? He works for a company with no union, and it's no secret in the flying community that non-union flight attendants don't feel that their companies will back them up. It's also being reported in the NYTimes that after taking care of his dying father, Steven is now responsible for helping his dying mother.
So it sounds as though this poor shmuck had just had enough, was just mad as hell, and didn't want to take it anymore. Good for him. But while I applaud his using the PA to deliver his expletive-laden rant (not really), and have absolutely no problem with him taking the beer as his parting gift (some guys get golden parachutes, others get golden hops), his deploying of the emergency slide is completely indefensible. There are all kinds of dangers associated with launching one of those slides, not the least of which is to the people on the ground. Someone on the ground could have been severely hurt, even killed, if they happened to be under that slide when it deployed. And there are all kinds of people—and vehicles—around a plane as it comes into a gate: ramp agents, maintenance personnel, plane provisioners, fuelers and fuel trucks, luggage carts.
Secondarily, though probably less important to most people's way of thinking, is the cost and inconvenience of this action. Those slides are like the airbags in your car: they're used once, and they're done. And also like your airbags, they're incredibly expensive. More irritating, at least to the people on the next flight, is that the plane had to be taken out of commission, at least for the rest of that day. That plane was supposed to go places, people had tickets and schedules, and that was shot to hell. I'm sure the plane had to be photographed and investigated by the FAA and the NTSB, meaning it couldn't be moved until their their investigations were satisfied, which takes a gate out of commission for (probably) a day (at least). At a busy airport like Kennedy, that's a huge issue that creates a domino effect.
I'm heartened by all the popular support out there for this guy. It seems many people realize what we do as fight attendants, and what we have to put up with. A vocal minority, however, have been saying that putting up with rudeness or disobedience or just inconsideration from passengers—rudeness directed at the crew and other passengers—is just part of the job, and flight attendants knew that when we signed up. Many of these people also argue that flying today is so horrible, what with small seats, smaller legroom, added security, overhead bin space constraints, that flight attendants should expect poor and abusive behavior from passengers. I would respond by with essentially the same argument:
Small seats, little legroom, security, overstuffed overhead bins: You knew all of that when you signed up. When you bought your ticket, you had a rough sense of what size an airplane seat is, how much legroom there would be, how much carry-on luggage you would be permitted. Air travel allows the average person to travel huge distances in a short time and at (mile for mile) very little cost. But if you don't like the rules, and if playing by them makes you unhappy and violent, take some other mode of travel. You can drive, you can take a bus, you can take a train.