God help me, but I found myself oddlyand not that unenthusiasticallysympathetic with one Steven Slater. He's the Jet Blue flight attendant who finally went around the bend Monday after a passenger bopped him in the head with a suitcase being extracted from the overhead. He helped himself to a beer, popped a forward emergency slide and left the startled passengers behind. In the short space of 48 hours, Slater got himself to the top of the Google news pages and has since developed a sort of cult status.
Normally, I take a dim view of celebratory elevation of miscreants to hero status, but in Slater, I think some of us feel like we're looking into a mirror. In one brief, wild-eyed, spittle-flying moment, Slater managed to distill the frustration and indignity of modern airline travel into a bold act of defiance that led the evening news. In analyzing why I felt like, yeah, I wish I could do that, I arrived at the startling reason for why I feel that way. It's because of you.
That's right, of all the insults and degradations involved in airline travel, the behavior of passengers may be the worst. Think about it. They clog up the aisles, unable to do a simple task like putting one bag in the overhead and stepping into the row. They insist on carting aboard bags that are clearly too large and then become irritated when the flight attendant has to jam up everybody else to get the bag sorted out. I'm always shocked at how many people think it's their right to stuff two bags into the overhead, denying other passengers space for even one. Some dress like they're headed for the gym and they smell worse.
And how about screeching children, whose parents make little or no attempt to soothe them or to stop the little creeps from using the back of your seat for kickball practice. Or the passengers who insist on standing up before the airplane is chocked in, despite the flight attendant's insistence to the contrary. This is apparently what tripped Slater's fuse.
Not that the airlines don't have a hand in any of this, having lately decided that passengers are actually two-legged ATM machines or worse, marks just off the bus, free for the fleecing. TSA does its bit with its mindless, robotic adherence to silly procedures that protect no one and irritate everyone. It may be the only agency in the U.S. government that has raised the inability to say "please" to the institutional level. Do you think they actually teach them that?
Each of these annoyances taken alone doesn't amount to much, but maybe in a cabin full of people, there's some weird cumulative effect that causes things to boil up unseen just beneath the surface. And guess who's going to bear the brunt of that? The flight attendants. They're the living, working face of every passenger airline and they're rubbing up against the anger, the frustration, the angst and the dissatisfaction of their customers every day. While it's true that this describes the FA's job and they know that going in, it's also true that everyone has limits.
It may just be a damn miracle that the airlines keep any of their emergency slides from popping after every flight. Maybe that argues for keeping the chilled beer closer to the door so the line will keep moving.