Tuesday, August 10, 2010

“Take this job and shove it” — a man, his meltdown, and yet another lesson about the evils of government deregulation

I can’t help but grudgingly admire Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who on Monday had just about damn enough.

Evidently, some self-entitled passenger got up and started taking his luggage out of the overhead compartment of a just-landed plane at Kennedy Airport in New York—before being told it was safe to do so. The bag fell from overhead. It bopped Slater. (In TV footage this morning Slater appeared to be sporting a raw-looking bruise on his forehead.)

A gorgeous rage—and a grand gesture

Irked so badly that it sounds like “pissed off beyond repair” to me, Slater got on the intercom and evidently chewed out the passenger in profane language. Then, possibly realizing that he had just blown his career anyway, he opened the emergency escape chute, grabbed a can of beer (some reports say two cans), and slid down the chute. Once on the Tarmac, he made his way to the parking lot and drove home. It's the best heroic flight story since Hemingway, if I remember correctly, slashed his way out of the jungle from a planewreck with a machete in one hand and a bottle of gin in the other.

Yes, yes, I know Slater's behavior was very dangerous to passengers as well as Slater. Yes, yes, it no doubt slowed returns home and takeoffs for uninvolved passengers on JetBlue and other airlines. Yes, yes, according to the news reports what Slater did was a crime. Yes, yes, he wildly overreacted.

And yes, yes, having flown a number of airlines, Jet Blue among them, I consider that airline among the best of a really and truly bad lot, which is about as backhanded as I can make that compliment.

All the same, Good for you, Steven Slater.

As New York Times reporters Andy Newman and Ray Rivera said in their lede this morning:

It has been a long time since flight attendant was a glamorous job title. The hours are long. Passengers with feelings of entitlement bump up against new no-frills policies. Babies scream. Security precautions grate but must be enforced. Airlines demand lightning-quick turnarounds, so attendants herd passengers and collect trash with the grim speed of an Indy pit crew. Everyone, it seems, is in a bad mood.

It’s been a long time, too, since flying was a glamorous way to travel, and for the same reasons. And this was so even before terrorism made simply getting aboard the plane such as hassle. Allowed to “compete” to the death (RIP Eastern Airlines, PanAm, TWA and others) the airline companies now compete to see who can more profitably treat passengers like dead sardines.

We weren’t all treated like cargo when the U.S. Government was regulating ticket prices, schedules, routes and other matters that have fallen aside in the name of a “free market.” In those days, flying was truly a glamorous way to travel (people used to get dressed up, not dressed down to do it.)

The so called free market (along with Ronald Reagan’s control tower union busting) has managed to make life miserable and more dangerous for everyone—pilots, cabin crew, probably ground crew, certainly passengers and of course any stockholders who are still reckless enough to buy an airline stock. Or who got stuck owning some.

The moral

Certain things are too important to be left to a bunch of guys who are out to put a buck in their own pockets. Among those — along with healthcare, military intelligence, your Social Security account, military security and probably fifty other matters — is the business of climbing into an aluminum tube and smooshing yourself into a tiny seat while the tube hurtles through the sky at 500 or 600 miles an hour.

In this case, I wish that instead of giving Steven Slater a rap sheet, someone would give him a medal for having—consciously or not—struck one of the rare authentic blows against deregulation.


Peter said...

While I am inclined to agree that deregulation in the airlines has not produced a better way to travel it is difficult to impossible to determine is regulation since the seventies would have made it better.

New York Crank said...

Sorry, Peter, I have to disagree. I'm not going to do a long song-and-dance here but just for openers....

•When penalties were severe and enforced there was less overbooking, since the penalties (or equivalent in required room and meals for passengers until they got where they were going) outweighed the profit advantages. These days some airlines simply tell their passengers to get lost instead of flying them where their tickets say they're going—a unilateral abrogation of contract law, in my opinion.

•Airlines didn't cancel flights simply because a flight was at less than maximum profit capacity. So people got where they were going, on time, more often. And more comfortably.

•Cities that no longer get direct service were served because govt. regulations said they had to be served.
•Crew were better paid, more experienced (at least in the cockpit) and not worked to the bone. That translates to airline safety.

Yours crankily,
The New York Crank