Steven Slater is No Longer with JetBlue: Tensions in the Sky

By | September 5, 2010
Pan-Am flight attendant on airplane. Photo tak...
Image via Wikipedia

NBC New York has reported that a spokesperson for JetBlue has said that flipped out flight attendant Steven Slater is no longer with the airline, bringing an end, hopefully, to the Steven Slater saga. But that still leaves many flight attendants who wouldn’t do what he did, still frustrated in the sky.

USA Today reports that flight attendants are facing soaring tensions in their duties. Capacity is down, thus load factor is up. Planes are packed, flight attendants are being asked to work more for less pay…the airline experience is hardly as glorious as we were once led to believe. It is hardly surprising that things are coming to a boil.

In a poll of over 5000 readers, asking what flight attendant behavior bothered passengers the most:

  • Surly behavior(38%)
  • Gabbing in the back(21%)
  • Refusal to deal with unruly passengers (20%)
  • A ‘schoolmarm’ attitude (12%)
  • Slowness in serving drinks/food (9%)

But, what are flight attendants expected to do? Here are a few of their duties in the modern age.

  • Ensure passengers are in compliance with safety regulations, such as seat beats, stowed luggage, turning off cell phones, etc.
  • Provide beverage and meal service
  • Basic emergency medical training
  • Supervise emergency evacuations
  • Be the first line of defense against treats to the aircraft by passengers, such as terrorist acts

And they do this for a starting salary of less than $20,000 a year, an an average of $35,000. They are perceived as little more than flying waiters and waitresses when there is a lot more they are responsible for. A typical meal in a restaurant takes an hour. A flight can be much more than that, and you are in a confined space with limited places to go.

And, many perceive flight attendants as rude not because they are, but because they don’t like the answer they are given by them. Now, there are customer service friendly ways to tell people no, but not everyone responds to them. In any job, there are good and bad employees. You cannot make everyone happy. And on an airplane, flight attendants are simultaneously thought of as service staff and are supposed to be in charge, putting them in a difficult position.

Everyone seems to want to fly on the lowest fare, and airlines add fee after fee so they can make a profit in spite of the downward pressure on price. And flight attendants are on the front lines of the result. The requirement for flight attendants is 1 per 50 passengers.

USA Today also had some great quotes on the subject, some of which we reprint here.

Our job is about safety … Today’s society wants everything for nothing and expects to be treated first class at the same time they are being rude and disrespectful. … If an airplane crashes, it is the flight attendants who get the passengers off the plane alive.” — Flight attendant Melody Melendez, Detroit

I was a platinum on Delta and was almost always up front. I found the passengers in general to be aloof to the attendants and in some cases treating them as hired help, which really bothered me.” — Ron McElhaney Jr., Savannah

Now, what it ultimately comes down to is that most flight attendants are overworked yet dedicated professionals who do their best, and there are always people better and worse at handling situations. And passengers are often rude and disrespectful and cannot be pleased no matter how skilled you are in conflict resolution.

The solution at the end of the day is this: For flight attendants, hopefully you like your job, despite its hardships. Unfortunately, many people aren’t happy at work, and in hard economic times like these, it is hard to change that. For passengers, be a bit understanding of the situation. We’ve all been in situations where we are unhappy, try to at least be aware of how you look from the other perspective. Or simply, we’re all in this together.

What do you think?