Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Take This Job...

So I was all set to write about a completely different topic today but this morning’s paper had a cover story that was just too good not to write about.

Here’s the short version of the story: a JetBlue flight is returning to a New York City airport but has not landed yet when a passenger gets up and attempts to remove his luggage, stowed in the overhead compartment. A male flight attendant races down the aisle and instructs the man to put his luggage back and return to his seat. The passenger, instead, continues trying to remove his bag, hitting the flight attendant in the head with the suitcase and uttering a string of expletives most often heard on the docks. The flight attendant, having logged over twenty years with JetBlue and other airlines (and who has probably had his share of inconsiderate, irate, and non-rule-following passengers), returns to the front of the plane where he gets on the loud speaker, repeating what the passenger did and said to him, and then utters his own string of unprintable words, the crux of which were “take this job and shove it.” He then waits for the plane to land, grabs a beer from the refrigerator, inflates the emergency slide, throws his own bags down the slide first, and disembarks the plane. In other words, he snapped. He is arrested a few hours later at his home.

I have always thought that air travel had incredible potential for violence and rage because of the cramped quarters, number of people, and general insensitivity and incivility that seem to be commonplace in our society right now. Although I don’t think I would have handled this situation in the same way as the flight attendant, who knows really? After twenty years of being forced to deal with people who think that their schedule, comfort, and well-being is of the utmost priority to the exclusion of everyone else in the plane, I, too may have thrown my bags down the chute and fled.

The flight attendant seems unapologetic about the entire incident but it got me wondering: is his act of civil disobedience just contributing to the problem or just bringing the situation to light? The reason I wonder is that, in my various jobs—from counter girl at a bakery to editor at a publishing company—I have encountered all manner of the rude and ill-intentioned and always kept my mouth shut, invoking “the customer’s always right” mantra, even if it didn’t actually apply. I have always felt that taking the high road was the more appropriate course of action rather than speaking my mind and inciting conflict with either those I work with or those I work for. I’m guessing that the flight attendant was prepared to resign, because it’s clear that his actions will never allow him to be working in a plane full of people again. But was it worth it for that one moment of satisfaction?

What are your thoughts, Stiletto faithful? Has there ever been a situation in which you did what you thought was right under the circumstances and found that, in hindsight, you should have let a cooler head prevail?

Maggie Barbieri


  1. Wow, he really did snap. We all have a tipping point. Guess his was getting hit on the head with a suitcase.

    Luckily I've never reached my tipping point.

  2. I've always worked with the public and in these last years rudeness and bad behavior have somehow become acceptable. Let's just say it's a good thing I'm now retired.


  3. Hey, Mags. Great post and question, one that held a great pass to me for my answer: letting cooler heads prevail. After a lot of occasions of just taking the high road I found out that there is some ground left below me that still isn’t the low road. Taking that middle-ground is a metaphor for my whole approach and attitude.

    I have just started to voice my views in the non-rant, non-raised voice, non-snarky and non-angry way to the degree that reflects less of the ranting, yelling, snark and anger pointed at me. I get firm, I try to keep humor in there to slow down the bullet, but I do shoot straight. It came down to one day accidentally realizing that I didn’t have to lose composure or control of my emotions to express my feelings and views. Sounds simple, but took me decades to understand and start practicing. Which is something that embarrasses me.

    So, if someone is being rude or crazy or stupid or just wrong in my face and even if they are being very aggressive with it, I just say what I have to say in a way that is, for the specific situation and tone of the exchange, less than, oh, let’s call it conciliatory or accommodating, but is still not bunching my own panties. Think of it: why do I need or want to respond at all in a situation where someone is being a jerk? Sometimes it’s to defend something outside of myself, like a piece of work, but often it’s because when you get pushed you want to shove back. This is how I’ve learned to shove back and to my surprise shoving in this milder way, not just hauling off and clocking someone, does more than I would have thought to let me feel like I had my say, I made my response. That goes a long way. And, up until figuring this out, I thought you had to just ignite and start moving some furniture around the room to advocate for yourself. Turns out it doesn’t have to be that big a deal.

    Now, that said, sometimes my less-vicious-than-the-other-guy approach still means I’m pretty heated in my response, but as long as I keep it cooler by comparison, I can hold my head up high and let go of the bad moments more easily and move on. What I’m trying to say is that I win, which is why I’m in the fight at all.

  4. Take your question and apply it to any parent dealing with their children and I'll bet you get some interesting answers. No one can push you over the edge faster than your kids. Especially teenagers.

  5. I don't have any sympathy for Steven Slater. Sure, people snap under too much stress - but this whole incident had too many working parts to be a spur of the moment reaction. The rant over the microphone. Okay. But deploying the emergency chute and grabbing a beer on the way out - this was a stunt waiting for the right spark.

    aka The Southern Half of Evelyn David

  6. I'm surprised the whole thing isn't on YouTube and the guy's not being offered his own reality show (oh, wait, that still might happen yet). Seems like a lot of odd goings-on these days are planned stunts from people who want attention. I'm not saying that's what this was--I have no clue--but we surely live in strange, strange times.

  7. I'm looking at this from a slightly different perspective. As readers of this blog know, I hate to fly. One of my biggest phobias. When I do, I am grateful for the flight attendant who is cool, calm, and collected. Who exudes the aura of "been there, done that, no big deal."

    Luckily this incident happened when the wheels were on the ground. But suppose it had happened during the flight? Surely passengers can get rude and unpleasant while in the air -- especially on long flights, when you're packed in like sardines.

    So I guess I can understand that Mr. Slater got fed up with his job, but frankly, lots of us often feel that way and we're expected to complete our work professionally. You wouldn't accept that behavior from a surgeon who gets frustrated in the operating room and walks out in a huff (or to continue the comparison, doing wheelies with the wheelchair).
    Lastly, Mr. Slater got to make a dramatic exit, but it only meant that his coworkers had to pick up the slack for his "drama."


  8. A long time ago in another lifetime, I sold auto parts. I had a mechanic that called to order parts. We got his order together and I delivered it out to him. When I got there with his parts he went batsh!t crazy because they were the wrong parts.

    I must have been at my wits end that day because normally I was a good smile the customer is always right employee, but that wasn't the first time he'd gotten the wrong parts because he'd given me the wrong information and I guess I'd had enough.

    I jumped all over him finishing with if you had any idea what the @!#$ you were working on you would have gotten the right parts to begin with, then I stormed out of the shop and went back to the store. I figured we'd soon get a phone call and shortly after that I'd be unemployed.

    Instead, an hour or so later, the guy came into the store, apologized for being such an a$$ and gave me a six pack. I was his only parts person from then until I left. That happened to me one other time for similar reason's. So I know for a fact that sometimes standing up for yourself and letting go can be a positive thing.

    Now days you couldn't pay me to work in a customer service position. I can't be nice on demand anymore. Twelve years as a service writer in various car shops getting yelled at ten to twelve hours a day by rude customers killed all the "customer is always right" I had left.

  9. Ah, this brings back memories of my retail days. I've had a number of irrate cumtomers to deal with and one in particular that comes to mind.

    A woman came in to return a CD she purchased and the store policy was no returns on open merchandise unless it was an exchange for the exact same disc in case of defect. Well, that did not go over well with her and she demanded a manager.

    Lucky me, I happened to be there that day! She proceeded to tell me that she just didn't like it and wanted her money back. When I explained the policy she blew!

    She threw the CD at me which thankfully hit the counter first and then shattered into several dozen pieces. I along with two other employees were hit by the debris. She continued screaming at me and cussing in Spanish, calling me the devil.

    Looking back at this, I'm not sure how I kept my cool but I managed to get through it with only a few scrapes from the shattered case. And, of course a nickname from my co-workers, "diablita", little devil.; )

  10. I agree the rant was probably spontaneous, but slide stunt was probably thought about previously. On the other hand, I've worked at jobs that slowly devoured my soul I have to admit to having dreamed up a few dramatic exit plans in my time. He probably figured he was already fired for the rant, so what the heck? Why not go all the way? It may have been illegal, it may have been stupid, it may have been childish, but come on... it was still kind of cool.