A couple days ago, while sitting at LaGuardia Airport in New York City when I read about the JetBlue flight attendant who in a moment of anger, opened the evacuation slides, grabbed a beer and exited his plane. This was done, in response to a belligerent passenger who’d gotten up before he should have, retrieved his overhead bag before he should have, which fell on the flight attendant’s head. This while the flight attendant was asking him to remain seated until it was safe to get up.
The New York Times told this story in excruciating detail: the flight attendant headed home, his house was surrounded by a SWAT team and he was promptly arrested. Turns out he had previously been a exemplary employee, had cared for his dying father and was now doing the same for his dying mother. He worked hard at job and friends report that he enjoyed it and was good at it.
But if you’ve flown commercial airlines since September 11, you know why the flight attendant did what he did. Airports are crowded, nasty places. Lines are long. Screeners throw away your shampoo if it is in a four ounce bottle instead of a three ounce. Planes are delayed or cancelled regularly, and for the most part passengers have no recourse. It’s an ordeal to fly these days. No wonder passengers get tetchy. The real wonder is that it took so long for a flight attendant to lose it!
And what about rage in other workplaces? Have you visited a hospital emergency room lately? Nurses and doctors are faced with angry patients and their families. Worked in a high school? Teachers face impertinent students and parents who feel that Johnny is always right. Worked retail? Goofy people return items they’ve obviously used and want their money back. I’ll bet you’ve got similar rage-inducing stories no matter where you work.
It is everyone’s fantasy to have the guts to chuck it when you’ve finally had enough---and that’s what my hero the flight attendant did. He did so in grand style and for this, he will lose his job. Not to mention face charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief that could result in up to seven years in prison
Of course, we have all tacitly agreed to a social contract that maintains order and civility. So yes, he needs to lose that job. Flight attendants are taught not to show emotion and to take nearly any abuse in stride. We’re all taught that on the job—the customer is always right and we need to show respect and deference to them always. And in truth, kindness nearly always disarms the angry.
But wait----what happened to the belligerent passenger? Those of us who obey the rules want justice done, right?
In my fantasy world, this customer is arrested and he also loses his job.
I’m up on this soapbox to proclaim that when an employee is disciplined for disorderly conduct, the ignoramus who incited it, with behavior that was completely out of line, should also be disciplined to the same extent.
So if you were on that flight, would you please get in touch with me so that we can finger that passenger to the authorities.
-- Denise Zito lives in Free Union