AIRLINE MELTDOWN IS HARDLY A SURPRISE

In the case of the flight attendant who went ballistic this past week, had a “take this job and shove it” moment, then grabbed a beer, pulled the chute and went slip-sliding away, the only question I have is this:

Why didn’t the passengers follow him?

I mean, apparently, the man went straight across the tarmac, walked out an unlocked door and split. Who knew you could get home from JFK so fast?

Look, Steven Slater, the “No Más” man of JetBlue Airlines, is being celebrated in some circles and criticized in others, but both sides are missing the point. The fact is, EVERYBODY wants to pull the chute on airplanes these days. Even pets.

Flying has become a miserable, punishing, dehumanizing experience for which you have the privilege of paying hundreds of nonrefundable dollars.

From the moment you arrive at an airport, you are made to feel that you 1) own too much, 2) weigh too much, 3) drink too much water, 4) carry too many toiletries, 5) are a security risk, 6) aren’t worthy of boarding yet, 7) are too big for your seat, 8) want too much personal space, 9) have to use the bathroom too often, 10) are going to destroy the plane if you press a button on your cell phone.

Think about it. There is not one positive experience in flying, other than actually arriving at your destination. The seats are for grade-schoolers. The food is nonexistent. You can’t stand up, stretch, walk or use a bathroom without being hurried, scurried, scolded or charged.

And when you get to within a certain distance of your destination – I think it’s 70,000 miles – you are locked down for good. Listen closely for the real meaning

As for flight attendants, well, I think what stunned people with Slater is that he actually said what was on his mind. Passengers are used to the exact opposite. For example:

“Welcome aboard. Please ensure all bags fit neatly in the overhead compartments or under the seat in front of you.”

Translation: “Yeah, right. We know half of you idiots plan to stuff a Maytag washing machine under your seat, and the other half just broke the overhead door.”

“Please turn your attention to your flight attendant for important safety precautions.”

“Hello? Anybody? I’m going to say, ‘In case of water landing, DROWN the person next to you’- and none of you will notice!”

“The captain has informed us that there is a slight maintenance delay. It shouldn’t be long.”

“This’ll take all night. I hope you wore deodorant.”

“We’ll be coming through the cabin with a light snack and beverages.”

“Wake up, Shamu. I got a bucket of chum.” A mystery: Planes vs. trains

And then there are the rules. Let’s see. Can’t stand up for the first 20 minutes. Can’t stand up for the last 20 minutes. Can’t use your computer for transmitting – unless you buy the Internet package at $10 bucks a pop. Can’t have your seat back an inch during takeoff because … who knows?

Charge for first bag. Charge for second bag. Charge for aisle seat. Charge for boarding preference.

Why do we accept this stuff? A plane is a means of transport. So is a train. But you can take all the bags you want on a train. You can get on at any time. You can walk around – even when it’s shaking. You can use your computer and bring drinks on.

“Oh, but the security issue,” airlines say. Why? Isn’t a blown-up train as much of a terror threat as a blown-up plane? And yet the rules are totally different. Yeah, I know a plane can’t be as big as a train. I also know if the airlines could sell seats in the overhead compartments, they would.

The fact is, airline insensitivity has become institutionalized. They act rudely because the other guys act rudely. They treat employees badly because they can get away with it. The environment for flying is now pushy, pricey and paranoiac.

By the way, some reports now suggest that Slater may have been drinking before and during the flight. So his actions may have been more blurry than brave.

I guess I can understand that. What I don’t get is that a sober Slater said he wanted his job back.

Now that’s weird behavior.

Contact MITCH ALBOM: 313-223-4581 or malbom@freepress.com Catch “The Mitch Albom Show” 5-7 p.m. weekdays on WJR-AM (760).

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