Major airlines are required by law to employ flight attendants for the safety and security of their passengers. Passenger safety is the flight attendant’s first priority. Seeing to the comforts and whims of passengers is a secondary priority for the the flight attendant. A challenging task, in the least, considering the needs of the 2 billion passengers – 800 million in United States airspace – the 2000 airlines transport in their 23 000 aircraft in 28 million flight departures to the 37 000 main airports every year.
Apart from just having to look their best all the time, flight attendant serve about a billion meals – 500 million of which are provided by Gate Gourmet and LSG SkyChefs – to the cramped passengers (coach seats are 19 inches wide, about the same as your standard office chair – the seat in a cheap car is 22 inches wide). No need to serve meals on short flights (almost 60% of flights are domestic travel), in case you’ve been wondering about the other billion passengers.
Airline passenger complaints
Airline food is not the No 1 complaint by airline passengers. Neither is cabin noise, which is lower than normal conversation sound (65dB) and much less than the noise inside a car on a busy street (85dB). No, the main complaint by airline passengers is flight delay. 24% of flights do NOT arrive on time (“a flight is counted as on time if it operated less than 15 minutes later the scheduled time,” according to the Bureau of Transport Statistics). That, obviously, means almost a quarter of all passengers are sitting in their little seats for longer than they anticipated. It is, of course, a bit odd considering that only 8% of flights depart late, only 0.3% of flights are diverted, and only 0.04% of flights are delayed because of security issues. Even so, in general, we passengers are a kindly kind. On average, only 1 in 100 000 passengers complain about, well, anything, and passenger disturbances are few.
Flight attendants – and the Slater effect
But let’s think about the flights attendants. Those pretty girls and handsome lads without whom a flight from New York to Paris would resemble a trip to the Andes on three-wheel cart accompanied by your distant cousin’s hairless dog. Let’s agree, in a minuscule manner it does feel like they are your personal butlers. Perhaps that’s what the world’s first flight attendant in 1912, Heinrich Kubis, felt like. But times have changed. The first priority of a flight attendant – reminder – is not the whim of the passenger. Especially the unruly passenger.
And that was the case of Steven Slater, flight attendant on a JetBlue flight on August 9, 2010. He chided a passenger for not staying in the seat as the plane taxied. The passenger reportedly reached for luggage, which hit Slater in the face, refused to apologize and cursed at the him. On landing at JFK airport, another passenger took Slater on about luggage, swearing at him. Slater, highly irritated, jumped on the airplane intercom system: “To the motherf*r who just told me to f* off, f* you. I’ve been in this business 20 years. And that’s it, I’m done.” He then grabbed two beers, activated the emergency inflatable slide, slid down the chute, ran to his car parked nearby and drove home. Later he was arrested and bailed. And sparked a media frenzy. The phrase “Take your job and shove it” is now also called the Slater effect, or, you can slater it.