View from the top: Lessons learned from the so-called friendly skies

Vanessa Gomez

A few weeks ago, I woke up to an e-mail linking me to a report about a flight attendant that abruptly quit my company in a blaze of glory. As the media frenzy unraveled, the now infamous story of JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater would come to fruition, and I cringed at the negative repercussions that might arise from the debacle.

What followed not only echoed the voice of a frustrated worker, but the overwhelming support of a country forced to put up with remedial work conditions in a crushed economy.

Slater was assaulted, insulted and pushed to his limit on that flight from Pittsburgh to New York. He shared a few inappropriate words with the passengers, grabbed two Blue Moon beers and bid adieu to both his job and the confines that kept him from his fantastic exit down that emergency slide.

Slater instantly became a security breach, deploying a slide fast enough to kill any worker on the tarmac below. That legendary departure continued as Slater raced home to his partner, only to be arrested by police swarming his home.

Slater’s exit is the stuff of dreams as I think also about cracking open the door on our planes all the time to parachute out.

The very idea of flying in a metal tube at 36,000 feet with screaming babies and cranky businessmen makes me feel nothing but sympathy for all who work for JetBlue.

The practical side of me that considers my rent, a weekly trip to Trader Joe’s and my addiction to Dave Matthews Band concert tickets keeps me from reaching for that emergency escape handle. But how many Americans, dependent on their jobs, are at the point of pulling that escape handle , and choose to recoil in submission?

Flight attendants aren’t the only victims to everyday work-related abuse. Baristas, servers, bank tellers and postal workers are just a few professions that have felt the wrath of customers. Most of them become jaded and complacent in their work duties, ignoring blatant disrespect and succumbing to ridiculous demands to protect their cash flow.

Slater’s swan song made him an overnight working-class hero, bringing to light a serious reality of millions of disgruntled American citizens forced to submit to sub-par job conditions.

Desperate to keep afloat on their bills, employees are keeping quiet while customers abuse them and take advantage of them. Could employers also be manipulating their work forces by dangling the uncertainty of job security?

Everyone has a breaking point at their workplace. When do the elements of self-respect, a dismal workplace and constant paychecks tilt the scales towards abandoning ship?

Slater’s abrupt resignation, as outrageous and legendary as it might be, really stands apart as a commentary on today’s broken economy.

How much longer do hard-working Americans have to endure nasty customers, depleted 401Ks and salary cuts before another “grabs two beers and jumps?” Until that question is answered, I will continue to sport my “Let Slater Slide” pin in the hopes that hardworking folks everywhere can have their sweet escape.

(Vanessa Gomez is a City Times columnist)