By Sally Greenberg, NCL Executive Director
Steven Slater seemed a little crazy to me a few days ago, when I first read his story, but he doesn’t seem so crazy to me today. Who is Steven Slater ? He’s the Jet Blue flight attendant who blew his lid after landing the flight to JFK from Pittsburgh and spewed out a tirade of invective, then proceed to pull the emergency chute and leave the airplane.
I recently boarded an Air Tran flight from Minneapolis to Boston, with a stop and change of planes in Milwaukee at 12:20 in the afternoon. By 9 pm I was still not in Boston yet. Air Tran – a discount airline – is infamous in my family for canceling flights, delaying them, or re-routing passengers through circuitous destinations that take them from one end of the country to another, finally delivering them hours – maybe days – after their scheduled arrival.
So, was it weather that had me missing a long-planned gathering of friends and family outside Boston for one night’s enjoyment? No, the weather was beautiful. Was it an airport closure? No, airports were fine. Mechanical problems? No such problems. No, Air Tran had a computer glitch, so they delivered more than 50 passengers to Milwaukee who had connections to make in the same exact area – some to Boston, some to Orlando, others to Washington DC. And instead of holding planes for 20 minutes in my case and 10 minutes for the DC-bound passengers, they sent the connecting flights on their way and stranded the rest of us. To add insult to injury, I had asked the crew in Minneapolis and they promised me that I wouldn’t miss my connection. “Your flight to Boston is running late, so don’t worry, you’ll make it.”
A recent New York Times piece says that the Steven Slater saga is an “object lesson in the difficulties of flying today, a symbol of the dislocations in the workplace caused by the economy . . . “ Another expert noted, “this is a symptom of a much larger problem. The airlines need to say, we hear you, we feel this, and we’re not here just to get you from point A to Point B but to treat you with respect.”
Consumers are fed up with airline travel, but what choice do we have? My fellow bumpees and I raised a fuss and got free trip and food vouchers, and better connections than originally offered. But still, I had to pay an extra $70 in taxi fare to get to the rental house, a place I usually get to by train for a fraction of the cost. As the sun went down on on Milwaukee, where I was stuck for a mere 5 hours, all I could think was, maybe that Steven Slater isn’t so crazy after all.