Friday, August 13, 2010
Pastor's Perspective - Sky Stress
Like many of you, I’ve been thoroughly entertained by the recent media attention Steven Slater, a flight attendant with JetBlue, is receiving. While the actual investigation is still ongoing, this we do know – Broseph lost it! With an abrasion on his dome, profanity in his mouth, a microphone in one hand and a brew in the other, he slid into pop culture infamy. Apparently he had choked-down ‘the customer is always right’ for the very last time, and just flipped. Though I don’t endorse his actions, there is still enough uncrucified in me to somehow relate and live vicariously through this toe-headed sky dweller. Plus, I can relate through experience.
Back in the mid-80’s I was a flight attendant with the now defunct Eastern Airlines, based in Atlanta. After getting offers from TWA and American Airlines, I settled on Eastern because as a boy I idolized astronauts and former moon-orbiter Frank Borman was its CEO. Immature reasoning yes, but at twenty-two immaturity was my forte. I also chose the profession because I was single, unattached, loved meeting and serving people, and visiting exciting ports of call – at least that’s what I snowed my interviewers into believing. It worked! I packed my bags, left my hometown of Tampa in the rearview mirror and headed to General Sherman’s big trophy. There I quickly found that working in a speeding metal tube at 35,000 feet with the general public was anything but glamorous. With deregulation, airliners became just Greyhound buses with wings. The sex appeal of the sixties was over. I realized that truth working a packed breakfast flight up to Pittsburgh one morning. There were more passengers than time. Trays of half-eaten pancakes were being thrown at me in the galley to store before landing. I never did get all the maple syrup off of my cordovan loafers.
Like Steven Slater I had some high stress flights.
My very first flight was from Miami to Los Angeles as a trainee. Somewhere over Arizona the captain called me up to the cockpit and asked me to count every unused coffee filter bag on the wide body. Trained in flight school to do everything the captain asks, I responded obediently. Galley to galley I went. My stress level was peaking as I counted. While descending into the City of Angels, I reported the exact coffee bag count to a cockpit crew that by this time was laughing hysterically at me! Then it hit me. What in the world does the captain of an airliner need with that information?! After having a chuckle, they awarded my zeal and embarrassment by letting me sit in the cockpit jump seat for landing.
On my first trip out here to San Francisco, on our flight back to Atlanta our R3 door became dislodged on an A300 Airbus – my door of responsibility in an evacuation. Still in our climb out of the Bay Area, I had to remain calm, relocate passengers, and assure them everything would be just fine as we dumped tons of fuel over the Sierras to get down to a proper landing weight. We landed in San Francisco, where I immediately thought about a raise after my knees stopped knocking.
On one flight I had a passenger pass away, and had to pretend he was alive for a short period of time, so not to alarm surrounding passengers – not easy to do when the man was sitting under the movie screen! I did ask for a raise after that one.
And I’ll never forget the way the lady in first class screamed at and berated me when I accidentally spilled a plate of hot marinara-smothered noodles all over her beautiful white silk outfit. Did I mention we were flying into JFK and she was a New Yorker? After her, the most sadistic drill instructor would be Wilford Brimley.
I only gave flying three years of my life. Steven Slater did it a lot longer. I imagine, from my passenger point of view, the industry has only gotten more and more challenging over the years. So, I’m not throwing any rocks at him. He reached his limit and became story one on the Nightly News – not very admirable, but very human. So speaking as one fallible human being to a cyber world readership, let me encourage you to always try to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes before you cast a stone at them. If you’ll take the time to look down you’ll probably see a hint of maple syrup.