JONATHAN COHN AUGUST 10, 2010
I'm stretching the definition of domestic policy here, but bear with me.
A JetBlue flight attendant is headed to court today, because of an incident on a flight that landed at New York's JFK Airport Monday. According to media reports, as the plane pulled up to the gate, one of the passengers decided to stand up and started removing her carry-on luggage from the overhead compartment.
As anybody who's been on an airplane knows, federal rules require that passengers remain in their seats until the plane comes to a complete stop and the crew signals it's safe. That hadn't happened yet. But when the flight attendant instructed the passenger to sit down, the passenger refused. She kept unloading her bags, apparently hitting the flight attendant in the head, and when the attendant asked for an apology the woman shouted an expletive or two at him.
At this point--again, going strictly by the press accounts--the flight attendant snapped. He made an announcement cursing out the passengers in general, grabbed a beer from the galley, and pulled the emergency chute. One passenger heard him say "there goes 28 years" as he tossed his luggage onto the slide and then followed in short order.
Police later went to his home and arrested him, on "felony charges of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment," according to the New York Times. A company official suggests the attendant was having a "bad day"--which would seem to be the case, one way or another.
I know nothing about this case except what I've read, so it's not for me to say who acted appropriately and who didn't. But while it's the flight attendant's behavior that will start water cooler talk this morning, it's the alleged behavior of the passenger that got me thinking, because it's typical of what I've seen many times.
Just last week, I was on a Delta flight from Boston to Detroit that sat at the departure gate for two hours. Violent thunderstorms were moving through New England and over Logan Airport. Lightning struck just a few feet away from the plane at one point, so close that the plane actually shook from the boom of the thunder.
The crew was sensational. The pilot himself came out to chat with the passengers, updating us on the storm's progress and explaining where we would be in the takeoff queue once it cleared. But, over and over again, I heard passengers grousing about airline and the likelihood they'd miss connections--like there was anything Delta could do about the weather.
Although (full disclosure) my wife does some research on airlines, I'm not a reflexive defender of the industry in general. Too often, they fail to inform passengers the way this crew did. And I'm never happy when airlines fight union organizing drives, as many have been known to do. But passengers have obligations too and common courtesy is surely among them.
I have no idea if the passengers on that JetBlue flight deserved verbal lashing. But I've seen plenty of passengers that did.
Note: I updated this item with specific information about the charges. I also edited some prose for clarity.