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Tom Johansmeyer

Tom Johansmeyer

Posted: August 17, 2010 03:30 PM

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I'm sure I'm not the only person wondering this: how does "Steven Slater" happen? It's not accidental, right? A convergence of an industry under pressure, personal issues and customer expectations converged on this flight attendant who may have worked in the aviation industry for somewhere between 11 and 23 years. Specific factors cited in the ongoing coverage of this incident have included rude passengers, personal instability and airline policies and pricing. And of course, some people have noted that Slater alone is to blame, even if some in his former industry continue to applaud him.

So, who is the culprit? Let's take a look at what could have driven Slater over the edge.

1. Airline pricing and policies: Airlines have spent two years dealing with lower prices, fuller cabins (because of reduced routes) and ancillary fees that may be contributing to an increase in bags in the cabin. While aviation professionals employees will say that pricing is far lower than it was when the industry was regulated, that is so long ago that it can't be relevant any more. Focus on the past two years, there's plenty of price pressure there.

2. Passenger behavior: Passengers are becoming bigger headaches. Courtesy has declined, and the gauntlet from curb to seat has become increasingly harrowing. Fuller flights, of course, result in tighter quarters, less leg room and more anger. We may be the ones paying the bills, but we're far from innocent.

3. Flight attendant behavior: Flight attendants are far from "blameless," of course. When consumers note the erosion of customer service in the cabin, flight attendants are more likely to come up with excuses - rude passengers, fuller flights and so on - than to disagree with the characterization of service as poor, a tacit admission that service sucks. Degraded service has contributed to tension in the cabin, and unlike passengers, flight attendants are paid to be there, regardless of how awful the compensation and working conditions are.

Note: To flight attendants who gripe about not being paid until the door closes, you're in good company. Steven Slater agrees with you, and he seems unable to comprehend that you can divide total compensation by total hours worked in a year to discern your effective rate per hour based on both "paid and "unpaid" hours.

4. The internet: The internet, of course, is responsible for all of society's ills. In addition to being a place where I guy like me can get a job, it has had several transformative effects on the business world, all of them well known. It has empowered the consumer which has put downward pressure on pricing (not just in the airline sector), made it easier for weirdos to find places to vent and extended the media life of every nut-job stunt. If he was actually thinking before pulling the proverbial trigger, Slater knew he was about to slide his way to online fame.

5. Steven Slater: Duh. He did the deed. At the end of the day, we're all responsible for our own actions, and Slater's the one who grabbed some beer and jumped. Let's be realistic.

And the winner is ... Steven Slater. Market conditions clearly didn't conspire against him, and passengers are his reason for being there. In fact, Slater bragged about his professionalism with difficult passengers on aviation industry message boards. Flight attendants, even the bad ones, rarely fall to Slater's level, and the internet can be used for good as well as evil. That leaves only the man who is ultimately responsible for his own actions.

 

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