Steven Slater, Dental Hell and the Death of Civility in Air Travel.
The outrageous JetBlue incident last week brings back memories. And they’re not necessarily good.
Used to be when the last squadron jet of the day’s flying reported in on the tower frequency, a very surly Bad Jimmy Williams would step out of his Operations Officer cubicle and without a word, he’d open the padlock on a large refrigerator in the back corner of the Flight Ops lounge, glare at us waiting Lieutenants, then stalk off.
That signaled that the “Beer Box” (presumably derived from “ice box”) was officially open, which also opened the lounge for an impromptu happy hour and flying story session. After beers all around, we’d discuss the day’s flying and eventually the conversation would meander into all manner of B.S. stories.
Although he wasn’t a pilot, Dr. Love (yes, that was his real name) often would wander over from the Dental Clinic, knowing he could poach a beer or two before heading home. Which was fair, because he lived near us and we drank plenty of his beer whenever possible.
For whatever reason, he felt like he had to add a dental war story to the absurd flying tales being spun and although that was largely irrelevant, one thing he said I’ve never forgotten.
“Well,” he drawled, contemplating his half empty beer can, “I used to be so careful when I was doing dental work on a patient.”
The room fell silent. What the hell could he possibly say next? Please make him say and I’ve only gotten more careful and caring as time goes on, because we all have to go to the Dental Clinic sometime.
“But you know what I learned?” he asked, studying the Budweiser label (there were only a few brands of beer available there on The Rock in the South China Sea). He paused for effect. “I learned, people heal. You don’t have to be so careful.”
Note to self: never see Dr. Love at the Dental Clinic. But beyond that, there’s a real point:
Dr. Love deliberately contributes to everyone’s lore of dental hell. Which only perpetuates the problem, reinforcing not only the fear of dentistry, but also escalating spiral of outrageous dental tales.
People only want to tell a story about a “horrible” dental experience. No one wants to tell–or hear–a story about a pain-free, simple dental procedure.
The same is true for air travel nowadays: everyone needs to tell a horror story now at happy hour. Ten hour tarmac delays with no food, crying babies, and overflowing toilets (not physically possible unless there’s actually over fifty gallons of human waste added during the delay) and passengers dying.
That’s the stuff of legends, and perhaps Steven Slater is the new “Dr. Love.”
On the day he snapped, cursing a passenger on the P.A., blowing an escape slide, grabbing a couple beers and sliding off the jet, Slater negated the day’s work of his peers–just like Dr. Love did for his dental clinic and fellow dentists.
Because on that same day, thousands of flight attendants were treated rudely by thoughtless, boorish passengers.
But they didn’t snap. They didn’t blow a slide. And though many likely wanted to, they didn’t curse their passengers, at least not out loud.
Instead, they did their jobs, under trying circumstances with unreasonable passengers and onerously long work days. You didn’t read about the flight attendants who that day–like every day of the year–perform CPR on a passenger in cardiac arrest at 30,000 feet. Nor the ones who helped the very young or very old with the extra attention that they need above and beyond the normal passenger services so that they can get where they need to go safely.
No, the headlines were only about the one flight attendant who blew up–and quit being a flight attendant. Which I say discounts and devalues all those who didn’t. Those remembering Dr. Love’s “healing” philosophy project it onto the thousands of dentists who do care about their patients.
And the thousands of passengers who were treated kindly by their cabin crew nonetheless have their radar scanning for a Steven Slater rogue to spin into a cocktail yarn or a “Good Morning America” interview.
That’s life and moreover, that’s popular culture. Don’t get me wrong; I know thousands of flight attendants nationwide cheered the actions of Slater. But in the fantasy sense of wow, what a great gesture. The public is too often rude, surly, inconsiderate and they get away with it.
Because in air travel, this:
Has given way to this:
. . . and so this
Has devolved into this:
Funny stuff for tall tales, late night talk show monologues and silly YouTube tribute songs.
But a sad commentary on both popular culture and those who comprise its storytellers and listeners. And even worse, it’s an accurate commentary on both the traveling public and the norms of behavior en route.
Every profession has its Dr. Loves. Unfortunately, the rest of the profession suffers the derisive connotation of the rogue’s actions regardless of the reality of their work, which pales against the backdrop of popular culture that rewards outrageous behavior.
Not sure what ever happened to Dr. Love or what will become of Flight Attendant Slater. But both are hard to forget, for all the wrong reasons.