Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steven Slater And Going Postal In Style

The Steven Slater story has elicited a tidal wave of sympathy all across America. Steven Slater is the flight attendant who went ballistic when he was trying to get an unruly passenger to sit down while a Jet Blue flight from Pittsburgh was landing in New York. When he asked the woman to wait a few minutes to wait until the plane stopped in the terminal, she cursed him out and accidentally conked him on the head without any apology whatsoever. The Daily News reports as follows on what happened next.

"After he was bonked in the head by a bag, Steven Slater stunned passengers by spewing profanity and ranting about quitting as the flight from Pittsburgh pulled up to the gate about noon.

"To the f-----g a--hole who told me to f--k off, it's been a good 28 years," Slater, 38, purred, cops said. "I've had it. That's it," he added, a passenger said.

The mad-as-hell steward grabbed a couple of brewskis and popped one open before activating the emergency exit, witnesses told airport employees.

After tossing his two carry-on bags on the slide, he followed them to the tarmac."

Slater did not hide after his outburst. He went straight home to Bal Harbor where about 50 police cars reportedly showed up to take him into custody.

I have worked in retail and in customer service. Most of the time, when you are providing a service or a product to the public, you have to keep your feelings under wraps. I once worked in a store where a neighbour came in and snapped his fingers at me to demand service. He wanted me to run to the basement ASAP to get a case of diapers. I went downstairs and watched the clock in the basement do 5 full sweeps of the second hand. Then I came to the front of the store moving in slow motion. The guy was furious, which is what I wanted.

Most of the time, I am the middle man between management and the customer. I really do feel empathy with the guy who wants his merchandise or his service. I had one boss who was so awful to the public that it embarrassed me to cover for him. He was needlessly inflexible about COD's and made it hard to fill rush orders. A lot of the time I shared the customer's opinion that the boss was a real proctological phenomenon. Towards the end of my employment at that company, I would sympathise with customers by saying, "I have no official comment".

Sometimes you just have to bite your tongue. When I was working in health care, families of seriously ill clients could be very demanding. Having dealt with serious illness in my family, I could relate to their pain. Whether you are a sales person, a nursing assistant or an exterminator, it is helpful to cultivate the ability to look at oneself in the third person and look dispassionately at the conflict in which you find yourself.

To me, life is a wheel. sometimes, you are the customer and sometimes you are the guy behind the counter, who has to sublimate his emotions and function as the face of the company. This attitude is so ingrained in me that I find it hard to complain in a restaurant unless the food has actually spoiled or it has dangerous amounts of sugar, which I have to avoid. It seems frivolous to pester a hard working waiter or waitress because my chicken is a bit tough or I got cauliflower instead of broccoli.

We all do our time as "humble servants", clock out and become mighty customers when we are not on shift. But we are still human beings, who should respect each other. Steven Slater gave us a dramatic reminder of this simple truth.

There are civilised ways to complain about bad service. I have gotten apologies and refunds simply by describing a problem I had. When that doesn't work, I have shifted my business elsewhere. Whether it is groceries, clothing or prescriptions, I have shifted my business elesewhere when I felt I was being treated with contempt.

Late last month, a guy I buy newspapers and lottery tickets insisted that I had given him a 5 dollar bill when I had beyond a shadow of a doubt given him a 10. I had no way of proving it. He had already put the bill in the register. The same guy had sold me stale snacks and even soda that was past its expiration date. I decided to stay away from his store for a month. When I go back on August 25, I will quietly remind him that shortchanging me 5 dollars cost him a month of my business, buying newspapers, lottery tickets and small snack items. According to my calculations, he lost more than the 5 dollars he overcharged me.

The only regret I have about Steven Slater's outburst are the reports that he was a recovering alcoholic and that he had some beer after his meltdown. I hope he gets back on the wagon. Addictions are hard to shake, and you really have to hold the line with staying away from your drug of choice.

It's a tough job market out there. I hope Steven Slater gets a break from Jet Blue or from another employer. Biting your tongue all the time can be a bit wearing. The man has my sympathy.

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