Take This Job And …

The case of the Jet Blue flight attendant who left his job in spectacular fashion this month after losing it big time in a confrontation with an obnoxious passenger has become the stuff of legend. Steven Slater has become an instant folk hero among his former colleagues and for all those frequent-flyers who must deal with heartless airlines and clueless passengers on a regular basis.

Being packed into a narrow tube at 35,000 feet is stressful enough even under perfect conditions – and how often have conditions in the air been perfect lately? When was the last time you really enjoyed a flight beyond the quiet desperation level of a riding a bus?

How many of Vested Outsourcing’s principles of collaboration, trust, flexibility and communication do all airlines – not just Jet Blue – practice?

Simply put, airlines have become so bottom-line and transaction-based in their business models – with new charges and fees multiplying seemingly daily – that they have lost sight of the need to treat their employees and their passengers with respect, civility and compassion, not as wage slaves and cattle. They have not vested with their unions or their customers in any meaningful way – and this type of event is what inevitably will happen when a company is stuck on ‘What’s in it for me?’ instead of ‘What’s in it for We?’

Flight attendants are the direct, public face of an airline and its policies and interactions with customers; they are the people who must bear the brunt of passenger frustration, anger and stupidity. They are caught in the middle of a very difficult situation every day, with very little backup and a whole lot of suspicion from every direction. It’s no wonder that the Slater blowup occurred. Actually, it’s surprising that it doesn’t occur more frequently.

The Slater incident also makes me think about one of the truisms embedded into the service economy mindset: Blind adherence to the idea that the customer is always right and must be coddled at every turn. Politeness is always needed and expected, but it should be a two-way street. Sometimes a customer is just plain wrong and if he/she is wrong and boorish about it, they should be told. Getting away with bad behavior quickly becomes normal, or at least quietly accepted, and life in the air or on the shopping line becomes that much more difficult.

Another aspect of this idea is that an airline (or any company) that preaches commitment to customer service as part of its culture , and then creates conditions designed to drive its employees and customers to the edge isn’t really serious and deserves what it gets when people decide they don’t want to play nice.

A New York Times article on the Slater fracas says he is a sort of “bandit hero” and admired “because they (bandit heroes) openly jab a finger in the eye of oppressive authority, whether intrusive government or, in Mr. Slater’s case, an overbearing workplace.” The article continues: “Mr. Slater was trying to strike a blow for civility.”

That could be true in an odd way perhaps, but this is what happens when participants in an endeavor fail to work together to achieve mutual success, and instead work at cross-purposes, both internally and externally.

They haven’t laid the foundation; they haven’t vested in mutual success.

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