The Saga of Steven Slater. Bend over Backwards for Guests, but….
Like most of the rest of the country I have been following the saga of Steven Slater, the Jet Blue flight attendant, who after reportedly being verbally abused by a passenger and hit in the head with a carry on that the passenger was removing from the overhead bin before it was permissible to do so, cursed out the passenger on the PA, activated the emergency slide and fled the plane.
Just when we have been talking in this blog about dealing with complaints and difficult guests, a story about how one person dealt with a particularly difficult customer has made national news.
What seems particularly newsworthy is that Slater became an instant folk hero. He even got the lead story in the Sunday New York Times Week in Review:
The Folk Hero Playbook
Published: August 14, 2010
The man does not have his own talk show. Not yet, anyway.
For me a far more interesting issue is how much abuse a service worker should be required to take from a customer. I wondered whether Jet Blue has a policy on this issue, so I went on their blog and asked.
The exchange between Jet Blue and me follows. Let me know what you think.
Without prejudging what actually happened on that aircraft I think it would be helpful for Jet Blue to post it’s guidelines for flight attendants on how to handle abusive passengers. Assuming that the passenger did act as reported, cursing him out and hitting him in the head with a carry-on she was removing from the over-head bin, what does Jet Blue expect their flight attendants to do in such a situation? Grin and bear it? Sue the passenger for damages? Jet Blue, this is a serious question that does not effect this specific case. You really should take the trouble to post an answer.
Thanks for your comment! We actually do have extensive training for our Inflight Crewmembers, but unfortunately the details of that training are confidential for security purposes and cannot be freely shared.
Jet Blue, I asked you what you expect your flight attendants to do in the face of abuse. You answered that you cannot give the “details” of your flight attendant training “for security purposes.”
I’m sorry, but that is just the kind of nonsensical typical corporate cop-out that has inspired so many people to make a hero out of your employee who cursed out your customer on your public address system and activated your emergency slide, which according to the police gravely endangered people on the ground. If you treat your employees in the same kind of mealy-mouthed way you answered me no wonder they get frustrated.
As someone who has run a service oriented company for over 30 years, I could never excuse what Mr. Slater did, but has his employer you should understand that if you do not talk straight to your employees and your customers you share responsibility for these kinds of incidents. Making it clear that there is decency line that when crossed by customers will result in appropriate consequences, makes it a lot less likely that your employees will reach the point of having to take matters into their own hands.
Many years ago I realized that it is very helpful to divide difficult guests into two general categories, “needy” and “nasty.” As professionals it is our job to effectively help needy guests no matter how difficult and unreasonable. Nobody should have to put up with nastiness. Admittedly the distinction is sometimes hard to determine. In unclear cases give the benefit of the doubt to the customer. But when a guest is clearly abusive, it makes no sense to reward abusive behavior with impunity.
The way we express it to our people is: Bend over backwards for guests—-but do not bend over forwards. Perhaps not a very elegant way to put it, but our people remember it. And knowing that they will be supported if guests cross the line inspires them to go to extraordinary lengths to make our guests happy.
So Jet Blue, I am asking again. How much do your flight attendants have to put up with?
We seek to prosecute anyone who harms or threatens to harm any of our Crewmembers. That is not something we take lightly.
Jet Blue, that’s a good start. I suggest that you take it one small but important step further. Publically announce that you will refuse future service to passengers who gratuitously abuse your employees. Whatever tiny percentage of passengers you lose will be replaced many times over by passengers who appreciate the policy and your crew will handle these situations much more capably, consoled by the knowledge that they will not have to deal with the offending passenger again.
One the plus side I am impressed and appreciative that you care not enough to respond to my comments and look forward to your response.
There absolutely are cases in which we will refuse service to Customers that pose a risk to our Crewmember (and Customer) safety. These decisions are not made lightly and are determined on a case-by-case basis. Thanks for reading!
I was hoping for refusing service for passengers that pose a clear danger to your crew member (and passenger) mental health, but I realize that it is a lot to ask from a response to a blog post. Perhaps some Jet Blue folks with decision making authority will contemplate a change in policy. Thanks for answering.
End of exchange with Jet Blue.
So what do you think?