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Susan Estrich
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Coffee, Tea or Me


That's what the ads used to say, back in the day when air travel was considered glamorous, stewardesses were required to be young, slim and beautiful, and people actually "dressed" to take a plane. As for me, I thought it was glamorous just to go to the airport, much less get on a plane.

These days, I prefer root canal. Seriously.

Steve Slater was obviously wrong to grab a few beers, open the emergency chute and slide to freedom — and then to jail — after he'd had it with a rude passenger on a JetBlue flight. But there's a very good reason why he's become a folk hero of sorts for doing so.

The only place I can think of where people behave more rudely than they do on planes is on the Internet.

Reportedly, a passenger slammed an overhead bin on Slater's head after landing at JFK and then simply ignored his familiar warnings to remain seated until the plane had taxied to the gate.

Traveling is not easy. You're trying to get somewhere — maybe somewhere important for business, or to see a sick or dying relative, or to get home to your kids — and the plane is late or overbooked. Your earlier flight was canceled, and you're on standby. Your feet are killing you, and your boss is screaming at you, and the kids want to know why you're not home, and there's a gate change announcement and another line for a flight you probably won't make. And when you finally find yourself on board, you're in the middle seat, there's no room for luggage, there's nothing to eat or drink, and there's a screaming baby — and, yes, maybe even a surly flight attendant telling you to stow your bag in an overhead that's long since been jammed. Been there. Done that.

Slater couldn't take it anymore.

Whether any jury will ever convict him of anything depends on how many frequent travelers are included. My bet is he will walk, if not slide.

In the meantime, we could all use a refresher on airplane etiquette.

In 99 cases out of 100, whatever is wrong is not the fault of the person you're talking to. They have as much control over it as you do. Yelling at them will not change things. If anything, it will put you further down on the list.

Airplanes are not traveling restaurants. They are not traveling living rooms. They are crowded buses that fly. For those of us old enough to remember when airlines sold themselves on their second-floor lounges, gourmet food and extra legroom, it's time to forget all those things. Expect none of the above, and you won't be complaining.

Flight attendants are there for only one reason. Not to stow your luggage. Not to hold your baby. Not to hang your coat or bring you food or make you feel warm and cozy. The reason they lost all the lawsuits aimed at keeping the "coffee, tea or me" girls (their defense was that they made the male passengers feel more comfortable) is because their only real job — and it's a big one — is to keep you safe. To take charge in case of emergency. To ensure that your seat belt is fastened when it's supposed to be and you're seated when you're supposed to be so your chances of getting injured, perhaps seriously, are reduced. They are not trying to make you late, uncomfortable or unsatisfied.

Just safe.

For every Steve Slater, there are thousands of other flight attendants who have been treated far worse — far worse than those of us who just fly on occasion. And they bite their tongues and put up with it and keep doing their best to keep us safe.

I'd like to thank them for it. Fly safe.

To find out more about Susan Estrich and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



8 Comments | Post Comment
I feel so much safer with Steve Slaters as flight attendants. C'mon Susan. In the extremely rare event of a plane crash, chances are the flight attendants will die, screaming and praying, just like the passangers. Slater's actions were just as inexcusable as the passanger.Two wrongs, never make a right. Quit defending people who have no self control.
Comment: #1
Posted by: David Henricks
Wed Aug 11, 2010 3:03 AM
Susan - I agree with you. Steve was mistaken as was his passenger. However, it would have been fun to see him unload with both verbal barrels on the idiot who ignored his instructions. I personally have witnessed more people than I could count acting like idiots on airplanes and disregarding the instructions. Kudos to flight attendants and the job they do!
Comment: #2
Posted by: Charles
Wed Aug 11, 2010 8:53 AM
In two weeks I take a flight from Seattle to Indianapolis. Please pray for me.I agree with you. I would prefer root canal, without anesthetic

Comment: #3
Posted by: Ron Kohl
Wed Aug 11, 2010 12:23 PM
Re: David Henricks: I don't think she was defending him, simply sympathizing with him. True, he should have quit more peacefully, but just like in the movie "Network", sometimes you have to go to your window and scream out "I'm mad as Hell and I'm NOT going to take this anymore!". Otherwise, people will just continue to beat on you for the rest of your life if you just let them do so.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Nathan H.
Wed Aug 11, 2010 12:30 PM
I've had a root canal without anesthetic. Not on purpose just turns out I'm pretty resistant to novicane. I've also flown, missed flights, had major layovers. Honestly, I'd rather fly. Maybe if folks stopped whining and complaining about a little inconvenience flight attendants wouldn't feel the need to dramatically flee airplanes. Heaven forbid something in our plans goes wrong, though, it might be the end of the world! Or, like my mother always told me when things didn't go right, it's part of life's little adventures.
Comment: #5
Posted by: wyn667
Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:34 AM
Air travel has resulted in the further degradation of an already meager culture. Steve Slater may not be the most judicious person around, but I completely sympathise with his vexation. I also find some solace in the fact that Susan Estrich can find nothing better to write about. Still, it beats Joe Conason's miserable diatribe about non-existant conservative racism.
Comment: #6
Posted by: Supreme Galooti
Thu Aug 12, 2010 9:37 AM
Most Respectfully, please submit This Most Patriotic and Most Faithful Message also personally and specially to a Nationally Significant Patriotic Friend. Thank you!
Most Respectfully, This Most Earnest Patriotic Appeal was also submitted to almost all of The Heads Our Churches and to almost all of The Presidents and Provosts of Our Universities – “personally”!
This Most-Loving Prayer was also addressed to Pope Benedict XVI – Most Faithfully!
(In True Honor to Dr. Martin Luther King's Most Patriotic Legacy!)
The Nucleus of Our Whole World's Ever-Growing Suicidal Nuclear Crisis is created by No Other than the most Defrauding and Most Greedy Ultra-Conservative and by the most Ultra-Libertine Politico-Religionism everywhere – Universally! Our Whole World has no True Religion anywhere!
The Nucleus of The Most-Dominant Over-Ambition of Our Universal True Atheism is none other than The Most Voracious Globally Inhuman “Corporatist” Economic Exploitation; all by the most Extreme Global Disregard to The Most Fundamental UNIVERSAL HUMAN LITERACY and also to The Most Fundamental UNIVERSAL GOOD-SAMARITAN HEALTH INSURANCE. These two together Indeed Constitute ALMIGHTY GOD'S TRUE UNIVERSAL ELEMENTAL DEMOCRACY'S Most Vitally Essential Means for TRUE INDIVIDUAL EQUAL OPPORTUNITY to reach THOSE INDISPENSABLE ALMIGHTY GOD'S INDIVIDUAL ELEMENTAL HUMAN GIFTS (RIGHTS), NO-MORE, NO-LESS!!!
All of Our Vast World-Wide Perpetually Shackled – AS ILLITERATE AND INFIRM – HUMANITY in Our Western World is ever more and more so “CRUCIFIED” as threatened with impunity by instilling in them “Our” Religionist-Inculcated Utmost Fear of “GOING TO HELL” if they have “NO FAITH” – that is, if disobedient to “Our” Politico-Religionist False “Leadership”; as just like telling them “THEIR ‘HEAVEN' IS LIVING IN OUR SATANIC EXPLOITATION”!
Our Totally Politico-Religionist Western World has always even tried to expand Our Most Voracious Greedy Corporatism to Our Islamic Eastern World's “Friendly” Governments, but I most-strongly suspect that Islamic Religionism has an opposite but Equally Religionist-Inhuman Self-Defense: when Our Western Corporatist Inhuman Intervention reach their Eastern Critical Religionist Level – as in Our Unending Warring Perplexity with The Islamic World – Their Islamic Religionist Counteracting General “'Inspiration'-To-Go-To-Heaven” is no other than Their Ultra-Terrorist “Salvific” Individual Self-Immolation!
Comment: #7
Posted by: Octavio Saenz MD Sr
Thu Aug 12, 2010 1:56 PM
Your right, a flight attendants job is to save your ass not KISS it. Is there another industry where people clean the bottom of their shoes off on your clothing while you're working, trip you while you're walking, blame you for bad weather [idiots], and get angry when you do what is necessary to save their lives. I tell my passengers that I will not walk in the seat they paid for if they promise to keep their feet out of the aisles I'm paid $22,000 a year to walk.

The last couple years have proven that flight attendants do save lives, in spite of their passengers. NY- Toronto are 2 that come to mind immediately.

Comment: #8
Posted by: jerryg
Fri Aug 13, 2010 9:18 AM
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