Of the many changes in American life that have taken place during my lifetime, few play the role of a political and cultural Rorschach test as well as airline travel.
My kids look on in amazement (and the same scorn, no doubt, with which I used to treat my own dad’s accounts of the good ol’ days) when I explain that, when I was a lad, people got gussied up to ride in airplanes.
It is hard to believe, given the belching, flip-flopped, fleece-wearing masses, toting their aromatic fast food meals, that cram the terminals these days, but it used to be normal--nay, expected--that a guy wore a coat and tie, and gals a snazzy outfit, before boarding an airplane.
Then came airline deregulation, espoused by everyone from Ted Kennedy to Ronald Reagan. The conservative in me wrestles with what we got, in return for letting the market dictate things: cheap fares, to be sure, but a far coarser cultural experience.
I think that is what makes the saga of JetBlue’s Steven Slater so appealing in these dog days of August. Who among us has not wanted to stand up at work, declare “That’s it!” and activate the automatic escape slide, beer in hand? And who, knowing how the air travel experience has, via price wars and security restrictions, transformed passengers into whiny, rude oafs--selfishly shoving our overstuffed carry-on luggage on top of someone’s folded coat--does not sympathize with Slater, and the rest of today’s airline personnel?
Oh sure, there are a gazillion reasons why Slater should not have violated all those safety and security regulations, when making his splendidly stylish exit. Just as there are good reasons for seat belts, and motorcycle helmets, and warning labels on pillows, and everything that touches our lips. To tell you the truth, I’m not really sure that Steve’s the man I want captaining the life raft if our plane goes down in Lake Michigan.
But, I am a live-and-let-live kind of guy. And maybe Slater’s brand of bravado is just what you want in a real emergency. If he is truly contrite, and wants his job back, I think JetBlue should give it to him--quietly, maybe on a probationary basis, so as not to encourage others to act in a way we so secretly admire, and innately understand, but must outwardly deplore.