retail news in context, analysis with attitude

So, did you read about the Jet Blue flight attendant who had a Howard Beale moment yesterday?

Here’s how the New York Times described the story:

“On Monday, on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport, a JetBlue attendant named Steven Slater decided he had had enough, the authorities said.

“After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, 38 and a career flight attendant, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective.

“Then, the authorities said, he pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career.

“On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said. He was arrested at his home in Belle Harbor, Queens, a few miles from the airport, and charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.”

While there’s nothing funny about this story (well, some if it is kind of funny), Slater is being hailed in some places as a kind of working-class hero, saying once and for all that the customer is not always right.

But here’s the sobering part of this story.

Slater worked for Jet Blue.

Not United. Not American. But for an airline that has prided itself on being a different sort of experience for passengers and employees alike, and that has spent a lot of money promoting this quality.

And, it took place after a flight from Pittsburgh to New York - not exactly a long haul.

And Slater is described as a guy who was a “leader of JetBlue’s uniform redesign committee and a member of the airline’s in-flight values committee” - not someone likely to go rogue. (He apparently was under a certain amount of personal pressure, having just lost his dad to Lou Gehrig’s disease and just having learned that his mom has terminal cancer.)

(We can - and will - have another discussion about how awful customers can be. I’m just warming up on this one, and will come back to it another time.)

The overarching lesson here is simple: a business is only as good and successful as the people on the front lines.

You can’t always control the people on the front lines, and you certainly cannot control all the circumstances in which they find themselves. But you have to acknowledge their critical importance to the business, put yourself in their shoes, and work tirelessly to put them in a position and mindset where they can succeed.

And that’s my Tuesday morning Eye-Opener.
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