The other day a Jet Blue Flight attendant who was hit in the head and told off by a disgruntled woman customer on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York fought back by cursing at the woman, grabbing some beer and exiting in the airplane on its emergency slide.

He was arrested for how he exited the plane and was acclaimed an instant celebrity for his reaction to the passenger.

The set up to this was two women passengers who began fighting over space in the overhead luggage compartment before the flight left Pittsburgh.  Anyone who has recently flown knows that virtually everyone on flights these days has a “carry on” that meets legal requirements, barely, and all overhead racks are stuffed to the brim.  Baggage handling service has been reduced and additional fees are charged. so customers, in response, simply carry on as much as they can.

When the flight attendant attempted to break up the row, he was apparently hit on the head by the carry-on of one of the women.

When the plane landed in New York, one of the women, apparently still disgruntled, told off the flight attendant which was the straw that broke the camel’s back and led to his ill-advised exit from the plane and the airport.

His extreme reaction to a rude and abusive customer became an instant subject for the talk shows, leading off the monologues.

But it was his exit that got him in trouble with the law.  Which just goes to show that the legal system is out of step with what people think is important.

His action is a symptom of the constantly declining service levels in the economy.  We have posted quite a few blogs on how reduced service reduces customer value, including an article on the airline business.

There is another side to this, particularly in the United States but also here in Canada.  Many workers have seen little personal economic progress while reading about multimillion dollar bonuses to corporate executives and bankers.  They see the lifestyles of the affluent and famous paraded in the media and feel anger and resentment.  As the wealth distribution curve alters with fewer and fewer people becoming “haves” with more and more, yet more and more people slowly becoming “have nots” — unrest is in the air.

This is fueled by threats of possible layoffs for many as we see auto plants so publicly shutting down as well as other reductions in the economy.  People with university degrees, who feel entitled by their education to a job that does not include “do you want fries with that,” have a sense of alienation to the system they are part of.

If the economy is expecting these folks to provide cheerful service in jobs they see as dead end, the economy has another think coming.  The support systems for service folks are being eroded at the same time as they are feeling under appreciated.

While Jet Blue started as a darling of the airline industry with new planes and cheerful service, it may now be the poster child for chippy service. They are still living down their delayed flight where passengers sat for 11 hours awaiting takeoff without escape or functioning toilets.

The problem is everywhere. And alienated customers are going to continue to become crabbier and crabbier as they are encouraged to fight back by corporate behaviour.

Businesses that do provide great service are reaping the rewards, but the pressure to slice away on service will not go away.

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