Should American Airlines' Attendants Be Punished?

American Airlines aircrafts.
Tony Gutierrez
American Airlines aircrafts.

Flight attendants have a tough job. Passengers are unhappy, dry cabin air is hard on the skin, and the pay is so low that many flight attendants on the regional jets I fly are new immigrants. No wonder some of the men and women serving you soda and pretzels in coach are grumpy sometimes.

Now the Wall Street Journal reports American Airlines is investigatingwhy some flight attendants reportedly decided on their own to trigger emergency slides last week, when a plane bound for Hawaii returned to LAX because of the smell of smoke. According the Journal, American attendants are allowed to make safety calls like this, but normal procedure is to wait for the captain to make the call, and it appears the pilot didn't in this case. The decision to deploy slides also disrupted traffic on two runways. No evidence of fire was found.

Now, I don't know the details. And, yes, passengers can get injured going down those slides, so you don't want to deploy them without good cause. Maybe nothing will come from the reported investigation. But this is the last thing flight attendants need to hear.

At good companies (Southwest ), employees are encouraged to make calls in the field. I wonder how passengers on that American flight would feel if attendants had NOT deployed the slides and the fire was real. And I can't help but think the flight attendants working for an airline which lost two planes on 911, which bears the name of the country Al Qaeda hates, aren't understandably oversensitive to potential danger. If the captain ordered them not do deploy the slides, that's one thing. But if he or she said nothing--and maybe wasn't fully aware of the situation in the cabin--how hard should anyone be on the employees back there? As for disrupting traffic at LAX, well, what else is new...

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