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The Case of The Wayword Flight Attendant

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 17th 2010

A Study in StressThe Case of The Wayward Flight Attendant

A waiter at a high end restaurant serves a dinner to four people. His service is prompt, efficient and friendly. He complies with all requests and does is thanked by the group for his professional and attentive work. The bill came to four hundred dollars, what with expensive wine, etc. But, for this restaurant that type of bill is a common experience. The bill is paid and the group cheerfully leaves. To his shock and dismay, when the waiter eagerly looks at the tip that was left he discovers that it is only five dollars. The average tip is expected to be 15% and many people leave 20% or higher. His frustration is boundless.

A teacher with a long and excellent reputation for helping her students find success in the classroom and on their standard exams, such as achievement tests and the college boards, popular among students because of her warmth and caring. However, this academic year she has a student, a who is chronically absent from her class. She reports this to administration, carefully documents his attendance and calls home to speak to his parents. One day, the student's mother comes to school and is irate. She accuses the teacher of singling out her son and harassing the family. Expecting full support from her administrators, she is shocked to hear them advise her to be "wiser" in the way she handles the student and his family. It seems they are powerful politicos in the town.

I suspect that most of us agree that service industry types of careers are high stress. Nurses, teachers, police officers, flight attendants, and many others, are faced with a public that is sometimes ungrateful at best or hostile, insulting and violent clients, at worst.

After twenty eight years of service a flight attendant exploded after he was cursed at by a passenger who opened left her seat before the plane was stopped and in violation of stated instructions to remain seated. When the attendant rushed over to tell the passenger to sit, he was cursed at and, to add injury to insult, was hit in the head by the passenger's baggage as the plane lurched as it came to a stop. Fed up, he made an announcement over the public address system that twenty eight years of insults were enough. He then opened the emergency chute and slid off the plane onto the tarmac.

When I first read about the incident I cheered the attendant. Don't you have those moments when you have had enough and want to kick and scream? If you are a human being the answer is, "yes," you have lived those moments when you wanted to kick, scream and cry.

The trouble is the flight attendant was arrested while nothing happened to the passenger, at least as far as I know.

It is always important to think about the consequences of our actions even in those situations in which we are convinced of the rightness of our outrage.

Emotional resilience is an excellent marker of mental health. Emotional resilience refers to the ability to tolerate the most frustrating and stressful of situations without attacking others or abusing others. In other words, as much as we might want to kick and scream, it is better not to.

So, while I empathize with the flight attendant, shouldn't he have found a better way to cope?

What would you have done in the flight attendants situation?

What are your experiences with these types of insults and injustices?

Your comments are strongly encouraged.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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