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Ever since a ValuJet DC-9 dropped anchor in the Everglades three weeks ago, front pages and TV newscasts have been, well, swamped with allegations of gross safety oversights, plummeting stock prices, and utter employee disgruntlement. The carrier’s own flight attendants are reportedly defecting rather than risking their well-being for another takeoff-landing sequence. And despite a massive effort to reclaim the remains of the 110 now-former ValuJet customers, there hasn’t been a single body part recovered so far that wouldn’t fit into a Big Gulp cup. Jeffrey Dahmer’s fridge surrendered human components larger than the Everglades have, perhaps in part because alligators found out that not all airline food is inedible.
Last Friday at Dulles, business was brisk at the counters of every other airline serving the Northern Virginia airport, but the staffers at the ValuJet booth were pulling off a dead-on impression of Maytag repairmen all afternoon long. To be fair, more than 40 percent of the airline’s flights have been canceled while a “comprehensive safety review” is performed on ValuJet’s primordial fleet, but that doesn’t completely explain the meager trickle of customers at the airline’s desk. If a wholly unscientific survey (involving sandbagging travelers as soon as they checked in or picked up their luggage) can be trusted, the typical ValuJet flier circa June ’96 can be pigeonholed fairly easily. The three main classes:
Hellbent Media Mistrusters: Typified by Ken Tassi, a 25-year-old from Boston who was at Dulles to board a ValuJet flight to his hometown. “The press is being mean to ValuJet,” said Tassi by way of explaining his choice of airline. “They don’t plaster other airlines’ names and logos all over the screens when they crash. Am I right? It’s just picking on the little guy, and I don’t see it as a risk. It’s not a risk.” Tassi, who was flying solo, admitted his fiancée declined to accompany him on the ValuJet flight for fear of a repeat performance.
Black-Belt Bargain Hunters: The kind of consumer who doesn’t give a damn about putting life on the line if it means a buck might be saved. “All I know is that the prices of all other airlines have skyrocketed since the ValuJet crash,” moaned Florence Coram while waiting to board a flight to Atlanta. Coram’s devotion to price point seemed to indicate she’d have no trouble patronizing Save-Rite X-Ray or EconoSurgeon, if they existed.
The Actuarially Challenged: “What are the odds that another ValuJet plane is going to crash so soon after that other crash?” asked one member of this dumbass class, a native Bethesdan who makes a living as a male dancer. Las Vegas was built on that very same, very flawed, logic. The dancer, after deplaning from Boston, was picked up at the Dulles baggage claim area by a brother, who admitted that earlier in the week he’d canceled ValuJet tickets…to his own wedding.