Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater

I'm afraid I've kind of been living in a cave for the past couple of days, and finally heard the story of flight attendant Steven Slater and his job-related meltdown on a recent Jet Blue flight after being verbally and physically assaulted by a troublesome passenger.

Reckless endangerment?  Criminal mischief?  Trespassing?  You have to be kidding me...

Now I have to say that in the eyes of his employer, he's probably toast as far as his career, and I'm not sure I'll be able to blame Jet Blue for firing him if that's what they do.  As a criminal, though, I don't think so.

There are lots of stories abound, but basically the latest one from a fairly reliable source was that there was a female passenger who had been arguing earlier with Slater and another passenger regarding getting her bags into the overhead compartment.  At the end of the flight as the plane was taxiing to the terminal, the same female passenger got up (against the direction of the flight attendants) and started going for the overhead compartment.  When Steven Slater asked her to sit back down and wait until the plane had stopped at the terminal, she apparently flung open the overhead bin, striking Slater in the head.  When Slater demanded an apology, the woman cussed-out Slater.  Slater then went up to the front of the plane, got on the intercom and gave the woman a piece of his mind, complete with his own array of cuss-words, declared he had enough, then grabbed two beers from the beverage cart, popped open the escape slide, slid off the plane, and went home...where he was later arrested.

So many people on the 'net have expressed comments on this, and so I will try to keep mine brief.

First, there was no endangerment caused by Slater except maybe to himself and definitely to his career.  The criminal mischief charge is debatable ... he did deploy an emergency escape device on an active tarmac.  Trespass?  Give me a break...  The man had a really bad day ... he just got assaulted by a passenger, lost his temper at a clearly unruly passenger, and destroyed his career in the process.  Nothing will be solved by adding criminal charges to the mix.

Second, if there are any witnesses who saw the actions of the unruly woman on the plane...no, wait, not if, there were a whole plane full of witnesses...  So one of you kind people please come forward and bring the unruly woman to justice.  She actually did endanger the safety of those on the plane, and Slater was doing his job.  The reckless endangerment charge belongs to her.

Third, I would not call Slater a hero.  He isn't.  He's a man who got tired of taking crap from stupid, self-righteous people with entitlement complexes.  I don't blame him for losing his temper, but at the same time his actions are not those of a hero (just as Joseph Stack wasn't a hero, I must remain consistent here).  The big difference between Slater and Stack is that Slater's actions only affected him and probably offended a couple of people (and probably wrecked an escape slide), while Stack's actions were violent, outwardly aggressive, caused the death of one man and himself, and the needless destruction of an office building, for a problem that was really of his own making.  The only thing that died in Slater's case was his career, and given the public outcry I'm not sure that is even dead yet (hey, he'd probably do great working for Southwest Airlines!!).  That all said, what Slater did do was bring to the world's attention just how nasty people can be toward people who are doing their job and providing customer support.  I've had some really lousy flights and some lousy flight attendants, and I'll admit I grumbled a bit here and there.  The majority of my bad experiences on airlines have been from other passengers, and the majority of my experiences with flight attendants is that they try their best to make things as pleasant as possible even when things are not going well...and Slater seemed like that kind of guy.

If anything, this incident probably made a lot of people think about flying Jet Blue.

Finally, about airlines and the passengers that fly them in general:  The totally unnecessary airport security dance already puts people in a defensive posture from the start.  Airlines have furthered that by nickel-and-diming passengers with ridiculous fees for luggage and so on.  Never mind the late flights and outrageous charges.  These things don't exactly set the mood for a pleasant and uneventful flight.  Add to the mix the kind of passengers I see so often on airplanes who are inconsiderate, thoughtless, and feel they are entitled to special treatment because they bought an airline ticket.  This is the reason I hate traveling anywhere by plane anymore.  Take the same people I've written about here and cram them into a big tin-can with a jet engine on it and what do you think is going to happen?  I'm surprised that flight attendants and passengers who are considerate and can follow instructions haven't seriously flipped out before now.

This is yet another case of an incident that is a symptom of bigger problems in this world.  Maybe instead of elevating Slater to hero status or treating him like a criminal we should look around at what causes stuff like this to happen.  People, look at yourselves.  Slater was trying to tell y'all something.  Maybe you should listen.  Think about that the next time you take that airline flight.

BTW, I would really love to have heard what JC of Mental Shrapnel has to say about all this...  Too bad it has been over a year since she's been around...

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