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August 11th, 2010 by Dr. Phil

Free Steven Slater? Or Send Him to Jail?

AP Photo/Louis Lanzano

AP Photo/Louis Lanzano

By now, you’ve no doubt heard all about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who decided to quit his job after a female passenger allegedly cursed him and conked him over the head with a suitcase.

And boy, did he quit in a big way. First, it was reported that he cursed back over the plane’s public address system at the passenger, dropping several F-bombs. Then, after one last defiant declaration — (he reportedly yelled, “That’s it! I’m done! F*** you all!”) — he allegedly grabbed a cold beer from the galley, released the inflatable emergency exit slide, slid down and disappeared across the tarmac. 

Now, Slater’s the new Internet celebrity. He’s got his own fan page and an online support group that is called “Free Steven Slater.” For a lot of Americans who have long wanted to cry out, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not gonna take it anymore,” he’s become a genuine folk hero, a dramatic symbol of hope to working stiffs everywhere.

But he’s also been charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass. And JetBlue executives apparently want him brought to justice. According to a memo issued by Vicky Stennes, a JetBlue vice president, “Some media outlets are portraying yesterday’s event as a humorous example of what individuals may consider doing at a point in their careers — walking off the job in a very public fashion. However … deploying a slide is a forceful event and yesterday’s deployment endangered, and could have severely injured or even killed.”

Slater’s fans are furious, saying it’s not as if he opened the doors when the plane was in the air. All he was doing, they insist, was standing up for his own dignity. And hey, they add, he didn’t get violent and go postal on everyone. He just slid away into the night with a cold brewski in his hand.

Let’s agree to one thing: it’s not easy to be a flight attendant these days. Passengers regularly give them grief for things beyond their control, like flight cutbacks, smaller and smaller food offerings, and extra fees for everything from checked luggage to earphones.

But let’s also be honest about something else. Flight attendants are taught from the very beginning exactly what they’re going to face on flights. They know they’re going to be dealing with very rude passengers who do things like drink too much or demand that their carry-on bags be stored exactly a certain way in a particular compartment. If we had every flight attendant throwing a tantrum over the kind of lousy work he or she sometimes had to do, we’d never get another flight in the air. And what if a pilot pulled a Slater? Would we be laughing then?

Still, I’m not going to sit here and just wag my finger at Mr. Slater. Haven’t all of us, at some point in our lives, considered walking off our jobs, telling everyone to shove it? (As I’ve said many times, if you have never had a job that you fantasized about storming out on, you just haven’t been working long enough.) And doesn’t it seem a little unfair that the passenger who allegedly bonked the flight attendant with the suitcase gets to walk away scot free?

I want to know what you think. We seem to be living in a world were more and more people are acting ruder — and stupider — than ever before, and they are completely getting away with it. Should they, like the lady passenger, deserve a Slater-like response, in which we rip off the masks of social niceties, get in their faces and tell them where to stick it? And what would you have done if you were in Slater’s shoes? Would you have given up your career for just one more glorious moment of outrage?

I look forward to reading your responses. And, I confess, I wish Mr. Slater well. But I do wonder what’s going to happen to him in a couple of weeks when the Internet loses interest in his story. What happens after his 15 minutes of fame? This isn’t TV. There won’t be any closing credits and happily-ever-after music playing. If he doesn’t land a book deal, the guy’s going to have a lot of trouble finding another job. I sure hope he enjoyed that free beer.

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115 Responses to “Free Steven Slater? Or Send Him to Jail?”

  1. Margaret C. Ball says:

    This man is very unstable, he is not a safe person to be on an airline. He really is craving attention anyway he can get it. I think he must be very sad inside, and he isn’t even aware that he is.

  2. Martha Semega says:

    Having been married for 24 years and in a relationship with my husband for 26, the verbal and emotional abuse has gotten from sometimes to never knowing what is going to set him off. I needed to go to a Domestic Violence Counselor to keep my identification not overwhelmed by the behavior he has. It was effecting me when I would go to work, go to a business meeting, volunteer, talk with neighbors or friends or family and feeling so smothered I did not know what to do. We do not have children and would not know what to do for them while trying to save myself.

    I am so glad Dr. Phil is one of the first men who stand up to this abuse of another individual to another individual. Although Domestic Violence and abuse is not a one gender to another gender based, women are the largest number that it happens to but should not happen to.

    I had met up with a former employer at a business meeting with at least 12 other people. He took me aside and asked me if I was being treated with respect and kindness in my personal life. He also said that everyone I worked with when on his staff did not know what to do when I walked in the office looking like being on the floor. One thing he said he was happy to hear is that my work life and personal life have strong boundaries and would not interfere with each other. Then I gave him a strong handshake and my resume.

    Domestic Violence abuse needs to be out in the open. The explaination of it, the occurrances of it, the whole story about it. It needs to STOP!

    Martha Semega – CT

  3. Jolene Hallcroft says:

    Thank you for addressing this issue. I feel if we talk about this more publically we could help someone and that someone could be anyone. I had a boyfreind that found it okay to hit for 5 years when I was in my highschool days. As an adult there was no way I was going to put up or live with it. I did not get to see your show due to a Tennis tournament being shown in your scheduled time. I watched you on Larry King Live and feel that you may just be the person out there to open the gates to others to talk about this more. Nancy Grace talks about the war on women. We need to also realize it is just not women that need our help. There is Men and children and pets also. Thank you for this and lets dedicate 2011 to this and keep talking about it and if that works lets do it again in 2012 =)

    Jolene Hallcroft -Wy

  4. J Turner says:

    This guy is a jerk and has had his 15 minutes of fame for no reason other than he is plain stupid. If he were straight, he would have been fired immediately w/o any debate and some sort of charges would and should have been brought against him. His actions were inmature and showed his childish behavior could have injured someone innocent. He deserves to be unemployed! If the gay community is looking for a positive hero, he is certainly not worthy of their cause. They deserve much better representation.

  5. Rhoda Adam says:

    Insofar as Mr. Slater is concerned, I was initially sympathetic to his situation, but as more information was released have changed my view. He appears to be a self indulgent, publicity seeker who enjoyed his 15 minutes of fame. I wonder how he’ll support himself in future.

    I see a huge growth of incivility in today’s culture. As for today’s show I was truly appalled at the percentages supporting the insensitivity of what appears to be the general viewing population, but I guess I shouldn’t be given the popularity of those shows. I lump them in with the popularity of extreme radio talk show hosts, screaming at callers, verbally abusing anyone whose views they disagree with, especially those belonging to a political party different from theirs, as if our country should have only one party – theirs. Civil discourse appears to be quickly disappearing.

  6. Evelise says:

    Last week, 2 days before 9/11, I flew from Austin, TX to L.A. CA, changing planes in Houston. In both Austin & Houston, we were notified that the boarding lines may take a little longer because there were going to be “random patdowns”. I didn’t think much of this, thinking that it was because of the fear around 9/11.

    And then I noticed in both places, that only darker skinned people were being patted down. I’m a white female and remember having a feeling of compasion for the people that appeared to me, to be profiled. I noticed how they seemed to just accept it and wondered how it would feel to grow up having to accept such behaviour because of the color of my skin. Your show today, brought back those same feelings when hearing how sensitive some of the people were and hearing how insensitive others were.
    I personally think it is the dumbing down of America, brought on by reality tv. If those people on those shows really act like that and people really give a hoot about it, Lord help us all.
    And on the Slater issue – pull the media plug & prosecute. He is no hero. He broke the law and should be prosecuted.

  7. C. K. says:

    I think we should cut this guy some slack. Let’s face it, we have all lost our cool on some poor cashier clerk, hotel receptionist or solicitor that has shown up on our door step. We have all dealt with ignorant people while at work. We have all thought at some point in time about how nice it would be to tell a rude customer off and quit. The difference is…this guy did it! No harm was done, he said his peace and he walked…or slid off the job. I say good for him!

    At what point do we start holding people responsible for their inappropriate actions in public. To say that putting up with rude, ignorant people is part of this man’s job is a prime example of what our society has become. That we think it is our right to put down, belittle and demean those we come in contact with because they should expect rudeness, that they get paid to put up with it just disgusts me.

    I am a Casino dealer. I get this treatment from people 8 hours a day, 5 days a week. Do I get paid to put up with it? Absolutely not. In fact there are Canadian Laws governing my rights as an employee to not put up with the abuse. Unfortunately management chooses to side with money over their employees. So I find myself in a place where I have to suck it up to continue supporting my 4 children. I can only wish I had it within myself to drop an “F-bomb” or 2 at the next player at my table that pisses me off, grab a beer off the waitesss’s tray and walk out of the building. Until then, I will live vicariously through Mr. Slater and hope this bold move brings bigger and better his way.

  8. JAV says:

    While I agree that Mr. Slater needs to take responsibility for his actions, there should be a punishment for the female passenger as well. Perhaps if we begin to show people that it is unacceptable to behave that way, it will happen less often. I know that flight attendants, like many other “customer service” positions, have been taught to deal with rude and often mean customers but this is too much. Whether she meant to hit Mr. Slater on the head or not the fact is she did. She didn’t listen to his instructions and by hitting him committed a battery. She should be prosecuted just as he should be prosecuted and we could hope that these actions would not repeat themselves and that people, especially customers, would stop these despicable actions.

  9. Shawn says:

    Wow! Some of you people need to really lighten up! This guy may not have done things the way you think he should have, but so what..your not perfect either. This guy was dis-respected and physically hit by a woman suitcase..this wasn’t about right or wrong…this was about self respect. I say good for him. You know as well as I do most of you, if not all, would have done the same thing if you had
    been treated that same way for years. Its all about self-respect people..GET SOME!

  10. Brian says:

    Why would anyone even consider sending this guy to jail. Ok he lost his Job, he was embarrassed completely in the media what more would you want? I dont think the guy should be drawing this much attention. It’s time to get over it. Jail is for a place for criminals. Is this guy a criminal?

  11. Leila says:

    I think jail is a serious overkill of a response. Way too severe a punishment. The passenger was obviously rude and verging on violent in her behavior, so was the flight attendant in his response. However meeting rude and violent behavior with more rude and violent behavior will just leave rude and violent behavior in the world! Someone has to step back and say”Hey, this person is really trying to irate me today but you know what,I’m just not going to let it get to me,I’m just going to walk away.” And that would put a stop to it. The most both parties need is some anger management classes, and a bit more respect and consideration got their fellow human being. Spread the love!

  12. Nichole says:

    When I saw the story on my local news here in the San Francisco Bay area, I at first was shocked thinking,”that guy is a nutcase!” But later as more about the story was being told by the news reporter, I thought,”Good for him! What an awesome guy!” And I bet that he became a hero of sorts to those who are tired and fed up with their jobs.

  13. vince says:

    i got to agree what this clown did was stupid, he aint a hero to me dr phil,he acts like a spoiled brat as far as im concerned,i use to cook at a local waffle house, i was never trained to deal with drunks who came in every week end to eat after a night at the local night clubs, let me tell you i had to put up with a lot of stupidity, but i also knew the good folks were drunk and would not even remember coming to the waffle house for a sobering up meal before making there way home, at first i was so mad with what they would say, but i just reminded my self they were just drunk and let it go at that, doc by me displaying understanding to the situation, i was able to laugh with there snarl remarks, and as a result i often receved a bigger tip then the girls wating on them rofl, you just have to learn how to roll with the punches as i learned, hell people are only human and we all do stupid things at one point in our life.

  14. Beverly Barnhart says:

    He stayed to long at the fair, so to speak. Some of us do – once I realized I felt like harming someone I was training. I needed to get out of my occupation and I did!

  15. Cate from Oz says:

    We saw this story over and over in Australia. I think it’s deplorable that we, as a society, make celebrities of people for their bad behaviour. Two words…. IMPULSE CONTROL. We need to stop turning people who lose it into heroes. The people who are the real heroes are those that deal with stuff day in and day out and still remain in control. Let’s make celebrities out of THEM for a change.

    No! Not “good for him”. He put a lot of innocent people at risk and, no doubt, caused them fear and discomfort. These antics might have appeared very camp and very comical, especially the way it has been portrayed in the media. But things could have turned out very differently. It only takes one act of stupidity to ruin a bunch of lives forever.

    And, if you think it’s hard being a flight attendant these days, what about doctors or nurses or police or child safety officers? They face abuse every day. Would we applaud them if they did a “Slater”?

    No. There’s acceptable standards of behaviour. And that ain’t it! We shouldn’t be hero-worshipping clowns like this. It just encourages the next idiot to cross that line in the search of his own 15 minutes of fame.

    (Having said that, what of the woman that swore at Slater and hit him with her suitcase? That behaviour is also unacceptable. She should have faced consequences too.)

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