Free Steven Slater? Or Send Him to Jail?
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.