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  • Enough Already: JetBlue Flight Attendant Is Not A Hero Or A Symbol
    Posted by Andrew Compart 5:25 PM on Aug 12, 2010

    Everybody seems to be going gaga over the JetBlue flight attendant who dramatically left the plane -- and I'm assuming his job -- by deploying the emergency evacuation slide on the aircraft after an altercation with a passenger, and grabbing a beer or two to take with him down the slide. Some people are declaring StevenSlater a hero, or holding the incident up as a symbol of the disrespect shown to flight attendants, or declaring it somehow the fault of airlines for filling too many seats with passengers and charging too many fees. People magazine online is asking which actor could play Slater in a movie. At a press conference in New York Wednesday morning about a $1.2 billion project to expand Kennedy Airport's Terminal 4, several of the questions were about Slater, including one asking whether it was a "wake-up call" for airlines to improve service and another asking if airlines need to create a "workers bill of rights" just as they created a "customers bill or rights." (Note to questioner: crew members have a bill of rights -- it's a contract, and that's a union contract at most carriers, albeit not at JetBlue.)

    But I think it is all bunk. There is no bigger picture here, no symbolism, no larger context. This seems to be a simple case of a passenger who acted like a word I do not think I am allowed to say here, and a flight attendant who overreacted. Period.

    Slater is not a hero: He could have hurt someone, as noted in the criminal complaint filed against him. I sometimes get frustrated at work, but I do not react by throwing a pair of scissors in the air and hope they do not hurt anyone on the way down. The slides are heavy, people work on the ground near aircraft, and they could be seriously injured.

    JetBlue also will have to spend $25,000 or so to replace the slide and, I'm assuming, Slater held up the deplanement of passengers who were innocent bystanders and perhaps the people who were scheduled to be on that aircraft's next departure. I don't think he's a villain either, although I'm even less sympathetic than I was originally because he seems to be unrepentant and basking in the glory, rather than regretful for what he did, and has admitted he's been thinking about doing this with the slide for years.

    The incident is not a symbol of worker discontent with their bosses. He was angry with a passenger or passengers, not his bosses. His reaction had just as much impact on the innocent bystanders on the plane as on his bosses or the instigating passenger. And, although I realize being a flight attendant is often a thankless job, I have not heard of a flood of complaints by JetBlue crew members about this particular airline being an awful one to work for.

    The incident is not a symbol of the decline of airline service and air travel. JetBlue is a rare carrier that is usually praised for its service, creating a loyal legion of flyers, and it actually has roomier seats than most.

    The incident is not a symbol of the increase in "air rage," at least not until someone provides me tangible evidence that it actually is one the rise. Various groups and pundits have been describing air rage as on the rise for the past 10 years. As an example, here's a story about it from July -- of 2001.

    Travel columnist Christopher Elliott had this to say: "Those hassles, from crowded planes to tightened security to fees for checked baggage, have made air travel an intolerably bad experience, which is why passengers are lashing out.

    But, you know what, plenty of passengers have airport and airline hassles and do not feel compelled to violate rules and civil behavior and bonk flight attendants in the head (purposefully or inadvertently) with a piece of baggage. The passengers that lash out in that way are that word I cannot mention on this blog, and probably predisposed to be that way.

    As for Slater, I'm just going to conclude by posting the words of Jerry, a commenter on JetBlue's good-natured but mostly innocuous posting on its own blog about the incident. Jerry was responding to all of the commenters calling Slater a hero.

    "Hero? Captain Sully Sullenberger was a hero. Some people are putting Slater in the same class as Sully? For what? For having lack of self control? For being a huge inconvenience to the passengers on the jet who were delayed and missed connections? For causing Jet Blue to loose untold money in putting the plane back in order? For causing the plane not to be available to the passengers who were scheduled to take it on its next flight? For cursing over the PA? For which of those reasons do you choose the word ‘hero’ to address Slater? Our apologies to Captain Sully Sullenberger."

    Tags: tw99, JetBlue, Slater, attendant

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