We Americans love to root for the underdog. I suppose it’s because the whole concept of the American Way and the American Dream started out as a small group of underdogs fighting against the status quo of what was then Mother England, and for all intents and purposes, the odds were against the rebel-rousers.
We are fascinated with stories of the ‘anti-hero:’ Bonnie and Clyde, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, Thelma and Louise. I don’t know why that is, but it’s a fact of our culture today. Unfortunately, while we tend to glorify these folks in our minds, we forget the problems they either have caused, or had the potential to cause and that is what frustrates me the most.
Last summer, a flight attendant was at the end of their proverbial rope. He was unhappy with everything and everybody. No one around him knew how very fragile his breaking point was. During the course of his final flight, Steven Slater had allegedly been aggravated by a female passenger’s attitude and remarks made to him during the boarding process in Pittsburg regarding her carry-on bag. As the flight pulled away from the gate and the crew began their safety briefing, Slater allegedly threw down his demo oxygen mask and demo life vest, conveying an air of irritation to the passengers around him. Then during the beverage service, he simply stopped his service midway through the cabin and retired to the aft section of the plane. Passengers had later reported that Slater looked unkempt and unprofessional in his appearance and attitude.
Shortly after landing, but still taxiing to the gate, this same female passenger apparently got up from her seat to retrieve her bag, while the plane was still in motion. Mr. Slater got up to notify her that she had to return to her seat until the plane came to a stop. According to eye witnesses however, he had already had previous issues with this passenger at boarding and they commenced into a verbal altercation. He claims she smacked his head with the overhead bin door and that was what finally set him off. The rest is history.
For days and weeks following that incident, there was a lot of talk (mostly adoration) for a guy who was so fed up with people, the system and the rules he was bound by, they he just snapped and let loose. The infamous resignation of dropping F-bombs over the PA system, grabbing some beer and deploying the emergency slide to exit the plane originally got him three felony charges, including reckless endangerment.
Earlier this week, Slater stood before a NY Supreme Court Judge and received one year probation and, according to one reported, got a ‘standing ovation’ from the Judge and the gallery of the courtroom. The story goes on to quote him as saying, “I’ve been a divisive character in the airline industry but 95% of the crews are behind me.”
Well Mr. Slater that is where we vehemently disagree.
I have discussed at length with my co-workers the incident that took place that day, and while most everyone agrees that they might secretly like to do the same thing were they as fed up and under as much duress as he, very few people admire or support his actions. From our perspective, not only was what he did irresponsible and “over-the-top” it was also quite potentially dangerous – not necessarily for him, but for the ramp and ground workers servicing the aircraft underneath it!
As an aside, emergency slides/rafts that are attached to an aircraft door are required by FAA regulations to be fully operational and usable within 6 seconds of the door actuating the deployment. Unfortunately that is not nearly enough time for someone underneath on to react in time to move fully out of its way.
I am reminded of a customer service friend of mine who actually had a slide inadvertently deploy right on top of him while he was in the jetway of a recently arrived aircraft. When the door opened with the slide still engaged on the door, the force of that slide deployment was so great that it threw him up against the jetway ramp access door and injured him quite severely. He lost many months of work because of this incident. Would we in society be as gleeful and supportive of Slater had he injured or worse yet killed someone because he decided to give his passengers, his employers and the world the middle finger?
As I said, my colleagues and I did not support his choice to vacate the plane in that fashion in the least. And many of us feel that the reaction by the judge and courtroom the other day, as well as the adoration and apparent support he has gotten then and now from the media completely sends the wrong message. We may feel bad for him, perhaps empathetic to his frustrations at the time. And we are certainly glad that he successfully completed his required mental health and substance abuse programs.
But a “working class hero” he isn’t.