|Steven Slater, JetBlue's angry flight attendant|
NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- At some level, a lot of people hate their jobs and hope for a dramatic, take-this-job-and-shove-it grand finale, even in this economy. It is in this context that we must view the improbable glorification of suspended JetBlue ( JBLU) flight attendant Steven Slater. Slater got mad at a rude passenger, voiced some profanities over the intercom as passengers were disembarking, activated an evacuation chute, then grabbed a beer and slid to the end of his job.
A slide down an evacuation chute takes maybe two seconds. At the top of the chute, Slate was a guy leaving work before his shift had ended, under not exactly the best of circumstances. By the time he reached the bottom, he was proclaimed a hero by all manner of media and by tens of thousands of people empowered by Facebook to voice their support. It's difficult to imagine why -- even in our sit-on-your-butt-at-the-computer-all-day, compulsively-attuned-to-exotic-tools-of-communications world -- we should make a hero of a person who came to our attention because he publicly swore, needlessly deployed an evacuation chute and stole a can of beer. Swearing is fine in the right circumstances, but not in the wrong circumstances, which -- here I will reveal that I am a parent -- ought to include primetime television, PG movies and radio broadcasts. We could add rap, but this "music" genre is so totally off the cliff that the effort would be pointless. As far as needlessly deploying an evacuation chute, at best it costs money and delays flight operations, inconveniencing passengers. At worst, it can seriously injure a ground worker, especially if it occurs while a plane is awaiting cargo movements and fueling. The chute deploys with a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. There is not a single person in the airline industry who has not heard of at least one stupidity-triggered fatal incident involving a ground worker. Now let us briefly reconstruct what happened to Steven Slater on Monday, after JetBlue flight 1052 landed at New York Kennedy. According to the Associated Press, Slater's attorney said his client was drawn into a fight between two female passengers over space in the overhead bins as the Pittsburgh-to-New York flight was awaiting takeoff. One or both of the women was asked to gate-check her bag. Also, while in Pittsburgh, Slater was hit in the head.
After the flight landed, one of the women was enraged that her gate-checked bag was not immediately available, said the attorney, Howard Turman. "The woman was outraged and cursed
Slater out a great deal," Turman said. "At some point, I think he just wanted to avoid conflict with her." Slater grabbed at least one beer from the galley as he departed, an airport spokesman told the AP. By the way, if the AP account is right, then the details have been erroneously reported in hundreds of places. We all know what is going to happen now. A couple of celebrity TV hosts are going to "get" interviews with Slater. Supermarket magazines will write stories. There will be talk of a book and a movie, but hopefully this will quickly fade. It is safe to say that within a month, Slater's name will be forgotten, although the incident will be recalled far into the future. Many people in the airline industry are in love with the airline industry. Interestingly, Slater appears to fit this profile. His mother was a flight attendant and his dad was a pilot. He worked as a flight attendant at various airlines for 20 years. He was reportedly chairman of JetBlue's uniform redesign committee and a member of its "inflight values committee." This sort of career track is not uncommon. It applies to tens of thousands of people. I would not call all of them heroes necessarily. But during this period of increasing numbers of passengers (some of whom are rude), of airplanes that are fuller than ever before, and of wages that are mostly lower because of bankruptcies, these workers ought to get some credit for doing their jobs. That includes always putting safety first, showing respect for the great majority of passengers who comply with the rules and getting everybody off the airplane when the flight ends. -- Written by Ted Reed in Charlotte, N.C.