When the news of Steven Slater jumping down the slide to get off of his jetBlue plane hit the airwaves, he immediately got accolades for taking a stand for the “we’re fed up and we aren’t gonna take it anymore” crowd, along with the people that have had it with unruly passengers. Within hours he was a folk hero.
I was stunned.
I understand the frustration with unruly and inconsiderate passengers. Let’s ignore for the moment the accounts that Slater himself may well have been the problem, and let’s further assume for the sake of argument that Slater behaved appropriately for the flight to JFK, but had to deal with a rude passenger that bumped his head with a bag.
I can understand chastising another person for rudeness or poor manners. It happens all the time, and usually the person being corrected is quickly made to realize their wrong. My experience is that they usually apologize, everyone kisses and makes up, and we all get warm cookies and cold milk before we go to bed. Occasionally, someone does not respond to chastisement, either because they are dense, or because they just don’t care. A little public embarrassment—in this case, having this misdeed announced on an airlines public address system—just might do the trick. This is not to say that I condone such actions, or that it is always a smart thing to do, but I’ve seen it used effectively, and let’s face it, some people can just make it work. Others can’t. Since Slater didn’t stick around to see if the passenger would respond, we don’t really know if could make it work.
Had Slater stopped there, we would never have heard his name. But the moment he decided to deploy the slide—and steal the beer and walk away—he was no longer punishing the misbehaving passenger, he was punishing his company. By all accounts, Slater was a gung-ho, “blue” to the core jetBlue employee, a perfect ambassador for his airline. But popping the slide was dangerous (unfortunate experience tells us that someone could have been killed from the explosive force with which it opens), not to mention expensive: I’ve been told that a new slide for the E-190 runs around $40,000. That figure does not include the lost productivity of the plane during the repair interval. JetBlue did not disclose whether or not other flights were cancelled as a result of the incident. Further, assuming that Slater was scheduled to continue his trip, it’s also possible that a flight or flights he was supposed to work were canceled for lack of a full crew. Or perhaps another flight he was not scheduled to work was canceled because of the shuffling of flight attendants to cover his trip. Only the airline knows the true costs of this incident.
What an idiot.
But more pertinently, Slater demonstrated a basic inability to handle the stressors of his job. Every job has some degree of stress, and it is no secret that working for the airlines is an emotional roller coaster, and the flight attendants do not get the respect and attention that they should. But they do have to be able to keep their wits about them. Rumors began to swirl that Slater was dealing with a lot of personal stress because of a sick mother, but a more professional response would have been to take some time off of work and/or seek professional counseling. The impression he gave was of someone I would not want to have working on my flight during a legitimate emergency. It’s hard not to wonder whether or not he would have panicked, and perhaps caused injuries to his charges. This should be a lesson to any person–especially a pilot–that if your personal life is affecting your state of mind or your ability to do your job, especially when other lives are at risk, you not only need to seek professional help, but you also need to avoid rash decisions that might cost you a job or your entire career.
While the beer was a humorous touch—and really, that was the item that got everyone talking about his exit—I hope he enjoyed it, because it’s probably the last one he’ll have as an airline employee. And I can’t help but wonder if jetBlue didn’t deduct the cost of that beer from his last paycheck. When it comes to final acts of revenge, two can play that game…