Coffee, tea or flee? JetBlue attendant's exit strategy serves crummy job right

The JetBlue flight attendant who cursed at a passenger, grabbed some beer and then popped the emergency chute of a plane at JFK has been released on bail. Since the incident, Steven Slater has become something of a cult hero.
By Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Steven Slater.

Rock. On.

The JetBlue flight attendant whose splendiferous wig-out on Monday involved an escape via an emergency exit slide has become a folk hero to his fellow stewards of the sky.

Also, to everyone.

"I've had that fantasy," says Sara Keagle, a flight attendant for 18 years. "He lived my fantasy. He is the Thelma and Louise of flight attendants."

It is a fantasy born of dealing with passengers who refuse to sit down, refuse to power down, refuse to simmer down. They want it their way, and they want it right now, and they want to waddle onto the aircraft with six carry-ons the size of freaking Stonehenge and pretend that it's all going to fit under the seat.

Uh-uh. We are going to put a stop to that nonsense, and we are going to call that stop The Slater.

The incident in question happened at the end of a Monday flight from Pittsburgh to New York, and the essential reported details are this: Slater got into a dispute with a passenger when the passenger ignored instructions involving an overhead luggage compartment. At one point, the passenger's luggage struck Slater on the head. Slater then got on the intercom, unleashed a mighty tirade ("I'm done! I quit!" according to one passenger's blogged account), deployed the plane's exit chute and slid onto the tarmac -- but not before stopping at the beverage cart to grab a beer.

He drove home, where he was arrested on charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief -- charges that could result in up to seven years in prison. He was suspended from duty on Tuesday and arraigned in a Queens courtroom, where a judge set $2,500 bail. His lawyer told the judge that Slater had been stressed over his ailing mother.

But Tuesday afternoon at Reagan National Airport, flight attendants were walking a little taller, smiling the secret smile of the righteously vindicated.

"Every single one of my friends said, 'Good for him!' " whispered an attendant wearing an American Airlines uniform who, like some others interviewed, declined to give her name, citing airline regulations and fear of losing her job. She has dealt with the cellphone arguments. The passenger bickering. She has pulled out the final threat: Do I need to call the captain? "You put on a smile and you treat them like children," says the former schoolteacher. Don't make her turn this plane around.

"Passengers can all be divided into four types," says another no-nonsense attendant who has whittled the chaos of airline travel into logical precision. The four types are:

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