One friend texted him a screenshot of an article about the Twitter deactivation with the following caption: “I never thought anyone could top the flight attendant who slid down the emergency exit on his last day. The bar has been raised.”
More than seven years ago, Slater reached his breaking point. After the landing of one particularly stressful flight, in which he got into an argument with a passenger, he took to the plane’s PA system to declare he was “done,” along with a string of profanities. Slater then grabbed two beers from a service cart, activated the plane’s emergency chute and slid out onto the tarmac — and into the annals of history.
The exit was immortalized in dozens, if not hundreds, of news reports, along with the Wikipedia entry “JetBlue flight attendant incident.” Slater was arrested later at his home in Belle Harbor, N.Y., and charged with criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. He was also feted as something of a cult hero, with many expressing sympathy — if not outright envy — that he had quit his job in such an epic way.
For the most part, Slater has tried to avoid the spotlight after finishing with court proceedings, completing community service and moving to Los Angeles. He acknowledges that was partly possible because his very public “meltdown” took place before the omnipresence of Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so on.
But on Thursday night, Slater’s job-quitting story rose to public consciousness again after Twitter’s 11 minutes without @realDonaldTrump.
Immediately, people drew comparisons to the JetBlue incident.
“I knew that it had happened but I didn’t know that it was a Twitter employee,” Slater, 45, told The Washington Post in a phone interview Friday. “I think the whole thing is just hysterical.”
Slater immediately recognized parallels between his 15 minutes of fame and the Twitter employee’s situation, even though that worker has so far remained unnamed.
“Sometimes I think one person can sort of be a lightning rod for sort of what’s in the group conscience,” said Slater, who noted he is not a fan of the president. “What’s funny about it is I believe it did sort of tap into the zeitgeist of that moment. . . . I mean, God, who hasn’t wanted to pull the plug on [Trump’s Twitter account]? Who can’t get behind this? Who can’t rally behind that?”
For Slater, though, the months leading up to his last day at work and the years since have been filled with personal struggles that are often omitted in the casual retelling of his dramatic airplane exit. At the time, he had been caring for his mother in California, who was dying of lung cancer. He also had legitimate frustrations with his employer, he said, which is based in Queens. On top of worrying about his family, Slater admits he was dealing with health and substance-abuse issues.
“I was stressed out and exhausted and flying all over the country,” he said. “I was kind of having a meltdown . . . which I’m grateful for because I could have gone another direction.”
The plane exit, he said, was not planned and, in retrospect, felt like an out-of-body experience that happened “lightning fast.”
“In some respects, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m doing this.’ And then the next thing I know, I was on the tarmac,” he said. “‘What the hell? What did I just do?’ I remember standing on the tarmac on the sun and it was just so warm. I thought, ‘Ahh, I can exhale. But how did this happen?’”
Slater said he understood why he was charged — officials expressed concerns about copycats, among other aviation security issues — but said he has stopped litigating the situation in his own mind.
“Might I have done it in a more professional manner? Probably,” he said. “Did it get the job done? Absolutely.”
As a recovering alcoholic and drug addict, Slater said he can appreciate the JetBlue incident in a strange way, particularly after “a really, really tough few years.”
“It’s kind of a line of demarcation. It’s a before and after. My life was completely transformed, for better or for worse, after that date,” Slater said. “It was a split second that affected everything going forward. It was the moment of like emancipation and empowerment. I mean, it wasn’t the smartest thing I’ve ever done but it sure felt great . . . I just hit like a crescendo of frustration.”
Slater said he now does some work with the disabled community and is “looking at some other things.” He has gone to interviews and been recognized as “the JetBlue guy,” he said. They usually have a laugh, but he does wonder if his history factors into their ultimate decision not to hire him.
“I understand it,” he said. “If I’m going in for some sort of a customer service position, I’m kind of like your worst nightmare.”
Twitter said Friday that it has added safeguards to prevent similar incidents in the future.
Slater said he has no way of knowing what was going through the Twitter employee’s head when he or she decided to pull the plug on Trump’s account.
But his advice to that person is to brace himself or herself for any public backlash. He experienced some of that, too, and can only imagine it would be worse seven years later.
“Don’t take anything personally,” he said. “And don’t have regrets. Don’t second-guess. It is what it is. Be present and you’ll be fine . . . And I would say I’d like to buy this guy two beers.”