Angry skies

A JetBlue flight attendant losing his cool after being abused by a passenger is the latest sign of tensions on the rise in the air — and on the job

August 11, 2010

We don't agree with the way JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater expressed his aggravation with airline travel and his job — haranguing a misbehaving passenger via the plane's PA system, grabbing a beer from the beverage cart, then sliding down the plane's emergency exit chute — but the incident does serve as an example (albeit an over-the-top one) of the angry skies of summer travel.

Getting on a plane these days is an occasion brimming with opportunities for irritation.

The airlines have cut back on the number of flights, so planes are packed. Implementation of the so-called airline passenger bill of rights, which took effect this year, has limited the amount of time passengers sit on the tarmac to no more than three hours but, unhappily, it has also increased flight cancellations earlier this summer.

Then there is the contentious business of luggage. Most airlines charge for checked bags, extra fees that do not show up on those online comparisons of ticket prices. To avoid these fees and the tedious wait at baggage claim, passengers are toting luggage so bulky they can barely carry it onto planes, let alone lift it into the overhead compartments. Competition for space in these overhead bins can be fierce, with the early boarders getting the bins and the last on board often having to send their bags down below to the baggage hole.

Finally, there are the "bolters." These self-important passengers don't wait until the aircraft has made a complete stop at the gate before wresting their bag from an overheard bin, then sprinting to the aircraft door.

Apparently, a nasty encounter with a "bolter" set Mr. Slater off when the full JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh landed in New York on Monday. According to news reports, Mr. Slater asked the passenger to remain seated. The passenger refused. Somehow, Mr. Slater was hit in the head, either with the overhead bin or with luggage. The passenger cursed at Mr. Slater. In turn, Mr. Slater got on the plane's public address system and cursed out the passenger. He mentioned his 20 years in the airline industry, said, "That's enough," and exited via the inflatable slide.

Police later arrested him at his home in Long Island and charged him with felony counts of mischief and reckless endangerment.

Already, Facebook pages have been set up in tribute to Mr. Slater. Many of the comments on these pages defend Mr. Slater, saying the rude passenger, not he, should be prosecuted. Other comments praised his flamboyant chute exit, suggesting that all of us, from time to time, have wanted to hit the escape button. No argument from us on that point.

Despite the feelings of his online fans, Steven Slater is not a folk hero. But neither should he be behind bars. He is a flight attendant who we suspect will soon be looking for a less stressful job.

One of the curious effects of this incident is the well of job dissatisfaction it tapped. Repeated online comments from around the nation express sympathy for Mr. Slater and his "I-am-not-going-to-take-it-anymore" behavior. Some told of similar get-even moments they crafted as they headed out the door. Others said they had fantasized about quitting their jobs with such flair and fury.

Mr. Slater's blowup at JFK and his legions of instant sympathizers show, if nothing else, that there is a lot of frustration out there — both in the air and in the workplace.

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