Friday, August 13, 2010

Closing Words on the Slater Rules

As noted by many, the rage-fueled JetBlue flight attendant who abandoned his post via an emergency shute - one Steven Slater - has become a sensation on the sensation-loving Internet and a folk hero to frustrated workers.

People may want to reconsider the rush to canonize Slater, however - let alone rush to play by the I Gotta be Me Slater Rules. As reported in the Wall Street Journal and other media outlets, Slater's story about how he was assaulted by a vengeful female passenger in a dispute over luggage may be unraveling. Neither legal authorities nor journalists have done the obvious thing in this she-said/he-said situation - interview the passenger - and there is a reasonable doubt that the passenger even exists.

How do we establish the truth of what happened on the now-infamous JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh to New York City? By following up on the legal charges filed against Slater for criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing -not by waving them aside and letting bygones be bygones, but by putting him on trial. Trial by media is not a good idea, and exoneration via Facebook isn't so hot, either. This is a case for the courts.

Being a flight attendant is, let us remember, a service industry job. Whose goals are served when an FA curses out a passenger on the airplane intercom - and children, among others, can hear the profanity - and suddenly leaves his post, however colorfully? He was being paid to be there; the passengers were not. He was trained to deal with exceptional circumstances, prepped on how to deal with rude or confused customers; passengers, who paid good money to get from point A to point B safely and without being disrespected, received no such training. He was supposed to rise above it. Media accounts are now quoting passengers who describe Slater as curt and flustered throughout the flight. So, hold the praise. Maybe he's just a jerk.

Fewer flights and fewer airline workers - U.S. airline workforces have been cut by one-fourth in the past decade, according to an Associated Press report today - lead to fuller planes, degraded service, customer frustration and more stress for air travelers and aviation employees alike. In such circumstances, it behooves us all to straighten up and fly right.

Final thought: A TV news report on one of my local stations excerpted an old episode of "Seinfeld'' that showed Jason Alexander as George telling off his fictional TV boss, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, and quitting on the spot. The late owner was, of course, a powerful man. Who did Slater tell off in real life when he purportedly quit his job? The powerless, trapped on a plane.

Slater's 15 minutes of fame has already lasted too long. A trial would prolong that. But it may also establish the truth of what happened, provide punishment if appropriate - and most importantly, serve as a cautionary tale on heroism and celebrity in the Age of the Internet.

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