Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Steven Slater Rules

For a society desperately, passionately, incoherently seeking a hero, we have Steven Slater.

Slater is a JetBlue Airways flight attendant - probably a former FA by now - who has 'gone viral' and become an Internet hero by taking a well-worn route to contemporary hero status: Embracing extreme behavior, self-absorption and self-righteousness.

If you haven't heard, the resident of Queens, N.Y. got into an altercation on a flight from Pittsburgh to New York City with a passenger that other travelers describe as rude. He may or may not have been assaulted by said passenger. It may have been at the beginning or the end of the flight - accounts differ. Slater reportedly responded to provocation by cursing out the passenger over the aircraft intercom (while also praising respectful passengers), snatching a beer and, most dramatically, deploying the emergency escape shute to leave the plane on his own at John F. Kennedy International Airport. He's outta here!

The 20-year airline veteran was arrested yesterday and arraigned today. He showed his respect for the court by wearing plaid shorts and what courtroom attendees described as a smirk. It's only a matter of days - that's years in Internet time - before he has his own reality TV show, a book deal, a public relations firm, a celebrity lawyer and someone to play him in the made-for-cable movie.

Airline passengers are, to be sure, often far from polite, and they have been known to take out their frustration on airline flight crews and airport workers. Stuffed into miniature seats, made to pay for food, checked bags and extra legroom, and subject to cascading delays, they have reason to be frustrated, though no good excuse for being rude.

FAs, of course, are on the frontlines of customer service. However, customer service is not much more than a rumor on many U.S. domestic flights; JetBlue is actually one of the better airlines. Deploying the emergency shute and getting off the plane takes to a literal degree what many American airline workers have already done in subtler ways: Bail out.

There will be more of this, as stressed-out workers and copycats decide to play by the Steven Slater rules. You know, the rules that allow you to do what you want to do, when you want to do it because it's hard being you. Really too bad about the other people who just happen to be there, but there's no stopping a hero, if you know what I mean.

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