I'd originally planned to write about a much different subject, but that was Before Slater.
If you somehow missed the coverage, here's the story.
Yesterday, a JetBlue flight attendant, after an altercation with a passenger about obeying the seat belt sign, finally decided enough was enough. He announced over the PA system that the passenger in question had called him a "mother-----r" and responded with a "F--- Y--" of his own, grabbed a couple of beers from the aircraft bar, opened the door to inflate the emergency escape slide and ran away home.
While I don't condone Mr Slater's behaviour, I can understand where he is coming from. I've worked in the airlines for around 5 years and sometimes wonder if putting up with all the abuse from rude passengers is worth it. Imagine 20 years of putting up with the same, not to mention watching your working conditions and pension fund slowly eroding away.
In my time flying, I've either experienced or witnessed the following:
- A passenger calling me a "C---", because I asked her to turn off her phone (for the third time)
- A male passenger shoving a junior FA when she told him we didn't have any more newspapers onboard
- One passenger kicking the back of another passenger's seat so hard it broke
- Passenger spitting in the face of a ground staff member
- Passenger punching a female check-in agent because he was late and missed his flight
These are just a fraction of the types of things that go on every day. As far as I know, only the puncher got any serious punishment (but not including jail time as he had no prior offences)
In addition to the argument with the passenger, Mr Slater's father had recently died, and he was caring for his mother who is suffering from cancer. It's easy to see why he went over the edge.
While Mr Slater clearly deserves some sort of consequnce for his behaviour, I don't think jail time is the solution. It will only punish his dying mother. Perhaps some sort of community work and anger management/de-stressing course would be more appropriate.
The public response has been surprising. The overwhelming majority of the general public support Slater, citing that they too have had enough of inconsiderate and rude behaviour from others. Twitter has been going crazy with news about the event, support for Steve and rightly questioning if the passenger concerned will face any repercussions for her part in the drama. (So far, there has not been much mention of her, and one article stated that as yet, she has not been questioned by police.)
Of course, there are those whose opinion is that Slater endangered the aircraft by deploying the slide. On the surface that may be true, but think about this. Flight attendants are trained to operate slides correctly. Even in a fit of frustration, it is very hard to override that training. He would have known not to open the door if ramp staff or vehicles were present. Checking that little window is clear is a daily habit of many years, and is an automatic response for most flight attendants when going anywhere near a door handle.
Think about the passengers we always hear of in the news, getting drunk and disorderly for no real reason other than they didn't want to switch off their BlackBerry or weren't allowed to have another beer. More often than not, they get let off with a slap on the wrist and a few hundred dollars poorer for the fine. I've noticed this is the case even where the aircraft has been diverted- actions that cost far more than re-packing a slide and a few delayed flights. Now, critics of Mr Slater are saying he should go to jail, for as long as 7 years? Killers and rapists get less than that. What Mr Slater did was wrong, but he deserves some compassion. Clearly his normal way of thinking was not there. He deserves help, not jail. I hope he gets it.