The JetBlue flight attendant who cursed out a belligerent passenger before sliding down the plane's emergency chute Monday, August 9, has become something of a folk hero to stressed-out workers as well as worn-out and ticked-off frequent fliers across the country.
Stephen Slater, the 38-year-old JetBlue steward, has been charged with several felonies, including reckless endangerment and criminal mischief for his impromptu escape from the aircraft shortly after his flight landed at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport from Pittsburgh. Slater was arraigned in Queens Criminal Court on Tuesday morning and released on bail that evening.
According to his court appointed lawyer, Howard Turman of the Legal Aid Society, Slater said a passenger had been verbally and physically abusive and openly defied flight-attendant instructions. Slater also alleged that the passenger intentionally hit him in the head with the lid of an overhead baggage compartment, and that he fled the aircraft to avoid further conflict.
Following his expletive-filled rant over the plane's loudspeaker, Slater grabbed his bags—and a couple of beers—and slid down the inflatable slide.
“It's the kind of thing you dream about doing,” said Brett Snyder, founder of the travel blog CrankyFlier.com. “It wasn't professional behavior at all, but flight attendants are people too. He was obviously having a really, really bad day.”
Slater's antics were extreme, but the incident is by no means isolated, according to industry experts.
“There are more people reacting to anger triggers now than ever before, in every part of the airline industry,” said Alan Sirowitz, director of clinical services at JFK Advanced Medical, a health center at the airport. “There are people who intentionally annoy flight attendants, and have an attitude of taking advantage of them because of their own stress factors.”
Sirowitz said that he did not witness the incident so he could not speak to particulars of this case. But he said that there are plenty of incidents that occur and are not reported because flight protocol is followed correctly and the situation is diffused.
JFK Advanced Medical recently launched an employee-assistance support services program to provide aviation workers community with counselors and programs for issues such as anger management, anxiety, depression and substance-abuse counseling.
“Airports are very stressful places,” he said. “Frustration on both sides—passengers and employees—is part of the equation.”
Crowded planes, extra charges and delays add to passenger frustrations, and flight-crew concessions, pay cuts and concern about their jobs on an everyday basis compound the situation.
“You can be prepared to hear about more of these incidents occurring,” Sirowitz said.
JetBlue Airways, the No. 1 passenger carrier at JFK, issued a statement confirming the incident, adding, “There were no injuries and all customers deplaned the aircraft safely through the jetway. At this time, we are working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to investigate the incident. At no time was the security or safety of our Customers or Crewmembers at risk.”