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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Flight attendant who flew the coup gets widespread support

Anyone stuck in a dead-end job with measly pay, that doesn't begin to cover workplace aggravations, is admiring the recent meltdown of a flight attendant. They may not say it out loud, but as their boss is piling on extra work without a hint of extra pay, or petty colleagues are on a back-biting tear, or customers are particularly snippy, every mistreated employee is giving a silent “atta-boy” to Steven Slater.

The fed-up flight attendant for JetBlue quit his job in spectacular fashion Monday after a passenger stepped on his last nerve. To some degree or another, we've all been where Mr. Slater was, regarding employment frustration levels, but none of us has the guts to do what he did.

We're too timid to walk away from a paycheck in this economy. We endure slights, unfair treatment, and belittling behavior as a means to paying bills and buying groceries.

But Mr. Slater took a stand — one that could land him in jail. Most disgruntled workers can only fantasize about telling everyone to “take this job and shove it.”

Yet Mr. Slater did and became an overnight, working-class hero to some. Apparently his breaking point came after a passenger, evidently in a hurry to be the first one off the parked plane, was reportedly rude in addition to being physically and verbally abusive to him.

When the customer refused to remain seated and allegedly hit the 38-year-old airline employee with luggage telling him to f--- off, Mr. Slater snapped. Instead of wishing the lovely passenger a nice day, the career flight attendant morphed into “a Howard Beale of the runway and took the short chute out,” said one writer.

No doubt Mr. Slater has suffered his share of jerks and drunks and crying babies at 35,000 feet, but plainly it was the culmination of 20 years of abuse that finally pushed him around the bend. His moment of “I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore,” rivals the movie version in dramatics.

It's not everyday you see flight attendants grab the plane's intercom to say what they really think about the overbearing, crass, ill-mannered, nasty idiots aboard. How freeing it must have been for Mr. Slater to let loose a string of invectives that the whole cabin could hear.

Lifting a few beers from the aircraft's galley before sliding down the emergency chute was the coup de grace for the exiting airline employee. Sure, he's in a whale of trouble now, but even in police custody the man can't stop smiling.

Online reaction to this cursing, beer-grabbing worker chucking his job in a blaze of glory is most telling. The day after the story broke, support for the presumably ex-flight attendant was exploding in a new Facebook fan page and other fledgling Web groups.

Thousands were signing on to join associations such as “Free Steven Slater,” or “I want Steven Slater to be my flight attendant,” or even “I hate the m-----f----- who called Steven Slater a m-----f-----.”

Thousands more were blogging their homage to the flight attendant with missives that included “long live Steven Slater,” or “awesome in the 1st degree,” or “this has gotta be the best job exit ever,” and “have to respect a guy with the stones to pull this one off.”

Employees, working twice has hard with half the pay and putting up with it because they're told they're lucky to have a job, relate to Mr. Slater. They applaud him for saying enough is enough and only wish they had the luxury to do the same.

People simply can't be pushed this hard for this long without some expected blowback. “It's about time workers start to flip out,” suggested one blogger. Productivity may be way up in this country but at what cost?

A career flight attendant, driven to the brink, did the wrong thing and probably broke the law. Yet, clearly, many not only don't blame him, they're silently cheering him from the sidelines.

He's the toast of legends who labor in the service industries and know firsthand about a coarsening America where demanding customers are always right — even when they're contemptible. Mr. Slater's slide to notoriety touched a nerve in famously stressful airline travel.

But it also resonated with a nation of working stiffs, for whom the lyrics “Take this job and shove it, I ain't working here no more,” came alive when a flight attendant bolted on a bad day that made ours.

Marilou Johanek is a Blade commentary writer.

Contact her at: mjohanek@theblade.com



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