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Published: Friday, 8/13/2010

Job action

When JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater quit this week with a dramatic flourish that included cursing an unruly passenger, grabbing a beer, and deploying the plane's emergency escape chute after a flight from Pittsburgh to New York, he became a symbol of fed-up workers everywhere.

Although it doesn't excuse his recklessness - a worker on the Kennedy International Airport tarmac could have been injured or killed when the heavy chute inflated without warning - Mr. Slater's gesture was applauded by disgruntled workers.

The reservoir of support is reflected in the comments left by the thousands on Facebook pages devoted to what Mr. Slater did. He is either a working-class hero or a dangerous crank, depending on your tolerance for grand and impulsive gestures.

Without condoning what he did, many people see similarities between the provocation that drove him to quit and the daily challenges in their own jobs. Making an exit down an emergency chute after angrily confronting a customer or boss isn't an option for most people, but it is a fantasy many employees have entertained.

No one should endorse Mr. Slater's rash behavior. He faces charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, and trespassing, and must look for a new job. But it is possible to understand and even sympathize with him, because of the pressures that caused him to throw away a two-decade career.

It's also worth remembering, in skies that are less fun to fly for everyone, that flight attendants are too often on the receiving end of bad behavior by passengers who display a brash sense of entitlement in the face of the airline industry's shrinking amenities.

Mr. Slater was arrested for his behavior, but the passenger who disobeyed federal aviation rules and verbally assaulted him was not. That's unfair. In this case, it took at least two to make the skies an unfriendly place.

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