Ed Driscoll

Steven Slater, the Anti-Sully

As Rich Lowry writes, after a week of non-stop coverage, it’s a wonder that Steven Slater, America’s most famous airline steward, “hasn’t collapsed under the symbolic freight piled atop him:”

A blogger for U.S. News maintains that Slater struck a proxy blow against “bank CEOs, self-important politicians, pampered athletes, and strung-out actresses.” Take that, Lindsay! NBC News dubs us “Jet Blue Nation” because we’re all so angry with Washington.

Where’s the emergency slide to escape overwrought interpreters of Slater? The flight attendant is a hero for our times only in this sense — his escapade captures the value our culture puts on emotional expressiveness. Reserve and restraint are almost always portrayed in film and on TV as the product of an unhealthy repression. Breaking loose, finding yourself, and sticking it to authority are the keys to fulfillment and happiness.

In reality, the opposite is usually the case. It’s not surprising that a guy who’d curse someone out over a plane’s PA system apparently wasn’t a model of mannerliness prior to his blowup, according to passengers. For the sake of argument, let’s assume Slater’s version is true and he was sorely provoked. Politeness is most useful in exactly such circumstances. As Thomas Jefferson wrote long ago, “In truth, politeness is artificial good humor, it covers the natural want of it, and ends by rendering habitual a substitute nearly equivalent to the real virtue.”

The opposite of Slater’s spectacular self-indulgence is Capt. Chesley Sullenberger’s unadorned professionalism. The air-travel hero of 2009, Sully landed his plane in the Hudson River while feeling, he said afterward, “calm on the outside, turmoil on the inside.” Which is the way it’s supposed to be. Sadly, Sully always felt like a throwback — steady, no-nonsense, thoroughly competent. This year’s air-travel hero managed, in contrast, to leverage a tantrum into an act of reckless endangerment, by risking dropping the legendary emergency chute on someone’s head.

But, hey, he blew off steam. Back in 1982, a British Airways plane lost all four engines in flight. As the British newspaper the Daily Mail recounts, Capt. Eric Moody apprised the passengers of the dire situation, and added, “I trust you are not in too much distress.” The paper continues, “Incredibly, passengers and crew reacted to the captain’s cataclysmic announcement not with screams and hysteria, but with an extraordinary calm.” Miraculously, the engines were restored, and everyone lived to tell the tale.

That’s heroism for this, or any, age. As for Slater, his slide was amusing, but not the least bit admirable.

Ad Age notes that Jet Blue could be facing quite a potential backlash, particularly if they become a punchline for an industry that’s long seen its share of rude, surly flight attendants:

Said Mr. Bellinger: “Right now they are probably trying to reconcile that desire they are seeing from the public and that precedent they’ve set with pretty strict restrictions being forced upon them by the FAA and maybe Homeland Security and whoever else is involved. The expectation among myself and any other consumer, based on their own precedent, is that they are going to talk about it, and that has to be a tricky situation to navigate it. They have no choice, and it’s probably frustrating to them on the inside because they are used to responding to this type of thing very quickly and in a very transparent way.”

While Mr. Slater’s actions have been overwhelmingly met with cheers from the public, the legal ramifications of his behavior are numerous. “People are laughing in support of this guy, but as much as they would like to keep that humor about it, they have to worry about lawsuits,” said Michael J. McSunas, a lawyer with Chambliss, Bahner & Stophel, P.C.

Lawsuits? Why would JetBlue have to worry about those?

A passenger on the JetBlue fight from which attendant Steven Slater disembarked Monday by activating the emergency chute and sliding down with beers in hand said Mr. Slater, apparently after being hit in the head by a passenger, was the one who instigated the confrontation that led to his now-famous exit.

Marjorie Briskin, a 53-year-old schoolteacher from Pittsburgh, said she was deplaning in John F. Kennedy International Airport around noon Monday when Mr. Slater and a woman walking in front of her got into a heated conversation over the woman’s luggage. She said the passenger, who appeared to be in her 20s, asked Mr. Slater where her bag was stowed.

Ms. Briskin said the seemingly normal conversation turned unexpectedly nasty when Mr. Slater blurted out an expletive to the passenger.

“I didn’t think she was rude in the least,” said Ms. Briskin, who was visiting the city for the first time. “It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate.”

Ms. Briskin said Mr. Slater sported a “nice gash” on his head for most of the flight, during which there were no problems until the end, when she said Mr. Slater began methodically opening the overhead bins and then slamming them shut.

“He looked disturbed at that point,” she said.

Neither Mr. Slater nor the court-appointed attorney who served at his Tuesday arraignment could be reached for comment on Wednesday. Mr. Slater will need to retain a lawyer prior to his next court date, scheduled for Sept. 7.

Ms. Briskin was not the only passenger who remarked on Mr. Slater’s behavior.

Lauren Dominijanni, 25, who was flying to New York on business, said Mr. Slater was rude to her the moment she got on the plane.

She said someone had spilled coffee on her seat and when she asked for a sanitary wipe to clean it up, Mr. Slater “rolled his eyes at me and said, ‘What?’ in a real rude manner.”

Ms. Dominijanni, of Pittsburgh, said that when she pointed to the spilled coffee, Mr. Slater barked, “No! Maybe when we get in the air! I need to take care of myself first, honey!” She said he was pointing to the gash on his head.

Ms. Dominijanni said Mr. Slater never returned with wipes to clean up the spilled coffee. She said he spent much of the 90-minute flight slamming overhead bins and refrigerator doors.

“It wasn’t normal and he shouldn’t have been acting that way,” she said. “I felt so uncomfortable on that flight.”

But don’t worry passengers, Jet Blue’s celebrity steward may soon be returning to the airline to give his passengers that extra-special service and performance art he’s famous for:

So much for quitting his job.

Flight attendant Steven Slater hopes he can work at JetBlue again and is currently in talks with Queens prosecutors in an effort to hammer out a plea deal, his lawyer said this afternoon.

Slater’s lawyer Howard Turman said his client “wants to return to a normal life” — adding that he has been in talks with the Queens DA’s office since his arrest Monday at Kennedy Airport.

“I think we will reach a satisfactory outcome for both sides,” he said, without elaborating.

SLATER’S FOE FACES $25K HIT

Turman also said Slater “hopes to return to the aviation field” — even saying his client wanted to return to JetBlue.

What could go wrong — again?