Steven Slater: Lunatic or Working-Class Hero?
By Tom Ryan
A JetBlue flight attendant, Steven Slater, became the latest overnight
internet sensation after his dramatic meltdown on a recent flight from Pittsburgh
to New York. But the episode has also sparked a discussion around people’s
frustrations with their jobs in a time of seemingly endless cutbacks.
triggered by one or more rude passengers, Mr. Slater cursed a passenger out
on the plane’s intercom upon landing at JFK Airport before escaping with two
beers down the plane’s emergency slide.
While what provoked his actions is
unclear, the public response to Mr. Slater’s outburst
was swift and widespread. Numerous Facebook pages sprung up, supportive messages
erupted on Twitter, and video tributes have appeared on YouTube. Newspapers
editorial pages and blogs railed against the burden of air travel and the stressful
conditions facing airline employees.
"Almost everyone, especially those who have worked with the public in
a customer service/hospitality/sales clerk position, can relate to that ‘snap’
moment, when something has to give," Jeannine Stein wrote for the Los
Angeles Times. "Slater pulled his off with flair, achieving what
most stressed workers only imagine doing."
John Challenger, chief executive
officer of Challenger, Gray & Christmas,
a Chicago-based outplacement firm, told Bloomberg Businessweek, "Slater
tapped into a vein of anger that a lot of people have toward their employers.
They are mad about all the layoffs they’ve gone through at work. They are mad
about having their benefits cut."
Airlines, like many industries, are asking
employees to do more in less time amid job uncertainty. At the same time, they
often feel the brunt of passengers’ anger over having to pay higher fares and
losing amenities such as free food.
Some saw the episode as a call for more
civility from over-demanding customers.
"If the attitude is that the customer is always right," Judith
Waters, psychology professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University, told the LA
like saying we give you permission to be less than charming."
the episode as a warning to companies to take better care of their employees
or expect to see them leave in droves when the job market picks up. Still others
speculated on what it took for the 20-year veteran to move past his boiling
Speaking to the LA Times, Kathleen Shea, a Chicago-based clinical
psychologist who specializes in workplace issues, suspected that the altercation
could have had elements of public humiliation, disrespect and compromised authority.
"This was one more time he tried to handle an unruly, demanding passenger.
It’s like an instructor who is fine for the first three periods telling students
to sit down, but by the sixth period when he’s said it 30 times, he explodes," she
She added that stress-coping mechanisms have their limits.
lot of bad behavior out there today, and I don’t think you can train someone
to be a robot," said Ms. Shea.
Discussion Questions: What lessons did you take from Steven Slater’s meltdown
and the public’s reaction to it? What can retailers do to help customer-facing
employees manage the stress that comes with those jobs?
- Dreaming of Steven Slater – Bloomberg Businessweek
- The JetBlue flight attendant who took off – Los Angeles Times
- Flight attendant’s outburst culmination of pressures within airline industry – northjersey.com
- Steven Slater, the internet loves you – CNN