It has been a long time since flight attendant was a glamorous job title. The hours are long. Passengers with feelings of entitlement bump up against new no-frills policies. Babies scream. Security precautions grate but must be enforced. Airlines demand lightning-quick turnarounds, so attendants herd passengers and collect trash with the grim speed of an Indy pit crew. Everyone, it seems, is in a bad mood.
Yana Paskova for The New York Times
On Monday, on the tarmac at Kennedy International Airport, a JetBlue attendant named Steven Slater decided he had had enough, the authorities said.
After a dispute with a passenger who stood to fetch luggage too soon on a full flight just in from Pittsburgh, Mr. Slater, 38 and a career flight attendant, got on the public-address intercom and let loose a string of invective.
Then, the authorities said, he pulled the lever that activates the emergency-evacuation chute and slid down, making a dramatic exit not only from the plane but, one imagines, also from his airline career.
On his way out the door, he paused to grab a beer from the beverage cart. Then he ran to the employee parking lot and drove off, the authorities said.
He was arrested at his home in Belle Harbor, Queens, a few miles from the airport, and charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.
“When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds,” a law enforcement official said. “If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed.”
In a statement, JetBlue said it was working with the Federal Aviation Administration and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to investigate the episode. “At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk,” the company said.
According to his online profiles, Mr. Slater has been the leader of JetBlue’s uniform redesign committee and a member of the airline’s in-flight values committee. Neighbors in California, where Mr. Slater grew up, said he had recently been caring for his dying mother, a retired flight attendant, and had done the same for his father, a pilot.
The contretemps on Monday unfolded as JetBlue Flight 1052, a regional Embraer 190 jet, landed at Kennedy around noon — on time — with 100 passengers aboard and pulled up to the gate, said another law enforcement official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because the investigation was continuing.
The official offered the following account:
One passenger stood up to retrieve belongings from the overhead compartment before the crew had given permission. Mr. Slater instructed the person to remain seated. The passenger defied him. Mr. Slater reached the passenger just as the person was pulling down the luggage, which struck Mr. Slater in the head.
Mr. Slater asked for an apology. The passenger instead cursed at him. Mr. Slater got on the plane’s public-address system and cursed out the passenger for all to hear. Then, after declaring that 20 years in the airline industry was enough, he blurted out, “It’s been great!” He activated the inflatable evacuation slide at a service exit and left the world of flight attending behind.
In short order, his brick two-story house on Beach 128th Street in the Rockaways, just off the ocean, was swarmed by detectives and uniformed officers from New York City and the Port Authority. “It was like there was a hostage in there,” said Curt Krakowski, who was working on the deck of a house across the street.
Mr. Slater, Mr. Krakowski said, “had a smile on his face when the cops brought him out, like, ‘Yeah, big deal.’ ” Mr. Slater was taken to a Port Authority police building at the airport and was expected to be held overnight.
One person familiar with the investigation said JetBlue took more than 20 minutes to notify the Port Authority police, allowing Mr. Slater time to get home. A spokesman for the airline declined to comment when asked about the delay, and a Port Authority spokesman said, “In matters of criminality, the Port Authority Police Department should be notified immediately.”
The episode is the latest round in what is seen as an increasingly hostile relationship between airlines and passengers.
A few weeks ago, an Air France flight attendant was arrested for stealing the wallets of first-class passengers. Last year, a Canadian singer parodied United Airlines on YouTube in a series of songs about how the airline broke his guitar.
A new study by the International Air Transport Association found an increase in instances of disgruntled passengers and violence on planes, with the chief cause being passengers who refuse to obey safety orders. By the same token, frequent-flier blogs echo with tales of “flight attendant rage.”
While JetBlue’s flight attendants are not unionized, a spokeswoman for the Association of Flight Attendants, Corey Caldwell, said anxieties were common on planes. “Anyone who has traveled since Sept. 11 understands that being in the cabin is stressful these days,” Ms. Caldwell said.
Photographs show him in the mountains of El Yunque National Forest in Puerto Rico and sitting behind the wheel of a convertible. “Steven Slater has visited 22 percent of the countries in the world!” the MySpace page announces.
Yes, and Pittsburgh, too. “Chances are I am flying 35,000 feet somewhere over the rainbow on my way to some semifabulous JetBlue Airways destination!” the MySpace page says. “Truly, some are better than others. But I am enjoying being back in the skies and seeing them all.”
A former roommate, John Rochelle, said Mr. Slater was seldom home. When Mr. Slater was not working, Mr. Rochelle said, he was usually in Thousand Oaks, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb, caring for his sick mother.
A neighbor there, Ron Franz, said Mr. Slater also cared for his father as he was dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease. Mr. Franz, 72, was hard-pressed to explain Mr. Slater’s actions on Monday. “It could be the pressure of his mother’s illness, because that’s not the type of behavior or conduct that Steve exhibits,” he said. “He’s a very conscientious, responsible individual.”
But a former flight attendant, Janet Bavasso, who lives next door to Mr. Slater in Queens, found nothing mysterious at all.
“Enough is enough — good for him,” Ms. Bavasso said. “If he would have called me, I would have picked him up.”
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Fed-Up Flight Attendant for Jet Blue Lets Curses Fly, Then Makes Sliding Exit - NYTimes.com