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FlyerTalk With Steven Slater: “Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated”

FlyerTalk With Steven Slater: “Reports of My Death Are Greatly Exaggerated”
Meg Butler

Earlier this month, FlyerTalk published a Throwback Thursday post titled The Most Epic Rage Quit in Airline History (and Its Dark Ending) about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who became a folk hero when he quit his job as a flight attendant via the plane’s emergency exit slide. But, as it turns out, Steven Slater’s story wasn’t dark at all. While TMZ reported that Slater went missing in Mexico, Steven Slater popped into the comments section on FlyerTalk’s article to let everyone know that he’s alive and well.  And, because the world’s most popular frequent flier community was eager for an update, he agreed to talk with us about life after JetBlue. Here’s what JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater had to say:

He Never Disappeared in Mexico

“As Mark Twain famously quipped, ‘The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,'” joked Steven Slater when I reached out for an e-mail interview. “Back from the grave, and just in time for Halloween!” The first thing Steven Slater wanted to clear up is that he never disappeared in Mexico. In fact, he lives there and splits his time between Mexico and San Diego. He did, however, give his friends and family quite a scare when he was robbed while crossing the border one night:

“I learned a very valuable lesson when a bag containing my passport, phone, and wallet was stolen in Mexico after [I crossed] the border one night. Like so many of us, I stored all of my contacts in my phone, not bothering to memorize or write down numbers. Suddenly, I found myself stranded with no way of contacting anyone for help and struggling to communicate in my limited language abilities. As a coworker at my job in San Diego was also a neighbor in Mexico, there was great concern when I didn’t show at either my job or back in my neighborhood the next day.”

So, worried about what could have happened Says Slater, “we all hear the sensationalized reports of excessive violence near the border,” his friend reported him missing. “Within hours, both mainstream media outlets as well as TMZ and the tabloid press picked up the story and ran with it. Because of the viral nature of news, I was back at my home in the Mexican countryside before the story lost traction.

“I was truly shocked by the extent of the coverage and it created a great deal of panic amongst friends and loved ones unable to reach me in Mexico without a phone or internet access. I was also very disheartened by the lowbrow nature of much of the coverage as I felt much of it was salacious and sensationalized, a lot of it merely a rehash of the events of nearly a decade ago.”

He Doesn’t Consider Himself a Celebrity

What has Steven Slater been up to since the day in 2010 that changed his life? He’s been living his life, and moving forward. But, despite his brush with fame, he doesn’t consider himself famous: “While I have definitely been labeled a “newsmaker,” I have never been comfortable with the title of “celebrity,” he told FlyerTalk. “I am someone who experienced a remarkable turn of events in the course of an otherwise routine day. And that turn of events just happened to play out the public eye and in the court of public opinion. Today, I live the dichotomy of being both a Wikipedia page and a private citizen enjoying a peaceful existence in relative anonymity, which I greatly prefer.”

Slater went on to say,  “It was never my life’s ambition to blow up my life. Thankfully, I do see the humor in it and I was fortunate that a lot of people found something to celebrate in that moment even if it came with a dark shadow attached. I no longer doubt my inherent worth as an employee and as a human being and I will never be made to feel less- than in the workplace again.

“I, and I alone, own my story and I have found my voice. It would have been swell if all of that could have come to fruition in a little bit more timely fashion but life unfolded as it did and I won’t waste time on regret or ‘what if’s.’  As they say, there’s a reason why the windshield is bigger than the rearview mirror.”

Why Passenger Behavior Is Getting Worse

We also had a few questions for Slater about his take on ill-advised in-flight behavior. Followers of Steven Slater’s story will remember that, shortly before his exit, Slater had an unhappy confrontation with a passenger. As FlyerTalk readers know, stories of passengers, flight attendants, and even pilots behaving in headline-grabbing ways frequently come across our desks.

Those stories, says Slater, are a direct byproduct of airlines who are always looking for the bottom line: “By transitioning from a service culture based on human interaction to a business model structured around transactional processes, the airlines have sunk their own ship. The appalling spectacles we all watch online are created in a vacuum of neglect. It is basic human psychology. Just as a child left alone in his crib will cry for attention, a grown-up who doesn’t feel valued and appreciated is going to throw a fit…

On the Good Old Days of Flying

Before JetBlue, Slater flew with TWA where “we staffed our 757 with 7 flight attendants. It was never about the hot towels or the Chicken Kiev. Rather, the fact that there was always somebody physically with you, interacting with you, engaging. I can fly Spirit from coast-to-coast in a small airplane in my cramped seat with no amenities and come off having had the best flight ever if the crew was warm and hospitable. Or I can be wined and dined by a jaded and aloof legacy airline crew working with minimum staff and come off feeling resentful at the other end.”

The airlines have discounted the invaluable worth of human connection and cheapened the whole thing by making the very people whose life’s ambition has been to extend heartfelt hospitality into ancillary figures.  I do wax nostalgic for the good old days because I remember what it meant to treat our passengers like guests in our homes. When we were more likely to say, “You’re welcome” than “I’m sorry.” That said, air travel has always been challenging, weather has always been a factor, and mechanical items break.

Why Cameras on Planes are Good and Bad

“I’m fortunate to have performed my little stunt before the advent of the iPhone. By the grace of God, there aren’t 70 videos of me jumping out of an airplane on YouTube. Were that the case, I could never show my face at Whole Foods again. So technology is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, everybody is afraid to do their job because of a few entitled bullies and a handful of lazy, slacker “journalists” who would snip 4 seconds of a 23 minute video for a clickbait lead (Twitter is not a newsroom) instead of telling an impartial and informative story that happens to depict a crew member as the experienced professionals they are.

“Yet, we can be entirely grateful for a medium that exposes the absolute underbelly of a level of ungracious behavior that seems to exist only at 35,000 feet  because, truth be told, if I didn’t see videos of passengers refusing service from flight attendants of a specific race, for example, I would not believe that such indignities existed. And while it may seem hypocritical coming from one who was once facing air piracy charges, I’m grateful to cellular phone technology for providing us with critical evidence to be used in the courtroom against some of this outrageous passenger behavior which the legal system has never taken anywhere near seriously enough.

His Favorite Airline?

“Amtrak.”

What Airline Would He Work for Today?

“Years ago, I was hired with MGM Grand Air when they still flew luxury DC-8s between New York and Los Angeles.  My training class was canceled and I ended up managing the men’s department at the Broadway department store in Los Angeles instead, but I always thought it would have been fabulous to do that gorgeous service on those legendary airplanes.

“I ran away and joined the airlines because I just knew there had to be more to life than Thousand Oaks California. If I were to go back and do it again, I would join a charter airline like Omni or Atlas so I could really do some exotic expeditions. I always wanted to do the Hajj or fly deep into Africa on an 8 day trip with a pair of drawers and a swimsuit. I still have the wanderlust. Let’s go!”

Making the Best Out of a Bad Situation

We had one last pressing question for Slater: what can passengers do better when it comes to interacting with flight attendants, and what can flight attendants do better to deescalate problems? Said Slater, “All I ever asked for was eye contact and a thank you. And I was always amazed how easy my job was if I simply smiled at the start of an interaction, whether there was really anything to smile about or not. Working for an airline was often like being trapped in a domestic violence situation. But I often had to remind myself, my customers were hostages as well. Once I sought out the commonalities and not the differences, I met some truly remarkable people, many of whom I’m still in contact with today. It was a great ride.”

View Comments (16)

16 Comments

  1. Marathon Man

    October 23, 2019 at 4:26 am

    I am happy to see that he so perfectly encapsulates this thing I have been thinking about myself…

    “Why passengers are getting worse on planes:

    By transitioning from a service culture based on human interaction to a business model structured around transactional processes, the airlines have sunk their own ship. The appalling spectacles we all watch online are created in a vacuum of neglect. It is basic human psychology. Just as a child left alone in his crib will cry for attention, a grown-up who doesn’t feel valued and appreciated is going to throw a fit…”

    Airlines so suck these days
    I don’t need first class service in life but come on… just let me enjoy a normal flight without stress!

  2. JohnBBeta

    October 23, 2019 at 4:33 am

    Big up Steven – we love you! Wishing you all the best from the UK.

  3. alexmyboy

    October 23, 2019 at 4:58 am

    Epic way to quit!

  4. Global321

    October 23, 2019 at 5:32 am

    This guy was and continues to be a selfish jerk.

  5. Bahollings

    October 23, 2019 at 5:36 am

    Slater says and I quote
    “I’m fortunate to have performed my little stunt before the advent of the iPhone.“ His little stunt happened in 2010 I know for a fact I phones were released in 2007. He has zero credibility.

  6. arcticflier

    October 23, 2019 at 6:30 am

    Says Slater:
    “ Just as a child left alone in his crib will cry for attention, a grown-up who doesn’t feel valued and appreciated is going to throw a fit…”

    Ah, no , Slater.

    Thats not what a mature grown-up will do.

    Now can we please move on?

  7. danbrew

    October 23, 2019 at 8:20 am

    We’ve all quit jobs, although probably in not such a dramatic fashion. Glad to see he’s moved on with his life.

  8. chadbag

    October 23, 2019 at 9:20 am

    @bahollings The iPhone was in existence in 2010, but video recording had just first come to the iPhone in 2009 and it was not ubiquitous. The smartphone penetration was no where near what it is now where everyone has an iPhone or an Android, and of those who had iPhones, not everyone had the latest one that could do video.

  9. AANoMore

    October 23, 2019 at 9:57 am

    “This guy was and continues to be a selfish jerk.”

    Profound. You must be proud of yourself, Global321, putting down someone you don’t even know. With passengers like you, it’s a wonder that more flight professionals don’t emulate Mr. Slater’s actions.

  10. 777 global mile hound

    October 23, 2019 at 10:35 am

    Actually like him .So he went off the deep end one day @ work.
    He didn’t murder anyone and should be forgiven provided a one time thing
    He brings up some very valid points in his thoughts.
    Who has not among us had a really bad day in their life or career and said or or did something they wished they hadn’t.

    The greed & ego of airlines combined with the merger of airlines partially led to some of what we see today
    They have stressed out front line agents and passengers while shrinking personal space, well being and sanity
    Post 9-11 all airlines tanked and they have been trying to over compensate with profits over people ever since
    More frequently destroying customer relationships and turning it into a price game the one thing the loyalty program was invented by American which was created to prevent!
    .In particular it is sad to see airlines like American and others
    shoot themselves in the foot with such ongoing increasingly hostile customer policies
    AA could easily overtake Delta and United with merely a little common sense and better decision making at the top.Overcharging and devaluation after devaluation from the program to the awards isn’t going to make the company long term profits.Penny wise pound foolish
    A mutually rewarding relationship takes building loyalty with value & trust as it did when loyalty programs launched
    That need still stands today.Oddly I only see Alaska and Southwest as getting it right most of the time
    Admire them both and that’s coming from someone that doesn’t want to fly Southwest.
    United & American were life changing for me in the 90s in a highly positive way.It was an exciting time to be their customer
    Today I try to avoid them as much as possible though I hold lifetime status with them.
    They are both last resorts when nobody else can get me there easily.It troubles me to say it.
    Their words and actions are built on mostly empty promises and brand failure in many regards reducing themselves to full blown commoditization the one thing they all wanted most to avoid by launching these programs in the first place
    I see legacy airlines as big dogs chasing their own tails

  11. justjoan2

    October 23, 2019 at 10:41 am

    Nice, Steven! There’s an important place for your voice + your message in the workforce today. I hear it as loudly today as I did when you quit: No one should be sticking with a job they hate or that hates them, even slightly. And, yes, after working in HR for decades I can attest that adults do have an inner urge to be valued. Sometimes there’s no room to express it so it looks like a temper tantrum. Best wishes for finding continued ways to constructively evaluate this industry. Seems to me we are all working toward a better airline experience for everyone involved.

  12. AS Flyer

    October 23, 2019 at 1:55 pm

    Can we please just let Steven Slaters legacy fade into oblivion. Just as he did that fateful day, he seeks attention over and over and over. Let it go.

  13. gavron

    October 23, 2019 at 4:34 pm

    Steven – best wishes to you and congratulation on finding your voice. While I’m there I can attest to having never heard “the windshield is bigger than the rear-view mirror” and you are absolutely right with that. That phrase is now being adopted into my vocabulary.

    I wish I could apologize for other people’s rudeness on this forum… but alas we have become a judgmental group where being the first to post is more important than caring about people as human beings, or their feelings. You can be sure if I see you, I’ll smile and say thank you.

    Ehud Gavron
    FAA CPL-H
    Tucson AZ US

  14. IanFromHKG

    October 23, 2019 at 10:26 pm

    AS Flyer, since he only came back into public view after the Throwback Thursday article, and states that he prefers to live in anonymity, I think your criticism is a little harsh.

    Mr Slater clearly had a crisis almost a decade ago. It sounds as though he has recovered, and reached a much happier phase in his life. His insights and thoughts were, I thought, interesting.

    it’s a shame that your curmudgeonly attitude detracts from the positivity that I found in the article.

  15. Global321

    October 24, 2019 at 6:36 am

    “Profound. You must be proud of yourself, Global321, putting down someone you don’t even know. With passengers like you, it’s a wonder that more flight professionals don’t emulate Mr. Slater’s actions.”

    AAnomore, you must be ashamed of that baseless comment/attack on me.

    100% I am putting down someone who caused damage to a plane, cause a major flight delay when the plane had to be taken out of service and delaying all the people that were to fly on that plane.

  16. flyshooter

    October 25, 2019 at 4:44 am

    I wonder if he ever paid back the airline for the cost of the slide repack.

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