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The Most Viral Rage Quit in Airline History (And Its Dark Ending)

The Most Viral Rage Quit in Airline History (And Its Dark Ending)
Jeff Edwards

When former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater quit his job in dramatic fashion following a flight from Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) in 2010, pun-filled headlines and late-night monologues masked a much darker side of the story involving mental health issues and the very real danger of deploying emergency slides unnecessarily.

Former JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater quickly became something of a folk hero for the way he quit his job in August of 2010. News accounts of his epic exit following a flight from Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) to John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) captured the imagination of the public and became fodder for late-night talk show hosts and became a trending topic on social media.

The Incident

In case you haven’t heard about the ballad of Steven Slater, the story goes like this: Steven Slater, 38 and a “career flight attendant” was on the job (probably having a pretty bad day) getting the passengers of a JetBlue flight ready to deplane when one of the passengers hit him in the head with their luggage as they were getting it out from the overhead bin. When the passenger refused to apologize for hitting him with their luggage and handing over what turned out to be Steven Slater’s last straw, he got on the speaker, told the passenger off so that the whole cabin could hear, grabbed two beers from the galley and then slid off the plane via the emergency exit chute in a story that was covered by The New York Times that quipped, “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.” Slater was also interviewed by Larry King:

Folk Hero Steven Slater

Soon after the story in the New York Times, Slater’s viral fame was sealed. Someone started a Facebook page for him called “Free Steven Slater” with over 200,000 followers, Jimmy Fallon wrote him a tribute song (which was slightly less popular than the rap tribute track released a few weeks later), the Taiwanese news source Next Media animated him in CGI, and the grainy image of his slide to freedom was among the first memes to go viral (way back when something called “My Space” was still a thing).

Watching Steven Slater give his job the proverbial finger struck a chord in everyone who’s ever felt so fed up at their jobs that they’ve wanted to do the same. “We thought about it for 20 years,” Slater famously told reporters about the moment he decided to walk away from it all with a bang. “We thought about it. But you never think you’re gonna do it.”

The Aftermath

While there was a lot of fun to be had over the shared idea of someone walking off the job with flair, there was a much less jocular side to the tale as well. Slater was soon arrested and charged with at least one serious felony. The former JetBlue worker even faced theft charges for the two beers he grabbed on the way out of the aircraft.

Although Slater avoided jail time, he entered a guilty plea in Queens Mental Health Court and had to agree to a year of counseling and substance abuse treatment. Queens District Attorney Richard Brown suggested that Slater was depressed and drunk at the time of the incident. “At the end of the day I am a grown adult and I must take responsibility for my actions,” Slater said.

Bill Briggs of MSNBC said that the incident “launched a fresh examination of the two-faced persona all flight attendants are asked to master: grinning snack server one moment, frowning rules enforcer the next.” A spokesperson for the Association of Flight Attendants said that they did not condone Slater’s behavior, but they did have concerns about flight attendants working longer hours for less pay while they deal with customers who are carrying heavier bags in order to avoid paying fees on their checked luggage.

JetBlue initially joined in the tongue-in-cheek back-and-forth online about the incident. Later, however, then-JetBlue CEO David Barger publicly chided both Slater and the public reaction to his behavior. “He is not a hero in my book,” Barger said, adding, “Slides deploy extremely quickly, with enough force to kill a person. Slides can be as dangerous as a gun, and that’s the reason we have intensive initial and recurrent training. It is an insult to all aviation professionals to have this particular element of the story treated without the seriousness it deserves.”

After the incident, Slater kept a relatively low profile. In 2017, he gave an interview with The Washington Post and said that, looking back, the entire incident was like an out of body experience: “In some respects, it was like, ‘Oh my God, I’m doing this.’ And then the next thing I know, I was on the tarmac,” he recalled. “I remember standing on the tarmac on the sun and it was just so warm. I thought, ‘Ahh, I can exhale. But how did this happen?'”

This summer, Steven Slater’s story took a decidedly darker tone. According to TMZ and Mexican authorities, Slater was reported missing on July 5th, just weeks after moving to Tijuana, Mexico. There have been no official updates on the status of the investigation since.

 

[Image Source: Facebook]

View Comments (9)

9 Comments

  1. arcticflier

    October 4, 2019 at 5:30 am

    “…masked a much darker side of the story involving mental health issue…”

    No, Steven is not a victim. Please do not try and turn him into one.

  2. alexmyboy

    October 4, 2019 at 5:37 am

    all the passenger had to do was apologize. can we get their name

  3. strickerj

    October 4, 2019 at 9:31 am

    True, and honestly I can’t imagine whacking someone with my bag and not apologizing for it, but if the FA was going to flee via the emergency slide over that, he was already unhinged.

    Technically the story may not be over yet as he’s still just missing, but I imagine in Tijuana, the odds of him being found alive aren’t great.

  4. Nycflyer71

    October 4, 2019 at 11:09 am

    This is Steven. it was surreal at best to see this pop up on my feed this morning. It is always odd reading about that day so long ago. Rumors of my denise are just that, I am alive and well in San Diego and residing part time in Mexico. I will always be a divisive character in aviation. Loathe me or love me, I hope that this story has brought about a dialogue on civility in society. If it has done so, then I have made peace with my past. Safe flight.

  5. WillCAD

    WillCAD

    October 4, 2019 at 12:52 pm

    Forgive my incredulity, but if you really are Steven Slater, why not log into the FlyerTalk forums and offer some proof? There are plenty of people who’d like to hear from you (some in a good way, some, truth be told, not so good), and it does seem like the authorities in CA and Mexico are under the impression that you’re missing.

    Of course, if this is just some internet troll making a wild claim for some cheap jollies, I have a number of profanities I’d love to share with you.

  6. Grog

    October 4, 2019 at 12:58 pm

    Nycflyer71: I truly want that to be you, Mr. Slater. I wish you all the very best, sir.

  7. Nycflyer71

    October 4, 2019 at 1:31 pm

    @WillCAD I have an active on Facebook and Instagram for quite some time including in the last 24 hours posting pictures from my home in Mexico. There was a slight misunderstanding almost two months ago now when I missed a shift at work after crossing the border at a checkpoint I was unfamiliar with. Some friends in an abundance of caution reported me missing but that case was closed by the Chula Vista Police Department within 3 days. A Google search will quickly verify this. I assure you, I am not that compelling a personality that anyone would care to impersonate me. I’m grateful to the concern of all but there is absolutely nothing nefarious happening here, just living a quiet life under the radar after many years.

  8. GoingTDY

    October 4, 2019 at 1:44 pm

    WillCAD and Grog,

    I can confirm that that is indeed Steven. I have been a friend of his since high school (Thousand Oaks High, class of 1990 – Go Lancers) We missed him at the 20 year reunion, as it occurred the week of the incident and he was incarcerated at the time. He was the one person absent that we were all hoping to see.

    Steven is currently living in San Diego. A couple months ago he was reported missing in Mexico as nobody had heard from him for several days. We later found out that his laptop, cell phone, wallet and passport were stolen. But I assure you he is alive and well.

    I appreciate your skepticism, but as somebody with personal experience with him, and as I am currently talking to him on facebook I can authenticate.

    Best to both of you!

  9. pdsales

    October 4, 2019 at 4:56 pm

    If you Google “Steven Slater missing” the results are all from August 8 and 9. Pretty old news to be showing up on FT October 3.

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