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Mad Men

Flight attendant’s dramatic exit may trigger job-related hysteria.

By D.P. Sorensen
Posted // August 18,2010 - When I get tired of thumbing through SkyMall magazine or find myself in danger of being hypnotized by the flight-track screen, I like to mosey to the back of the plane and lurk in the vicinity of the galley, where I can eavesdrop on the flight attendants bitching about rude and demanding passengers, like the guy in 16C who wants 15 bags of peanuts, or the gal in 23A who keeps pressing the call button to see if the pilot can fly faster so she can make her connection to Schenectady.

I have nothing but sympathy for the plight of flight attendants who have to smile and coo and make baby faces at rude and unruly passengers who get ruder and more unruly not just year by year but month by month, week by week, day by day, hour by hour and minute by minute. Their outrageous behavior is just one more manifestation of our accelerated culture and the universal demand for instant gratification and screw old-fashioned social courtesy.

And no doubt JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater, who could get work as a Glenn Beck body double if he is banned from the friendly skies, was sorely tried by one or more impatient and selfish passengers. (However, as more details of the incident aboard flight 1052 out of Pittsburgh become available, it appears that Mr. Slater’s meltdown may have been fueled by a few too many adult beverages from the drinks cart.)

Nevertheless, the last thing I want from any flight attendant as we hurl at great speed in an aluminum tube through the wild blue yonder is hysteria, no matter how justified or provoked. Fortunately, the JetBlue aircraft in question happened to be on the ground at New York’s JFK when Mr. Slater (described by police as “flamboyant,” and by his former wife as “dramatic”) deployed the emergency slide and exited, beer in hand. By the way, the slide deploys at 3,000 pounds per square inch, or 100 times more pressure than your average automobile tire. Had a baggage handler happened to amble by as attendant Slater activated the slide, he and his body parts would have been blasted all the way from JFK to LaGuardia.

It’s baffling to me, and a bit frightening, that flamboyant-dramatic Mr. Slater has become an instant folk hero, lionized on the Internet as a new Howard Beale, who, as you remember, was the guy in Network who was “mad as hell" and wasn’t "going to take it anymore.” All Beale did was flip out on TV and urge his viewers to open their windows and shout his mad-as-hell mantra into the streets.

Mr. Slater has opened up a whole ’nother can of worms, or more precisely in his case, a whole ’nother can of beer. I think we may fairly expect a rash of copy-cat take-this-job-and-shove-it incidents. It might start with another exit from an airplane, but this time the fed-up flight attendant will deplane from 36,000 feet. Be alert for a hysterical flight attendant running down the aisle with a parachute strapped to his or her back.

But, attendant Slater’s dramatic job departure has so “resonated,” to use his own word, with the public that workers of all stripes will feel empowered to abandon their duties at the slightest provocation. It won’t be long before a major-league umpire, sick and tired of managers spitting tobacco juice (or sunflower seeds, the new chaw of choice) will tear off his chest protector, remove his protective cup, kick off his cleats and, grabbing a beer from a nonplussed vendor, storm out of the stadium.

Escalation will be inevitable. We will see dentists chucking it all, leaving recumbent patients choking on their saliva suction devices. Judges will chew out juries, strangle attorneys or sentence some schmuck to 12 consecutive life terms before shucking their robes and fleeing from the bench. Waitresses will dump the soup du jour into the laps of customers demanding separate checks. Bartenders will throw appletinis into the faces of importunate patrons. Bikini waxers will rip one strip from Brazil and split, the cries from incompletely groomed clients echoing through the salon.

Meanwhile Steven Slater, flight attendant extraordinaire, will soon take his place in the pantheon of American heroes, right next to Joe the Plumber, Levi Johnston and the gate-crashing Salahis. The flamboyant Mr. Slater has staying power, however, and will outlast not only them, but even someone like his fellow sky warrior, that boring and decidedly nonflamboyant “Sully” Sullenberger.

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