By now you’ve probably heard about that flight attendant (Steven Slater) that lost it on a JetBlue flight yesterday. In case you haven’t heard yet, here is a summary of what happened taken from the New York Times article about the incident:

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.

Here is the full story.

Let me say this, the passenger was way out of line. The reason you’re required to remain seated is not only for your own safety but also for the safety of those around you. This is perfectly illustrated by the fact that Mr. Slater was hit in the head, presumably when the plane started moving again unexpectedly. If it hadn’t been Mr. Slater who was hit, another passenger could have easily been hurt. Even if you have no regard for your own or others’ safety it’s actually against the law to ignore lighted signs, placards and crew member’s instructions. Doing so can land you with hefty fines.

Despite this, it’s not at all uncommon for passengers to get up when the seat belt sign is on, whether in the air or when taxiing to the gate. Ignorance, short connections and just plain lack of regard for authority are all contributing factors. As a flight attendant, I’ve made too many announcements to count asking passengers to return to their seats and buckle up. It’s extremely frustrating to be ignored in the best of circumstances. When you’ve had a long, frustrating day or week or month it can be infuriating. Obviously that was the case for Mr. Slater.

In a way, I say he is freaking awesome. There were times (mostly after dealing with scheduling, not so much passengers) that I was tempted to say “screw it!” and walk off the job. Then I’d spend an afternoon lying on an exotic beach soaking up sun while getting paid and that would cool me off for several months. I love my job and short of it hurting my relationship with my husband or family I wouldn’t dream of actually quitting. The temptation? Definitely comes up from time to time though.

But, if you’ve absolutely had it with the whining, the lack of sleep, the disrespect and being treated like a vending machine on heels (or in a tie) I totally get that. Flight attendants tend to be animated, dramatic people so if they have to quit, going out with a bang seems like the way to do it. And trust me, those slides? Definitely bang. They’re loud! They’re also a lot of fun to go down. I’ve only had the pleasure once. No, it wasn’t while making a dramatic exit from an aircraft, it was just during emergency training. Given the chance I’d love to go down one again. Of course, as long as it isn’t because I’m trying to escape a burning airplane because I imagine that? Would be less than fun.

The main part that bothers me about this whole story is Mr. Slater’s blatant disregard for the safety of the ground crew. He was so worried about the passenger remaining seated for safety’s sake and then he blows a slide once they reach the gate? Really? I suppose if you aren’t in the industry you may not understand why that’s a big deal.

According to this pdf document put out by the FAA, as of 1999, evacuation slides are required to fully inflate within six seconds. That’s almost no time to see that it’s happening and get out of the way. If you don’t get out of the way on time? There’s a good chance you’ll be severally injured or even killed.

Mr. Slater put his own dramatic need for attention above the lives of those who could have been on the ground working on the plane and unloading baggage. Not cool. I’m all for making a statement. If that means stealing a couple beers, cussing out passengers, storming off the airplane or whatever that’s one thing. It doesn’t hurt anyone but yourself and possibly your airline’s image. Endangering lives is a whole different story and for that Mr. Slater should be ashamed of himself. He should have known better.

Mr. Slater could have called the cockpit and informed them that he had been both verbally and physically assaulted by a passenger. (Yes, getting hit in the head with a bag qualifies as assault.) The captain could have called for police to meet the plane and the offending passenger would have been in a heck of a lot of trouble. Instead, as far as what has been reported, the offending passenger had no consequences for their actions. That passenger can write it off as a crazy flight attendant losing it and is no more likely to obey future instruction from crew members. This puts future crews at risk.

Mr. Slater threw away his career for a couple of beers and 15 minutes of fame and in the process risked lives. He traded his uniform for prison orange which, let’s face it, isn’t flattering on anyone. While what he did is funny to joke about and would make a great scene in a movie, it’s not behavior that should be applauded in real life. He’s just a troubled individual that lost it. He’s a cautionary tale, not a hero.