The airline industry's latest headline-maker didn't help land a plane safely or tackle any terrorists. According to police reports, he cursed out a passenger, grabbed a few beers, abandoned the plane using its emergency chute, then called it a day. But that hasn't stopped many – including thousands of supporters on the Internet – from labeling JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater a hero. He "did what everyone always wanted to do but never did," says the "Free Steven Slater" Facebook page – one of many overnight shrines for the 39-year-old, who quit his job in dramatic fashion on Monday. Slater, fed up with a passenger who refused to apologize for allegedly hitting him on the head while retrieving luggage from the overhead bin, reportedly used the PA system to unleash a torrent of curse words before ditching the jet at New York's JFK International Airport.Anybody working in customer service - which is an increasing percentage of us in this bold new post industrial world - can tell you horror stories about abusive customers who view the people who serve their meals, explain their bill or help them deplane as faceless serfs who aren't owed the basic human courtesy of decent treatment. There's elitist classism behind the contempt and abuse: "How much do you make?" in a sneering tone that implies that since that harassed clerk makes less than they do, treating them with respect is uncalled for.
You don't have to condone or repeat Slater's actions to understand the "Fuck this, that's all I can stand and I can't stand no more!" moment he experienced. It's interesting the beaming, peaceful smile on his face in every photo since the incident - even with his hands behind him in cuffs being led into court. The blissful smile of unbearable tension broken and relaxing free fall begun. If you don't understand that smile, you've never worked in customer service.