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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Slater Exit Strategy: Quitting With Style

Steven Slater did what most people only dream about. He quit his job. Not only did he quit his job. He did it with some dissident style. Of course, for all his service industry employee heroics, he was rewarded with a trip to jail.

In case you missed it, Steven is/was a flight attendant on JetBlue Airways. On a flight from Pittsburgh to JFK International he reached his breaking point. When a passenger decided to stand up and retrieve luggage from the overhead compartment, before the plane had stopped moving, Steven did what all flight attendants do, asked the passenger to please remain seated while the plane was moving. Varied accounts describe the following altercation but the high points are that the bag swung out of the compartment and hit Steven on the head. Whether it was accidental or on purpose is debatable. This was followed by the passenger allegedly telling Slater to ‘Eff off, when Slater asked for an apology.

Steve, who had been, by his own account, in the airline industry 28 years had finally had it with rude passengers, I guess. He returned to the front of the cabin, grabbed the microphone and gave everyone his two week, er two minute notice. He reportedly said, “To the Mother Effer who just told me to Eff Off, Eff You.” He then recounted his years of service, said, “I’m Out Bitches”, grabbed a couple of beers and left the plane. But the kicker to this story isn’t that he quit. It’s that he left by way of the emergency exit slide. He blew the hatch which inflated the slide and took one last ride to freedom. Later, at his home he was arrested.

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Now, I guess you could make a case for this being highly dangerous. It’s more than likely that he broke several FAA rules by taking the scenic way out. CBS news reported he was arraigned on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, and trespassing. Charges that could land him in jail for seven years. Not to mention, his stylish exit strategy could have injured someone from deploying the slide.

Should Steven go to jail? That’s a toughie. Unfortunately, we live in a post 9/11 world where the rules of air travel have gone beyond simply being slapped with a misdemeanor. If the courts want to continue to be effective at enforcing rules, he will probably be sentenced to some time. My thoughts are he should be given a fine and probation time and possibly barred from working in the industry, again. Just to set an example, that is. However, what I find irreprehensible is that the passenger was not cited or arrested for anything. By the same token as what Slater did, this was a violation of FAA rules governing the interference of flight crew duties by a passenger. Where is the justice in that? Did Slater’s escape trump the need to uphold those other rules?

Let’s face it, air travel, anymore, sucks. The airlines are grasping at straws to keep afloat, fees are outrageous, and flying generally is not a fun thing to do. Furthermore, because of all these factors, working in the industry is no longer enjoyable. Stricter rules, not that there shouldn’t be, cause more delays. The economy woes make passengers more surly when having to pay out more in fees and service charges which, in turn, creates more confrontational moments with staff. Flight attendants are imagined as these happy as all get out, smile while we ram the drink cart into you, carry-on luggage Nazis who take pride in being difficult and will go off on you at a moment’s notice for not having your seat all the way up. Really, they are just people in the service industry like everyone else. Customer Service can be a rewarding and all together exhausting experience, especially in what can be perceived as a hostile consumer culture, nowadays.

It seems, anymore, that consumers are frustrated with the quality and prices of everything. IPhones that drop calls, McNuggets that don’t get delivered at the drive through and banks that charge outrageous fees are just a few of the game changers that has pushed the norm from “buyer beware” to “seller lookout.” Litigious as we might have been, pre recession, it looks to be a more strained relationship between customers and vendors since everything on Wall Street went out the emergency exit. The atmosphere is thick with stress and heat and the powder keg is set to explode.

Yet, why is Steven Slater considered a hero? Is it because he voiced the plight of the common service industry worker? Is it because he told off a rude passenger? Is it because he defied convention and escaped in style? In this world model of consumer vs. seller, that I just explained, Slater should be the enemy. He works for the company that is causing the consumer issues. However, the manner in which this whole drama played out painted Slater as the victim. He was a guy just trying to do his job in a hostile environment and he had enough of it. Later Slater stood up for the blue collar worker and this passenger, no matter who they were was “The Man.” This wasn’t an issue where a service worker broke the law and caused an incident because they were harassed. This was a “rise up” moment where the beaten down service worker took flight out the exit of a job that they had finally reached their breaking point.

In this scenario, the worker trumped the consumer because he now represented the consumer. He represented those of us who would to tell our cable company to ‘eff off over the price of our service. The desire to stand up and say “Get bent” to the employers and services that oppress us is all rather Freudian. In fact, the Steven Slater Exit Strategy is a perfect example of the Id, Ego, and super-ego in Freud’s structural model. The Id is Steven Slater. He is the primal instinct in all of us to just flip the finger at the world. All of us observing Slater in the media represent the Ego or the part of us that wishes we could be like that but accept the reality of our position. I can’t tell my boss to eff off and then jump ship. I have a mortgage, bills, and a family. I need to keep my job. I have responsibilities. The Id is the twenty year old us and the Ego is the 30-40 year old us. The Super-ego represents the us that says that Slater should go to jail. It’s not a case of “I wish I could do what he did.” It’s a matter of “He was wrong and should be punished for breaking the law and endangering people.” The Super-ego is usually the voice that comes out of us when we are asked by superiors if we think Slater was in the right. The Super-ego comes forth from our psyche as the representative while the Ego wrestles to keep a hand over the id’s mouth.

As a 14 year veteran of the service industry, there have surely been one or two days where I wanted to stand up, give everyone my business finger and pop open a window and slide out to the parking lot. My Id is constantly plotting my exit strategy while my Ego looks as the realty of my situation. My Super-ego is the guy that sits in his chair, all smiles, saying he loves his job. But sometimes the Id can tie the Ego and Super-ego up with duct tape, grab a gun and go apeshit like Omar Thornton did in Manchester Connecticut. Fortunately, in this case, Slater did not go “postal.” He simply exited the plane in the same way most people would probably love to quit their jobs. He used the sentiment of The David Allen Coe, the language of Half Baked’s Scarface (Guillermo Diaz) and coupled it with the style of Carson Kressley. He is a modern day Howard Beale shouting over the in flight PA system, "I'm mad as hell and I'm not going to take it anymore." Definitely, RAGE is the new black.

Frankly, barring the safety issues and Slater’s obscenity laden sign off, I think the Slater Exit Strategy could be applied to a lot of situations. So, if Steven does lose his job and have to switch careers I have a couple of ideas for him.

Of course, the most obvious choice for capitalizing on his new found fame would be to go on a reality show, say Survivor. Will he win? Don’t know. However, I think, in either case, he needs to go out with style at tribal council. After Jeff Probst extinguishes his torch he can turn to the rest of the council and tell them to ‘eff off before jumping on a huge inflatable water slide that takes him down to a splash lagoon. If that doesn’t work, I say hire him as a chief strategist in Afghanistan. He understands air travel and can relate to the struggles of having to be the bad guy in cases where he’s just trying to do his job. Of course, as the campaign winds down, he can offer up his exit strategy. Allied forces simply tell Al Qaeda and the Taliban to ‘eff off as we jump onto a huge slide that carries our troops safely into India.

So, thank you Steven Slater for giving all our Id’s a chance to dream. Now, I must get back to work.

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