Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Steven Slater's Great Escape

Steven Slater's grand exit from his flight attendant career on the ground at JFK this week will probably go down in history as a tipping point where just one person puts a fine point on just how far-gone society gets from time to time.

Slater is already the Bernie Goetz of bullied flight attendants to some; the too-tightly-wound gone-postal poster boy for repetitive-task rules minions to others.  But to authorities in New York, Slater was briefly Public Enemy Number One yesterday afternoon.

After saying his fond goodbyes to a planeload of JetBlue passengers (one of whom  had grabbed her bag from the overhead bin before the aircraft had come to a complete and final stop and then cursed-out Slater when asked to return to her seat) Slater grabbed two beers from the galley, popped an emergency evacuation chute aboard the Embraer, and went sliding off into folklore.

As the chumps aboard JetBlue 1052 waited to shuffle out of the aircraft and push their way through the airport to fight for taxis, Steven Slater ran off to his car in the parking lot wild and free with his complimentary $12 beers.  He drove home to Queens.

Goodbye, Rude World.

Slater's house in Queens was shortly thereafter surrounded by cops.

A contractor working across the street was quoted by The New York Times as being under the impression there was a hostage situation in the house.

Law enforcement officials explained the response by pointing out that activation of the plane's emergency chute without warning was reckless, and that the chute could have killed someone standing on the ground.


But call out the cavalry because some guy popped an emergency aircraft slide at JFK?

"Who knows how many other aircraft emergency chutes the guy might have pulled before we caught him," a high-ranking law enforcement official didn't say.  "This may have been only a practice run," said another, not.

Apart from the everyday drama of jerk passengers and ready-to-snap-anytime-now flight attendants, Steven Slater's Great Escape reminds us that we continue to treat any unusual event involving an airliner as a matter of scramble-the-F16s national security.

And each time we do so, we contribute to the stressed-out paralysis that is airline travel today ... and waste resources that could otherwise be available to respond to real emergencies.

Even if we haven't thwarted a future airline tragedy with the successful shock & awe capture of Steven Slater, there are at least three things we can be confident of after this incident.

1. Some passenger, somewhere, is going to joke about popping an emergency slide as he or she sits grounded at an airport due to mechanical or weather issues, and law enforcement will show up in overwhelming numbers to subdue the perp.  You'll read about it right here in an Accidents & Incidents entry on The AVSIG Blog.

2. No passenger will actually figure out how to pop an airliner emergency slide, even after receiving explicit instructions on how to do so from a flight attendant.  Who listens to those clowns, anyway?

3. There's beer in the galleys of JetBlue airliners.


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