He tried to tell us. JetBlue steward Steven Slater apparently posted to an airline message board in the months before his meltdown, warning of new pressures on flight attendants—and how the carry-on baggage situation had become a "monster."
A man named Steven Slater, with personal details matching the so-named angry flight attendant who recently slid off a parked JetBlue plane, posted some 31 times to discussion forums on the industry site Airliners.net starting in 2008. His most intense participation was in a thread called "Carry-On Baggage Endangers Crew And Passengers," a notable burst of writing given that Slater's tarmac escape followed a confrontation centered on overhead bins and falling carry-ons.
In the March 2010 carry-on discussion, first highlighted by travel writer Chris Elliott, Slater warned that an explosion in cockpit baggage was turning dangerous, a situation he blamed on both passengers and the airlines. He said the potential for "disaster" had turned him into a "bag nazi":
The airlines have created a monster. Lousy bagggage handling, theft, and now gouging with bag fees, why WOULD anyone want to check a bag? Add to the our collective laxidasical approach to enforcement, and you get a disaster. At the end of the day, the airlines have to step it up. I hate to be bag nazi when i work a flight, but I feel if I am not, then I am letting down all those who cooperate and thry to help out as well.
Slater, a veteran flight attendant, lent some historic context to the baggage situation. Given his almost scholarly reading of the issue, it's possible to frame his confrontation with a rude carry-on unloader as the inevitable nadir of a decade-and-a-half-long deterioration in passenger stowage. Here's Slater again, writing under his handle "skyliner747:"
I have been flying since 1990, and my experience is that the trouble began with the advent of the rolling bag. The worst year I recall was 1997, before the 1+1 limits came on, and before the airlines increased the overhead bin size. The 727. MD-80, and 757 were ridiculous...
We got a break after 9/11, in fact despite the challenges of those events, it became SO much easier to fly, for those of us who still HAD jobs, with the more stringent enforcement of policies. Now it is again a free for all.
As a flight attendant I am very sympathetic to and thankful for the responsible travelers that plan and pack accordingly. I do feel strongly that if a customer chooses to bring two pieces of baggage aboard, the second must go under the seat...
I am... hopeful fuel will become a reasonable expenditure again and maybe we can get back to some semblance of civility in the skies.
In the same thread, the stress Slater felt from his high-pressure job was palpable.
Click to viewWhich is completely understandable; keep in mind here that when writing these words in March, Slater had apparently lost his father to Lou Gehrig's disease and may have been watching his mother fight lung cancer. And, tragedies aside, it can be hard to resist the opportunity to vent online about any job.
That said, Slater definitely had his complaints. He pointed out that flight attendants aren't paid until the airplane door closes, meaning that they are, technically at least, uncompensated for the frantic seating of passengers and filling of overhead bins. "That entire boarding process is provided complimentary to you," he wrote. "The most difficult and challenging process of the whole flight is unpaid."
Slater also wrote that there had been "ridiculous missteps" in the airline industry since the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001.
And while Slater had shrugged off haters in other threads, critics started to get under his skin this past March. In the carry-on thread, Slater responded to one antagonist with, "Seriously, buddy, what is with the hostility. You are really getting nasty and I am at a loss as to why." In another that same month, he blasted "insensitive and shortsighted comments from people like you."
He also admitted to some general annoyance over how his bosses and passengers dealt with luggage:
I am not blaming the passengers in any way for my compensation shortfalls. I am frustrated with many of them for their unrealistic approach regarding carry ons. I am frustrated with my carriers pay amd compensation package which doesn nto pay us for boarding or deplaning.
None of this is to say Slater was an obsessive, angry message board freak. In fact, in at least two posts he advocated for restraint and friendly civility toward passengers. He admonished a Continental flight attendant who had tried to eject a passenger over a low-key dispute about visiting the cockpit, writing, "if the flight attendant did indeed speak the words alleged... then she obviously lost the very composure she was hired to have." And in the carry-on discussion he noted there was a "$1,000 fine if I get off the plane. Your carry on drama ain't worth that to me." Slater obviously changed his mind on that one.
Overall, reading through his posts, and setting aside the context of his spectacular resignation, the overriding online impression Slater leaves is of a seasoned, caring airline worker who is genuinely engaged with his job, has thought through the challenges facing his coworkers and employers, and just downright loves airplanes and travel.
For example, in May Slater wrote a very sweet post about spotting a 707 while on a secluded beach on the Rockaway Peninsula near JFK airport.
I stopped to enjoy the setting rays on the water, and as I gazed East toward JFK, I saw an aircraft approaching, way too low for my comfort.
I then noticed there was a whole lot of smoke and it wasn't climbing nearly as fast as normal. My first thought was, "Oh @#$^, someone's in trouble", assuming it may have been a compressor stall, etc....
My concern turned to elation as I enjoyed the realization that I was seeing a 707 climb out of JFK just as countless TWA and PAA's did in years past. The wings looked HUGE and I relished counting all four engines churning out thick, heavy smoke. Just as it crossed the shoreline, it banked into the most regal turn, and I was afforded a beautiful view of the giant wings with the golden sunset reflected off the bottom. It was almost as if it were saying "farewell."
...I watched it glide out over the ocean gracefully, at half the altitude I usually observe. She appeared to be in no great hurry, and quite self assured. I really had a sense of awe and appreciation for what was clearly, even today, a real queen of the skies....
Took me back to many rides on AA as a kid when my dad was a 707 F/O and Captain.
So it turns out air travel is in Steven Slater's blood and in his soul. That his passion burned fantastically bright at the end of a long day, well into a long career, is perhaps more testimony to the power of that intense, lifelong relationship than it is to his emotional temperament or to the character of the passengers on his flight. It's too bad Slater is, apparently, fed up with working the skies. We could use more people like him on our planes.