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Steven Slater’s Story Is More Nuanced Than We Originally Heard

It should come as no surprise that the tale of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who went berserk earlier this week and fled a plane full of passengers by using the inflatable emergency slide, is more complicated than it originally seemed. (And originally, it seemed pretty damn complicated.) For many people, Slater's become a sort of folk hero for his outrageous-yet-bold stance against rude passengers: His meltdown occurred, it was reported, after an unruly woman disobeyed flight regulations and got up to retrieve her luggage before the pilot took off the seat-belt indicator. As Slater tried to stop her, we originally heard, she willfully slammed the overhead compartment door into his forehead, spurring the most audacious spazz of summer 2010. Naturally, that's not exactly what happened.

According to passengers interviewed by The Wall Street Journal, the injury actually occurred at the start of the flight from Pittsburgh. The unruly woman, the overhead compartment, the injury — that all seems to be accurate, it just happened at the outset. So Slater was left to serve the rest of the flight with an open wound on his forehead. This is where the problems, as you might imagine, began:


Lauren Dominijanni, 25, who was flying to New York on business, said Mr. Slater was rude to her the moment she got on the plane. She said someone had spilled coffee on her seat and when she asked for a sanitary wipe to clean it up, Mr. Slater "rolled his eyes at me and said, 'What?' in a real rude manner." Ms. Dominijanni, of Pittsburgh, said that when she pointed to the spilled coffee, Mr. Slater barked, "No! Maybe when we get in the air! I need to take care of myself first, honey!" She said he was pointing to the gash on his head. Ms. Dominijanni said Mr. Slater never returned with wipes to clean up the spilled coffee. She said he spent much of the 90-minute flight slamming overhead bins and refrigerator doors. "It wasn't normal and he shouldn't have been acting that way," she said. "I felt so uncomfortable on that flight."

The Daily News had a similar account:


When Slater stood up a while later to give the safety instructions, he seemed unhinged. His shirt bottom was unbuttoned, revealing a paunch, as he held the oxygen mask and life jacket. "He sort of threw them on the floor after demonstrating," said Gib Mendelson, a lawyer. The display prompted nervous laughter in the cabin ... After takeoff, Slater handed out drinks and snacks to about half the plane, then simply quit.

Many passengers, according to the Daily News, had actually disembarked when the infamous incident occurred. Which means he could have just walked down the breezeway rather than employing the emergency exit and inflatable slide. Which, when you think about it, would have definitely ruined the story.

In fact, that's what all of these mitigating details do. But here's the thing: Of course everything was not as it seems. Slater was a complicated man with a whole host of personal issues that led him to do what he did. Nobody is an archetype. Which is why we say, "Who cares?" Really, what does it matter if the passengers were only kind of jerky? And that a flight attendant overreacted and briefly showed his agitation to innocent other travelers? That's not the point. The point is that one day, after decades of abuse in one of the most tension-fraught service industries in America, somebody lost it and did something awesome. Stupid? Sure. Wrong? Probably. Completely indefensible? Maybe. But absolutely, inarguably awesome.

Let's not lose sight of the awesome, people.

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater's fuse was lit before plane left the gate [NYDN]
Passenger: Attendant Started Fray [WSJ]

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Photo: Mary-Louise Price; Photo: Steven Slater's MySpace page