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JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater gaining support on Internet

A groundswell of support grew Tuesday online and at office water coolers across America for a JetBlue flight attendant who pulled off one of the most dramatic “take this job and shove it” acts in recent memory.

In fact, the new phrase for quitting a job in dramatic fashion just might be “sliding the chute.”

After reportedly trying to deal with an unruly passenger on a parked aircraft Monday, JetBlue Airways Corp. flight attendant Steven Slater used the plane’s intercom system to curse out the passenger. He allegedly grabbed a beer from the beverage cart and deployed an emergency escape slide on the runway of New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Then he jumped, only to be arrested shortly after.

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Anyone who has worked in customer service or answers to an insufferable boss can relate to Slater. On Tuesday, online message boards and social networks flooded with empathy for the man who gave new meaning to the term “jumping ship.”

“He’s a lightning rod for a lot of social realities that are converging,” said Adam Hanft, a culture and branding expert. “The culture climate is right to make this guy a folk hero. The escape chute is so symbolic.”

A “Free Steven Slater” page was one of several created on social network Facebook. Tens of thousands of supporters visited that page and others like it and clicked a “like it” link. Another page is titled the “Steven Slater Legal Defense Fund.”

“There have always been folk heroes, but now social media give folk heroes the ability to exponentially and immediately expand their fan base,” Hanft said.

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Slater probably succumbed to stress and tried to regain control over the situation by lashing out at the unruly passenger, said Patrick Wanis, a human behavior expert. Most Americans can relate to that, he said. “He’s become the poster boy for the resentment people have with other rude people.”

Obviously, Slater’s stunt is not the way to deal with conflict in the workplace, said Lynne Sarikas, executive director of the MBA Career Center at Northeastern University in Boston. “I think people are naively finding it glamorous to vent and let it all out,” she said. “But can you imagine what his chances are for finding another job as a flight attendant?”

JetBlue announced Tuesday that Slater had been suspended from duty pending an investigation.

Slater was arraigned in New York on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing and ordered held in lieu of $2,500 bond. As of 4 p.m., Slater had not posted bail. JetBlue had no comment on Slater’s newfound fame, a spokesman said.

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gkarp@tribune.com


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