Workers relate to JetBlue attendant's frustration

August 10, 2010 (CHICAGO)

Meltdowns on the job aren't anything new. But are people becoming more stressed in today's work environment?

It's not often that a bad day at the office lands you in jail, but that's precisely what happened to that flight attendant, who's been working in the airline industry for 20 years. While his actions may have been extreme, many here in Chicago say they can relate to his frustration.

On Tuesday, Steven Slater appeared in a New York courtroom to answer to charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

The 39-year-old JetBlue flight attendant was arrested Monday after police say he deployed his plane's emergency slide on the tarmac at Kennedy Airport. He was apparently upset after arguing with an uncooperative passenger.

"The plane was taxiing and some passenger got up to take their bag down. The flight attendant approached and told him to not do that. He called him an expletive and apparently hit him or pushed him," said Commissioner Ray Kelly, New York Police Department.

Before exiting the plane, witnesses say Slater grabbed a beer from a beverage cart and offered some choice words for the offending passenger.

"I turned around and said, 'did this just happen? Did he just swear at a passenger on the intercom? That never happens,'" said Phil Catelinet, passenger.

Slater's tarmac tirade has struck a chord with many. On Tuesday in the Loop, some told ABC7 they see Slater as a victim, not a villain.

"I can relate to it definitely. It's stressful times, stressful economy, stressful everything," said Jill Sterling, account manager.

"I don't think he should go to jail. He didn't hurt anyone. He made a decision to leave based on whatever his mind told him. I don't think he should have even been arrested," said Rita Thompson, customer service manager.

A Facebook tribute page now has more than 30,000 Slater supporters. But while many find humor in the incident, Chicago-area flight attendants say Slater's meltdown highlights real stress among airline employees.

"They're putting the lowest staffing possible on the airplanes. They're filling them up chock full. Flight attendants are working longer days at less wages," said Mary Garten, Association of Flight Attendants.

"Employees are saying workloads are larger than they've ever been, and communication may not be as high quality as it has been in the past. So the real message is it's all about communication," said Jason Ferrara, senior career advisor,

No one was injured in Monday's incident, though police say the force of that slide being deployed could have hurt someone on the ground which is why Slater's been charged.

ABC7 found plenty of folks who say they don't think he did anything criminal.

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