Does the airline industry really consider JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater a hero?

As you know, I’ve been following the story of flight-attendant-turned-runaway Steven Slater closely. What started as the quirky, though dangerous, reaction of a man pushed too far has become a bit more complicated. Slater’s message board activity has shown his likely instability, his own words tell that he’s been planning this for a while and it’s becoming increasingly likely that he lied about being assaulted by a passenger. And, let’s not forget that the man responsible for passenger safety – the only aspect of their job description that flight attendants harp on – actually put people at risk.

So … a hero?

Contributing to the Wall Street Journal’s Speakeasy blog, flight attendant Sara Keagle, with 18 years in the cabin, asks this very question. Even after acknowledging that “investigators are questioning the account, she explains:

Back to the question: is Steven Slater a hero? Hero may be a strong word. Especially in light of reports that other passengers aboard the flight don’t recall seeing the alleged unruly passenger. But, regardless, Slater’s actions have come to represent an idea. For me and the coworkers I have talked to, the story has become a release. Steven did what we’ll probably never do. But when he jumped, he spoke to us. He said, “It’s not just you. We all feel like jumping sometimes.”

Yes, all flight attendants “feel like jumping sometimes,” I’ll take Keagle’s word for it – but how many do?
Even the notion of admiring Slater disturbs me, because it runs counter to the stated role of the flight attendant on the plane, namely safety, and supporting this guy necessarily results in clear hypocrisy. As the story unfolds, I do wonder if the perception of Slater within the aviation industry will change.