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Slater’s slide into infamy

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With one slide down the emergency chute on a JetBlue airliner, flight attendant Steven Slater became a household word — and a Facebook sensation.

Slater left work in highly dramatic fashion Monday after getting into an argument with a passenger who was trying to remove a bag from an overhead bin while the plane was taxiing into John F. Kennedy International Airport. Slater approached the passenger and told her to wait to retrieve her bag. The passenger ignored Slater's instructions, swore at him and continued to collect her belongings. The bag struck Slater in the head, which prompted Slater to respond via the plane's intercom with a few choice words of his own, signing off with "It's been a good 28 years. I've had it. That's it."

With that, Slater grabbed his carry-on bags, two cans of beer from a beverage cart and activated the plane's emergency chute for a theatrical exit off JetBlue Flight 1052.

This stunt has resonated with the public. Tens of thousands of people have become Slater's Facebook friend. One fan established a Steven Slater Legal Defense Fund, which enables people to contribute through PayPal.

Cable television programs are debating whether he is a hero or a felon.

If Americans are cheering him on, it's because they have likely fantasized about making a like exit from a job where they are not treated with respect or dignity. Rare is the person who acts on the urge.

Plus, Slater acted out without violence, although authorities have said members of the ground crew could have been injured if the chute dropped on them. JetBlue issued a statement that said there never was any danger.

Yet it is perfectly understandable that the airline would want an employee who has just a smidgen more patience with the flying public. No question, this passenger was belligerent, but some passengers say Slater's conduct during the flight was hardly exemplary. Still, the plane was pulling into the gate. Couldn't Slater have bitten his tongue for a few more minutes?

Federal authorities need to hold Slater accountable for his actions so the nation does not experience copycats or other incidents where people are hurt or killed. He faces a possible prison sentence of seven years, although it is more likely he would be placed on probation. A greater challenge for him would be finding another job aside from a reality TV gig. Slater has been suspended from work.

Still, this incident is food for thought. It demonstrates that people have become increasingly uncivil to one another in recent years. Anyone who has worked in the service industry can tell horror stories about impossibly rude customers.

The flying public has become increasingly stressed out as the federal government has stepped up security demands and airlines have added a menu of fees for everything from checked bags, overweight luggage and in-flight food and services. Passengers are not always treated with respect by security and airline employees, either.

Perhaps this was the gut-check we all need to remind us that we should treat our fellow human beings with a bit more kindness, not to mention find better ways to cope when we get stressed out on the job.