If it happened at an airport, it must be criminal

I enjoyed a JetBlue flight Boston to Puerto Rico yesterday, saving approximately one week compared to my last trip down here (see “flying the Caribbean”). While we were in the air, Steven Slater quit his flight attendant job with the airline and made a dramatic exit from JFK (boring nytimes story; lurid NY Post story), activating the Embraer E190’s emergency slide as part of his escape from two decades of dealing with the general public. The flight was over. The plane was at the gate. Slater did not interfere with any other airline employees trying to do their jobs. Slater did not cause anyone to be injured or suffer a financial loss (unlike half of the employees on Wall Street!). Yet the guy is now in jail and charged with a criminal offense (nytimes).

I can’t figure out the rationale for criminal charges. Perhaps Slater owes JetBlue the cost of repacking the slide (though they probably also owe him a paycheck and could deduct the cost from that). Aside from the fact that the incident occurred at an airport, where is the crime?

[Update: I was talking about this with some friends at dinner last night and comparisons to Mark Hurd of Hewlett-Packard came up. Hurd was the CEO and accused of stealing the shareholders’ funds via false expense reports. Instead of the police coming to his door and arresting Hurd for stealing, he was sent an additional $28 million of the shareholders’ money (more).]

16 thoughts on “If it happened at an airport, it must be criminal

  1. Phil,

    I think the answer is that he made something happen which wasn’t in the script. Remember in the minds of the TSA control==security==safety they are all one in the same. We all know that this is a farce, but you must remember that the purpose of the TSA is to keep things safe, not to get people from point a to point b safely. TSA doesn’t have any responsibility for getting people from one place to another, their responsibility is limited to making sure there are no surprises at airports.

    IMHO this is where running the government like a business fails in the long run, if the airlines imposed all this stuff, you could open up a gate and skip it to lure customers away. i.e. you have to make money in the long run and that keeps the airlines somewhat honest about the trade offs in the long run. But government doesn’t have such restrictions. Their mission isn’t travel or selling tickets it is stopping terrorists.

  2. Just wait until his sickly mother gets the bill for the bullet that they use to execute him.

    Oh, wait, wrong country.

  3. The Man has to throw the book at Steven Slater, otherwise millions of customer-service employees might follow his example.

    (In all seriousness, the most plausible reason I heard for the charges was that the slide might have injured someone on the ground.)

  4. The criminal mischief charge apparently is tied to property damage of some kind ( http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mischief : “Governed by state law, criminal mischief is committed when a perpetrator, having no right to do so nor any reasonable ground to believe that he/she has such right, intentionally damages property of another person, intentionally participates in the destruction of property of another person, or participates in the reckless damage or destruction of property of another person”). I suspect the “damage” is the requirement to repack the slide or perhaps scuff marks on the slide from being used. Unless New York law is unusual, I suspect that charge isn’t going anywhere.

    The reckless endangerment charge is even more curious, because as the New York Times reports “‘At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk,’ the company said.” The only endangerment would be (from a police officer, New York Times story): “‘When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds,’ a law enforcement official said. ‘If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed.'” That seems like a stretch because only trained personnel are allowed near the plane at that point. And I suppose the flight attendant only needs to say “I checked that the tarmac was clear before deploying the chute.” But I’m no lawyer.

  5. I was wondering the same thing. Seven years? Feels like Animal Farm where some crimes are more criminal than others. Sign of the Times.

  6. The same thought had occurred to me also. He would be wise to plead not guilty. I can certainly see a reasonable jury either finding him not guilty or not being able to come to a unanimous decision. Maybe that would give prosecutors the incentive they need to offer a misdemeanor with no jail time.

  7. Amen to that. When one of the salary mules displays any natural human response to being condemned to living as a debt slave, the jihadi bankers have to punish them so as to show the rest of the serfs who is really in charge. What’s the point of being rich if you can’t punish poor people?

  8. Airnav.com reported that the cost of re-packing (and, obviously, the real cost: re-certifying) the slide is $310,000. That’s if he didn’t damage the slide. He went down it with his shoes on which, as you know, is a no-no.

  9. Generally. I would have been upset if I was onboard and was laced with the profanity and discourse of the event. Because,some would side with the attendant and some the passenger.Although, I would side with the attendant most always, regardless, but with exception to the profanity. Here is a link to how the industry as a whole views this event. http://www.pprune.org/cabin-crew/423622-bad-day-office.html

  10. He was a member of the aircrew and abandoned his duty to ensure the safety and security of his passengers until all had disembarked from the aircraft. Maybe not an act worthy of incarceration, but it’s a shame anyone in the public considers that commendable.

  11. RDO: Good point, but if doing a bad job were a criminal offense, nearly every employee of every Wall Street bank would be in prison. I wouldn’t have been surprised if JetBlue had fired the guy or deducted the $2000 repacking fee from his last paycheck (or even possibly sued him for damages in a civil action). But in terms of endangering lives and property, any SUV driver texting on a mobile phone presents a greater threat.

  12. He is not a member of the upper class, and the others are. The ruling class takes care of their own, even when they are in violent conflict (such as the warring monarchs of Europe who still showed the losers every luxury, even when the loser was the aggressor). The lower classes cannot be allowed to rebel, even symbolically.

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