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Steven Slater in a screen grab taken from MySpace
Steven Slater in a screen grab taken from MySpace

Flight attendant wins approval of disgruntled workers Add to ...

JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater's on-board meltdown has landed him criminal charges, but it's also won him something else: the admiration of legions of disgruntled workers.

Prompted by a passenger hitting him on the head with a piece of luggage, Mr. Slater delivered a profanity-laced rant over the plane's intercom and made his exit from the passenger-filled plane via the emergency inflatable slide on Monday. It didn't take long before his story went viral.

Film critic and new-media celeb Roger Ebert Twitter-dubbed him "A Sully for 2010."

That's Sully as in Chesley Sullenberger, the pilot who gained fame when he safely landed a plane in the Hudson River after its engines became disabled.

Mr. Sullenberger saved the 155 passengers on his plane, and Mr. Slater abandoned about 100 on his. But, since news of the JetBlue incident broke, Mr. Slater has joined Mr. Sullenberger in the land of folk heroes.

Everyone from office drones to customer-service clerks is celebrating Mr. Slater's freak-out because, they say, they've all fantasized about doing the same. Most, however, are reined in by fear of sabotaging their careers.

"It's like kids identifying with Superman, Batman and Spider-Man," business consultant and psychotherapist Linnda Durre explains. "They want to deal with a powerless situation and come out the conqueror."

When Mark Shyzer, a 27-year-old Toronto writer, heard about Mr. Slater, he says he "kind of wanted to give the guy a high five."

While Mr. Shyzer was working at an ad firm, he says he couldn't stand one of his colleagues and fantasized about how he would leave. "It was just kind of therapeutic to think about quitting in a way that would screw him over," Mr. Shyzer says. He left the job with grace, but wishes he had done something more elaborate.

Those impulses - as long as they are not violent - are healthy, says Kenneth Westhues, a sociology professor who studies workplace conflicts at the University of Waterloo.

"It's delightful how workers leave their personal marks even on low-status, boring jobs," he says. "This flight attendant went out in a blaze of harmless fun."

But do you really want to be known as that guy by others in the industry? Prof. Westhues says employers should recognize that such meltdowns say more about the company and situation than they do about the employee's character.

Terri Elvald made waves when she quit her job as an IT specialist at a telemarketing firm but she still lists that position on her resumé.

Ms. Elvald, 42, had grown frustrated by the lack of overtime pay at the Barrie, Ont. company and one night, while she was at home tucking her kids in, her manager's receptionist called and asked her to come in. "And I said, 'Tell Donna [the manager]I quit,'" Ms. Elvald recalls.

She knew she would be able to explain the circumstances of quitting her job to potential employers and got another job six weeks later.

But Ian Bradley, a Montreal psychologist, says it's much healthier for employees to deal with mounting workplace frustrations earlier rather than letting them reach boiling point.

Most employees' work lives are defined by forced compliance, which is why they applaud the rare soul who breaks free, he says.

"When you see someone lash out it's much more refreshing," he says.

In Mr. Slater's case, if convicted, he could face up to seven years in prison. A judge set bail at $2,500, and he was released Tuesday night.

Francis Hane says he will never forget the Slater-esque departure of his co-worker 15 years ago at a Taco Bell in Waterloo.

"He just walked out on his last day of his shift and picked up the guns [filled with sour cream and guacamole]and opened fire" on the staff, Mr. Hane recalls. "He dropped the guns on the floor like you'd see in a shootout and said, 'So long, suckers!' and walked out."

Memorable quitting stunts:

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Here are a few others who've walked away from their jobs with the last word:

Conan O'Brien

Late-night funny man Conan O'Brien had barely settled into his job as host of The Tonight Show (a gig he'd been promised for years) when his bosses at NBC told him his predecessor Jay Leno would be taking over his time slot, bumping Mr. O'Brien's show later into the night. He quit and spitefully made the last few episodes of his show as expensive as possible (remember the Bugatti Veyron mouse?), vowing to make his soon-to-be-ex-employer pay for its perceived mistreatment of him.

Larry David

During his days as a writer for Saturday Night Live, comedian Larry David's sketches were often cut, which became a sore point for him. One day, after the executive producer cut a sketch he'd written, Mr. David screamed profanities at him (within earshot of the audience) and quit 10 minutes before airtime. Oddly enough, he went to work the next week and acted as though nothing had happened. The outburst later inspired an episode of Seinfeld.

Ernest Hemingway

In the early days of celebrated author Ernest Hemingway's career, he signed on for a three-book contract with publisher Boni & Liveright. In the contract, he was given a measly advance for his first work, as well as little support from the publisher. Mr. Hemingway wanted to leave, but couldn't - until he discovered a loophole. If a manuscript was rejected, he would be free, he found. So, he set out to write a satirical piece he knew would be rejected. It worked. Mr. Hemingway was set free - and got to take that manuscript (The Torrents of Spring) with him.

Andrew Lahde

Hedge fund manager Andrew Lahde was shrewd enough to bet against the subprime collapse - his fund returned 866 per cent in just a year. In 2008, he decided to quit while he was ahead. Before leaving the finance world, he sent out a letter skewering the people who had made him rich ("idiots whose parents paid for prep school, Yale, and then the Harvard MBA") as well as what he saw as a corrupt government.

Dave Cockrum

When Marvel comic book artist Dave Cockrum submitted an angry resignation in 1979, it went out to far more people than just his boss. The harsh letter, in which he described the Marvel team as "a large collection of unhappy individuals simmering in their own personal strew of repressed anger," found its way into Iron Man #127. It was disguised as a resignation letter submitted by the character Edwin Jarvis. In a subsequent issue, comic book writer David Michelinie had to sheepishly explain to confused readers that an error had been made when that letter ran instead of the original one.

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