Jokes on a JetBlue freakout that’s more serious than Steven Slater’s

Today's tabloids, March 28, 2012. ()
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Each day, the New York tabloids vie to sell readers at the newsstands on outrageous headlines, dramatic photography, and, occasionally, great reporting. Who is today's winner?

New York Post: He's no Steven Slater, for a few reasons, but still the most tabloid-ready story of the day is certainly that of Clayton Osbon, the JetBlue pilot who, midway through a flight from New York to Las Vegas, started flipping out on his copilot, saying stuff about al Qaeda and terrorists. The copilot told him to go to the lavatory and cool off, and subsequently locked him out of the cockpit. This freaked the pilot out even more, and he started running up and down the aisles yelling about how the terrorists are going to get us. Flight crew tried to subdue him; several people who were en route to Vegas to attend a conference of security professionals, including one former New York Police Department sergeant, cuffed him with plastic cuffs provided by the flight crew only to watch the outraged Osbon break free of them. He was finally subdued by four men who wrestled him down and used their own belts to restrain him before an emergency landing was made in Texas and he was taken away.

So this story is missing a few elements that made the Slater story so great. Remember: In August 2010, Slater cursed out a passenger who he thought was being rude as the plane was about to deboard, then grabbed two Coronas, activated the emergency exit slide, and slid to freedom and the end of his career at JetBlue. I have no idea whether Slater has required treatment for any psychological disorder or whether he's happy nowadays, but the whole thing felt light-hearted.

This case, which concerns a married, devotedly religious father from Savannah, Ga., regarded apparently by all who knew him as a kind, solid guy with an easy laugh, has all the markings of a truly terminal breakdown. That it happened at 34,000 feet of course ups the suspense in the story, and makes it somehow more serious. The papers try to have fun with it anyway.

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The Post is brilliant. "THIS IS YOUR CAPTAIN FREAKING," reads the giant knockout-white text. The big picture is fuzzy but shows, clearly enough, a man in restraints surrounded by very official-looking types; the silhouetted portrait of the man, who looks a little like William Hurt gone to seed, sits in a white box where the lede text begins. The slightly shaky dek reads: "JFK JetBlue pilot goes nuts in midair." (Do you call a pilot for JetBlue a "JFK JetBlue pilot" because he just took off from Kennedy Airport?)

Daily News: Knowing that this was a full-wood, cover-line battle day, the News seems to have tried to go all out. It's scattered and unfocused, though. A red strip across the top reads "DRAMA OF jetBlue FLIGHT 191," and for some reason, the white-on-red military-stencil typeface is back. (Can we please lose that, Daily News? It looks like some kind of school-project on oaktag about Planet Mars or The Respiratory System from the 1980s.) The word "jetBlue" is set in a different type, which is almost but not quite the type the company actually uses in its logo. (I think the airline's logo is based on something like DIN 1451, which you'll recognize if you've driven highways in Germany.)

Continuing the theme of adopting jetBlue's weird orthography for its own words, the headline reads "jet READY TO DIE!" To me, the inner voice speaks this with "jet" down low and the rest up high when they should be equally stressed; it distracts from the pun, which wasn't great anyway since "GET READY TO DIE" isn't something you really hear on airplanes as a rule. So the main hed doesn't scan, and it doesn't work. But there's more! Two of these weird oversized red bullets call out points in the story: "'Say your prayers,' crazed pilot screams," and "Sprints through cabin, terrifying flyers."

This would be more compelling if at least one of them hinted at the resolution: "Ex NYPD sergeant + 3 other passengers wrestle him to the floor," or some such. The News, like the Post, promises us pages 4 and 5.

Observations: Today is a good old-fashioned headline battle, nothing more or less. And more often than not, when that's all we've got, the Post wins it.

Winner: New York Post.