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Published: Wednesday, 8/11/2010

Accused JetBlue attendant is hero on Web

ASSOCIATED PRESS

NEW YORK - No fed-up worker has ever said "I've had it" quite like Steven Slater.

Prosecutors say the JetBlue flight attendant flipped out over a fight with an agitated traveler Monday, cursing over the intercom before grabbing some beer from the plane's galley and making a grand exit down the emergency slide at John F. Kennedy International Airport.

He has been charged with felonies but elevated to folk-hero status by thousands who shrugged off allegations that Mr. Slater endangered others and praised him for his take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.

Mr. Slater, whose father was an airline pilot, wore a slight smile Tuesday as he was led into a Queens courtroom to be arraigned on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment, and trespassing, counts that carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The judge set his bail at $2,500.

Mr. Slater, 38, who lives in Queens, has been flying long enough to see much of the gleam of the air travel experience tarnished by frayed nerves, rising fees, plummeting airline profits, and packed cabins.

"One by one all of these niceties have been removed from the customer experience. I think subconsciously, it's causing passengers to be very angry," said Pauline Frommer, creator of the Pauline Frommer Guides and daughter of travel guru Arthur Frommer. "There's an us-versus-them mentality."

Sentiment online appeared to fall in Mr. Slater's court.

By early Tuesday evening, more than 58,000 people had declared themselves supporters of Mr. Slater on Facebook. At least one fan set up a legal fund on his behalf.

"Overwhelmingly people said it should have been the passenger who was ejected from the plane," said George Hobica, founder of AirfareWatchdog.com, speaking about response to his site's blog on the incident. "I've never seen such an outpouring of support for a flight attendant."

Mr. Slater's lawyer, Howard Turman, said his client had been drawn into a fight between two women passengers over space in the overhead bins as the Pittsburgh-to-New York flight was awaiting takeoff. Somehow, Mr. Slater was hit in the head, his lawyer said.

After JetBlue Flight 1052 landed in New York, one of the women who had been asked to gate-check her bag was enraged that it wasn't immediately available, Mr. Turman said.

"The woman was outraged and cursed him out a great deal," Mr. Turman said. "At some point, I think he just wanted to avoid conflict with her."

That's when he deployed the slide, Mr. Turman said. A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the airport, said Mr. Slater took at least one beer from the galley on his way out.

"Those of you who have shown dignity and respect these last 20 years, thanks for a great ride," Mr. Slater said over the plane's loudspeaker, according to prosecutors.

Prosecutors said Mr. Slater's actions could have been deadly if ground crew workers had been hit by the emergency slide, which deploys with a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. Mr. Turman said Mr. Slater had opened the hatch and made sure no one was in the slide's path before deploying it.

Passenger Phil Catelinet said he heard Mr. Slater's profanity-laced announcement over the public address system before he left the plane. He said Mr. Slater ended by saying, "I've had it." He said he didn't see Mr. Slater use the exit slide or grab the beer.

It wasn't until he saw Mr. Slater on an airport train and overheard him talking about the escapade that he put it together.

"He was smiling. He was happy he'd done this," Mr. Catelinet told NBC's Today.

JetBlue spokesman Mateo Lleras said Mr. Slater had been removed from duty pending an investigation. Prosecutors said no criminal allegations had been made against the passenger.



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