Furious flight attendant storms out the emergency exit

By Keith Herbert

     MELVILLE, N.Y. _ JetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater broke the bad news to the passenger long before the John F. Kennedy International Airport-bound jet left Pittsburgh: Her carry-on bag was too big to carry on. She’d have to check it in the plane’s baggage hold.

     According to court papers filed Tuesday, she then hit Slater in the head with an overhead baggage compartment door after arguing with another passenger before the plane left Pittsburgh. When they landed at Kennedy Airport, the woman asked Slater where her bags were. She cursed at him when he said she could pick them up at the baggage carousel, Slater’s lawyer said Tuesday.

     That was it for Slater, he told investigators looking into why he proceeded to swear at passengers over the plane’s intercom, grab beer from the plane’s galley, open a rear door of the aircraft and slide down an emergency chute before driving home to Belle Harbor, Queens.

     In a written report to Port Authority police officers after his arrest, Slater told investigators the passenger “opened a bin door, hitting me on the head without apologizing.”

     Port Authority police arrested him at his home Monday. He was released on $2,500 bail Tuesday night after being arraigned earlier in the day in Kew Gardens.

     Slater, 38, has been removed from duty pending an investigation, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

     Slater admitted to investigators that he grabbed the airplane’s public address microphone before making his escape.

     Passengers interviewed after the incident said Slater’s public address diatribe was laced with profanity, according to court papers. “Of you who have shown dignity and respect these last 20 years, thanks for a great ride,” Slater told passengers on JetBlue Flight 1052 as it sat at a gate after its arrival from Pittsburgh, the court papers stated.

     Next, Slater told investigators he looked out of the jet’s port hole, and seeing no one below, pulled the door handle that inflated the slide. He said he took his baggage and slid to the ground, court records state.

     Slater then caught an AirTrain shuttle to the employee parking lot and drove home.

     Passenger Phil Catelinet said he saw Slater afterward at the airport’s AirTrain terminal and that he seemed “happy.”

     Catelinet said “passengers were stunned, dumbfounded, surprised. I thought it was kind of funny.”

     Tuesday, Slater’s attorney, Howard Turman of the Legal Aid Society, said his client wasn’t guilty of the charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief.

     The charges stem from the deployment of the chute, not from any conflict with passengers, according to court records.

     Prosecutors said the slide could have caused “serious physical injury or death” if it had struck someone working under the aircraft. Slater, a flight attendant since he was 19, checked to make certain that there was no one on the ground when the slide deployed, his lawyer said.

     “No one was endangered,” Turman said.

     The woman, whose identity wasn’t released by authorities, continued to seethe throughout the flight after being told to store her carry-on, Turman said. When Slater told her it could be picked up at a baggage carousel, the woman started screaming and cursing, Turman said.

     “There was no altercation,” Turman said. “He did not fight with the passenger.”