Hero or 'Bag Nazi'? JetBlue Flight Attendant Plans to Hit the Beach

JetBlue Flight Attendant Freed, Calls Attention "Neat"; Expects to Lose Job.

August 10, 2010, 2:28 PM

Aug. 11, 2010— -- Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant and self-professed "bag Nazi" who made a dramatic exit on an emergency slide Monday, is now free and told reporters he is looking forward to "a little down time, a little beach time, enjoying the rest of the summer."

Last night, the flight attendant who turned into media sensation was released from jail on $2,500 bail, and told reporters he was surprised by all the attention his story had generated.

"I knew there was a brouhaha about this," he said. "But while I was on the inside I didn't realize how much attention it got." And he added that it feels "neat."

"It's been very, very appreciated," Slater told ABC News staton WABC-TV. "It seems like something here has resonated with a few people."

Meanwhile, the 100 passengers on the flight are getting a $100 voucher good towards a future flight in the next year on the airline.

"As is consistent with our long-standing policies, JetBlue often provides vouchers to our customers when they experience a disruption or otherwise abnormal circumstance. This event falls into that category," spokesman Mateo Lleras told ABC News.

On its blog, the airline added: "While we can't discuss the details of what is an ongoing investigation, plenty of others have already formed opinions on the matter. Like, the entire Internet. (The reason we're not commenting is that we respect the privacy of the individual. People can speak on their own behalf; we won't do it for them.)"

"While this episode may feed your inner Office Space," the airline added, "we just want to take this space to recognize our 2,100 fantastic, awesome and professional Inflight Crewmembers for delivering the JetBlue Experience you've come to expect of us."

Delta flight attendant Doug Slater is a friend of -- but not related to -- JetBlue's Steven Slater, and said he understands where his friend was coming from.

"Every flight attendant has had this frustration and has had the desire to do something like that that you would lose your job," he told ABC News. "I think everyone has fantasized about that. The public can be challenging."

That said, Delta's Slater said he would work with his friend from JetBlue anytime.

"I would work with him tomorrow, he was fantastic, he was one of those people who was great with the public, he could easily swan over the little old lady who is grumpy and turn her into a smile," he said.

On Facebook, Slater has become a hero to flight attendants and disgruntled workers. A fan site dedicated to him has more than 110,000 followers.

And Slater's mother, a retired flight attendant herself, said her son restrained himself and that if she was in his place she would have been even more aggressive.

"I can understand why he snapped, and I would have snapped too. In fact, I probably would have snapped more than he did," Slater told ABC News station KABC-TV in Los Angeles. "I also don't think that people who are in the service industry should be abused by anybody, whether it be a passenger or anybody."

His mom added that she didn't think he would be in trouble "very long."

"I think he just had a very small meltdown, and I think he deserves to be able to have that meltdown if you saw the egg on his head where he got smacked," she said in the driveway of her home in Thousand Oaks, Calif.

Diane Slater told the station that the passenger should face charges for interfering with an airplane crew member, her son, and "smacking him in the head."

Monday's flight apparently wasn't the first time Slater had issues with passengers' bags.

"I hate to be a bag Nazi when I work a flight, but I feel if I am not, then I am letting down all those who cooperate and try to help out as well," he wrote several months ago on Airliners.net, an aviation website.

Outside the jail, Slater conceded he will "more than likely" lose his job. Asked if he cared about that any more, he broke into a big smile, laughed, and then said, "no comment at this time."

JetBlue hasn't fired him but has removed Slater from duty pending an investigation.

And then there are the criminal charges: criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and criminal trespass.

While the 38-year-old flight attendant might be a hero to some, authorities say the emergency slide he deployed could have killed or severely injured somebody on the ground with his escape. The emergency slide deploys out of the aircraft with a force of 3,000 psi. The typical car tire pressure is around 30 to 35 psi.

JetBlue Flight Attendant Exits Plane on Emergency Slide

When a smiling Slater appeared in court Tuesday, his lawyer recounted what happened a day earlier.

As JetBlue Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh was taxiing to a gate at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport, Slater tired to assist a woman who was struggling with her carry-on luggage, his lawyer Howard Turman told a judge in Queens Tuesday.

An argument that evidently began in Pittsburgh erupted again in New York, according to Slater's lawyer. Slater believes the middle-aged woman "maliciously" hit him on his head with her luggage, Turman said.

That's when Slater apparently grabbed the plane's intercom and made an expletive-laced speech, grabbed a beer from the galley, opened the door and slid down the emergency evacuation chute.

In a written statement to the Queens County District Attorney's Office, Slater said, "I lost patience after a female passenger had an argument with another passenger and then opened the bin door hitting me on the head without apologizing, I got on the microphone and said, 'To those of you [who] have shown dignity and respect these last twenty years, thanks for a great ride.' I accessed the porthole pulled the door handle inflating the slide, took my baggage and slid down the slide and left."

His lawyer portrayed Slater as a man standing up to a flying public that is out of control.

"This is an example of how airline civility is missing," Turman told the court. "People just don't have courtesy anymore."

Slater apparently talked freely to police at JFK about the incident, including at one point "flamboyantly" reenacting the event, police sources told ABC News.

Besides the in-air stresses of his workplace, Slater appeared to have a lot else going on in his life.

He told police that his father died recently and his mother has cancer, police said.

After the run-in with the passenger, Slater was sent to the front seating area of the plane where he was seen drinking freely, police said. Then he got on the public address system and made his dramatic exit.

Slater then reportedly took the airport's AirTrain to an employee parking lot and drove to his nearby home, where police later arrested him.

Police said the passenger had no intent of hitting the flight attendant with her suitcase. She did not commit a crime and was simply guilty of rudeness.

Heather Robinson was a passenger on the flight and was surprised by the PA announcement. She hadn't seen the fight or the slide deploy.

"I just thought it was just someone who was angry and was just giving what you would imagine as a fantasy quitting speech," Robinson told ABC News. "It is the thing that everyone fantasizes about, quitting in a dramatic way I guess."

"He sounded like he was fed up," she added. "Not angry, so I wasn't scared or anything."

Robinson said she doesn't condone what Slater did but understands where he was coming from.

"I had empathy for him. He wasn't threatening or anything," she added. "It was clear to me that was just a person sounding off."

When asked about possibly killing somebody on the ground, Turman replied: "There's a window. He's worked in this industry for years. He knows the correct procedure."

The cost to replace the chute, according to the police report, is more than $25,000. Additionally, JetBlue could lose tens of thousands of dollars more, while the jet out of service for repairs.

JetBlue Passenger Saw Steven Slater After Slide Incident

Passenger Phil Catelinet said that as the plane was taxiing to the gate, it stopped and several passengers got up to get their bags. One of the flight attendants announced that the plane was not quite at the gate yet and asked everyone to sit down.

He then heard Slater on the overhead sound system say, "I've had it."

A few minutes later on the AirTrain, he saw Slater.

"I recognized him from the flight; it looked like he had a cut on his forehead. I recognized his voice when he started talking to another passenger from our flight about how he'd just had enough and quit his job," Catelinet wrote on his blog. "Then he said something about someone using the emergency slide to get off the plane. I still wasn't sure what had happened. I thought a passenger had taken the fun way out."

Catelinet said Slater was telling another passenger on the train that he was fed up with this passenger who had a bag problem.

"He said something like 'your bag's right here!' and mimed pulling the emergency slide," Catelinet wrote.

Slater, who lives in the Belle Harbor section of Queens, New York. Besides setting bail, Judge Mary R. O'Donoghue signed two orders of protection: one for Steven Gullian, the captain of the JetBlue flight and another for June Donovan of JetBlue security. Both gave witness statements to the police.

JetBlue would not say how long Slater has worked for the airline, but his LinkedIn profile says he worked as a flight attendant since 1994, when he worked for the former Business Express. He also worked for the now-defunct TWA and for Delta, then apparently had a job as the Burberry accessories shop manager at Bloomingdale's.

According to the profile, at JetBlue he is a member of the "inflight values committee" and is the chairman of the "uniform redesign committee."

Turman, his court-appointed lawyer, said today that Slater has been dedicated to the airline industry since he was 19 years old and that he lost friends in the crash of TWA Flight 800 and in the 9/11 attacks.

"I found him to be personable and gentle," Turman said. "I think he can't believe the amount of attention this is getting."

ABC News' Andrea Canning, Richard Esposito, Desiree Adib, Sharde Miller, Jean Shin, Shimon Prokupecz, Michael S. James and Dean Schabner contributed to this report.