Flight attendant faces court after flamboyant job exit

The flight attendant who had a meltdown over a fight with an agitated traveller has appeared in court.

The flight attendant who had a meltdown over a fight with an agitated traveller has appeared in court.

But Steven Slater has already been elevated to folk-hero status by thousands who shrugged off allegations that he endangered others on the flight and praised him for his "take-this-job-and-shove-it" moment.

Prosecutors say Slater flipped out over a row with an agitated traveller on Monday, cursing over the intercom before grabbing some beer from the JetBlue plane's galley and making a grand exit down the emergency slide at New York's JFK International Airport.

Slater, whose father was an airline pilot, wore a slight smile yesterday as he was led into a state court in the New York borough of Queens, accused of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing - counts which carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison.

The judge set his bail at $2,500 (€1,915), and Slater was later released.

As he left the Vernon C Bain correctional centre, Slater told reporters: "It seems like something here has resonated with a few people. And that's kinda neat."

Slater's attorney Howard Turman said his client had been drawn into a fight between two female passengers over space in the overhead lockers as the Pittsburgh to New York flight was awaiting take-off. Somehow, Slater was hit in the head, Turman 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, Turman said.

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

That's when he deployed the slide, Turman said.

A spokesman for the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which controls the airport, said Slater took at least one beer from the plane galley on his way out.

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

Prosecutors said Slater's actions could have been deadly if ground crew workers had been hit by the emergency slide, which deploys with massive force.

But Turman said Slater had opened the hatch and made sure no-one was in the slide's path before deploying it.

Slater, a 38-year-old airline veteran who lives just a few miles from JFK, had 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. "There's an us-versus-them mentality."

Sentiment online appeared to fall in Slater's court. More than 80,000 people have declared themselves supporters of Slater on Facebook, and the number was growing by thousands every hour. 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."

Passenger Phil Catelinet said he heard Slater's profanity-laced announcement over the public address system before he left the plane. He said Slater ended by saying: "I've had it."

He described the announcement as "the most interesting part of the day to that point", but didn't see Slater use the exit slide or grab the beer.

It wasn't until he saw 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," Catelinet told NBC's Today programme.

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