The passenger had begun to unload her carry-on bag from the overhead compartment before the crew had given passengers the OK to get out of their seats. When Slater asked the woman to sit back down, she instead continued to remove her bag, which fell out of the cabin and struck Slater in the head. An argument then ensued, and when Slater asked her to apologize, she cursed him instead.
So Slater responded in kind. He took to the plane's public-address system and announced: "To the passenger who just called me a m*****f***er, f*** you. I've been in this business 28 years, and I've had it." Then he grabbed two beers from the galley, opened the rear exit, deployed the emergency exit slide and slid his way out of a job.
The act appeared to have lifted a load off his shoulders, for when a squadron of Port Authority and New York City cops worthy of a hostage-taking arrived at his home in Queens' Belle Harbor section to arrest him, he emerged from his house with a broad smile on his face.
Steven Slater wins hearts of passengers and fellow flight attendants
What would make a man who obviously enjoyed flying and travel, as his MySpace and Facebook profiles make clear, snap so quickly?
Judging from the many comments posted to Slater's Facebook fan page, his fellow flight attendants and other airline passengers know the answer to this question only too well.
The friendly skies of old have become a lot less friendly over the last decade or so. The combination of a frenetic work pace, long hours and dealing with passengers who still feel entitled in an era when airlines have cut out perks left and right have turned the job of flight attendant from glamorous and exciting to grueling and demanding.
Uncooperative passengers with a sense of entitlement such as the one who got Slater's goat have become the bane of many a flight attendant's existence, and the outpouring of support for Slater shows that many both in and out of the industry sympathize with the beleaguered flight attendants. "Sometimes we as passengers forget that the customer is NOT always right!" wrote one Facebooker. Said another, "Nobody ever gives airline attendants enough credit for all the shit people give them. This is fantastic."
While JetBlue says that neither passengers nor crew were endangered by Slater's impromptu resignation, law enforcement officials say his actions were nonetheless serious, for the emergency slides deploy rapidly and could have injured a ground crew member if one were in the way.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which owns New York's Kennedy International Airport, has charged Slater with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment. If convicted, the JetBlue flight attendant could face up to seven years in prison. But if public reaction is any guide -- there's even talk of setting up a public fund for Slater's defense -- there's probably not a jury in the country that would convict him.