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Questions surround JetBlue flight attendant's story

August 13, 2010 3:50:17 AM PDT
There are new details emerging Thursday about the JetBlue flight attendant now famous for his outburst and bizarre exit from the plane at Kennedy Airport.

Stephen Slater didn't have much to say Thursday, though he did continue to seem surprised at the support he's received for his dramatic stunt.

"Thank you all so much, it's been amazing the support and the love, and everything that's been brought to me and given to me by my community and my friends," Slater said.

Slater's perspective on the event was voiced by his attorney, who spoke vaguely about the rudeness and incivility of passengers toward flight attendants.

"There's a lot of loss of civility and courtesy among each of us to one another, I guess tempers can get out of hand," said Howard Turman, Slater's attorney.

"This guy was a like a jerk the whole time, like I'm getting so frustrated with all of these people who keep saying he was a hero because he wasn't," said Lauren Wood, a passenger aboard Slater's flight.

Passengers on the flight continue to say it was Slater who was rude, from the beginning of the flight right up to his curse-filled rant on the plane's intercom, and his dramatic exit down the emergency slide he deployed.

"He was so rude the entire flight and a lot of the other passengers that I spoke to said the same thing, that like he was being rude the entire flight," Wood said.

JetBlue says it doesn't much matter if a passenger was rude, that deploying the slide was wrong in any instance. In a statement to employees Thursday, JetBlue said, "Even if there was a precipitating event that motivated Slater's behavior, that still doesn't excuse his actions. There is no excuse for endangering crew members and customers."

Slater's lawyer said there's only so much a person can take.

"For 20 years Steven has been very patient, and has dealt with the passengers at each of the airlines he has worked for in an effective and courteous and a polite manner," Turman said.

Slater is under investigation for what led up to his potentially harmful actions, and there are questions as to whether he instigated the entire ordeal.

As investigators interview passengers, they're finding out that Slater may have been more responsible for the confrontation than he first appeared. One passenger even says Slater boarded the plane intoxicated.

Turman said at news conference Thursday outside his Slater's home that flying "is in his blood. And he wants to return to flying."

Turman says the 38-year-old airline veteran is a likable man who enjoys people and did his job properly.

Slater briefly thanked all the people who had sent him support and love since his Monday meltdown aboard a JetBlue flight.

While he can hardly get a moment to himself these days, Port Authority officials aren't impressed. They're keeping their focus on Slater's decision to pull Flight 1052's emergency chute. And they say that by pulling it after the plane parked, Slater could have injured or killed someone on the ground.

"This was a bad day for one gentleman who acted in an irresponsible manner that jeopardized safety," Port Authority Executive Director Chris Ward said.

Slater's quick rise in popularity, ranked as one of the most popular topics on Twitter and the subject of various Facebook pages, comes as somewhat of a surprise to the passengers of the flight.

"It was not this dramatic thing that happened, and he took off and kicked open the door," passenger Greg Kanczes said.

Two different stories have come from Slater regarding a gash on his forehead that passengers noticed during the flight. He has claimed the bump came from a hostile passenger hitting him with the door of the overhead storage bin. He has also said that passenger maliciously hit him with her luggage. But not a single passenger interviewed by investigators witnessed a falling bag hitting Slater on the head.

On Tuesday, Turman said his client had been drawn into a fight between two female passengers over space in the overhead bins as the Pittsburgh-to-New York flight was awaiting takeoff. Somehow, Slater was hit in the head, Turman said.

He said that after the flight 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. He said Slater intervened again.

"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.

Investigators also say JetBlue has not completely cooperated. They say they have yet to see the videotape showing the incident.

"A little bit surprised that somebody would commandeer the PA system and and curse on it," Kanczes said.

Turman says Slater didn't put anyone in danger. Slater is charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

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