The flight attendant who had a meltdown over a fight with an agitated traveller has been charged over the incident.
However Steven Slater's outburst has elevated him to folk-hero status.
Thousands of sympathisers logged on to Facebook and shrugged off allegations that he endangered others and praised him for his take-this-job-and-shove-it moment.
But the long arm of the law appears to be less understanding and prosecutors claim that Slater's tantrum, which resulted in him cursing over the intercom before grabbing some beer from the plane's galley and making a grand exit down the emergency slide at Kennedy Airport, was a strop too far.
Slater, whose father was an airline pilot, wore a slight smile yesterday as he was led into a state court in the borough of Queens to be arraigned on charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing, counts that carry a maximum penalty of seven years in prison. The judge set his bail at $2,500.
Hours later, Slater exited a Bronx lockup after posting bail.
“It seems like something here has resonated with a few people. And that's kinda neat,” Slater told reporters as he left the Vernon C Bain Center before being whisked away in a car.
Slater, a 38-year-old airline veteran who lives steps from the Queens beach a few miles from the airport, 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 and daughter of Arthur Frommer. “There's an us-versus-them mentality.”
Sentiment online appeared to fall in Slater's court. By early Tuesday afternoon, more than 20,000 people had 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.”
Slater's lawyer Howard 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 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 a force of 3,000 pounds per square inch. Turman said Slater had opened the hatch and made sure no-one was in the slide's path before deploying it.
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.