Two women aboard a JetBlue flight have said flight attendant Steven Slater, hailed by some as a folk hero, was rude to passengers and instigated the confrontation that resulted in his barrelling down an emergency chute from the plane and, ultimately, his arrest.
Marjorie Briskin, 53, said Slater blurted out an expletive during an otherwise normal conversation with a passenger over luggage.
Another woman, 25-year-old Lauren Dominijanni, said Slater was immediately rude to her. She said he "rolled his eyes at me" when she asked for a wipe to clean up coffee someone spilled on her seat.
The Wall Street Journal quoted Briskin as saying Slater's conversation about luggage with the as-yet unidentified passenger was normal but turned nasty after Slater used the swear word. "I didn't think she was rude in the least," Briskin said. "It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate."
Dominijanni said she had asked Slater for a cloth to clean up the coffee and that he "rolled his eyes at me and said, 'What?' in a real rude manner".
She added that when she pointed to the coffee, Slater responded, pointing to a gash on his head: "No! Maybe when we get in the air! I need to take care of myself first, honey!"
Slater's abrupt exit from the plane almost instantly turned him into an online hero, with many people saying they have dreamed of walking off their jobs in such a grand fashion. More than 100,000 people joined a Facebook page supporting his actions.
Slater's ex-wife, Cynthia Susanne, came to his defence, calling him a consummate flight attendant who would always act in the most appropriate manner.
Speaking on ABC television, Susanne said she did not believe some passengers' suggestions that Slater started the confrontation on Monday, when he left the parked plane by the emergency chute at New York's Kennedy Airport. She said Slater was extraordinarily tolerant and patient and added she had not yet spoken to him about the confrontation on the Pittsburgh-to-New York flight.
Slater is out on bail facing criminal mischief and reckless endangerment charges.