On this day in 2010, JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater quits his job in dramatic style by sliding down his plane’s emergency-escape chute while the aircraft is stopped near the terminal gate at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport. Slater, who claimed his actions were prompted by the behavior of a rude passenger, quickly became a media sensation and national folk hero.
At the time of the incident, the 38-year-old Slater was a steward on Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh to New York City. He contended that when the flight landed a passenger became abusive toward him during an argument over luggage. Although other passengers on the flight later disputed Slater’s account of the passenger’s behavior, what happened next was clear: The flight attendant got on the plane’s public address system, cursed at the passenger and said, “I’ve been in this business for twenty years. And that’s it. I’ve had it. I’m done.” Afterward, he took two beers from the beverage cart, deployed the emergency exit and started down the slide. Realizing he’d left his bags on the aircraft, he scrambled back up the slide to retrieve them before fleeing down the chute again. After leaving the airport terminal, he drove to his home in Queens, New York.
Slater, the son of a pilot and a flight attendant, was soon taken into police custody. After posting $2,500 bail, he walked out of jail the next night an instant celebrity and even a folk hero to stressed-out, overworked Americans. Experiencing his 15 minutes of fame, Slater appeared on national talk shows, was honored with Facebook fan pages and received offers to do reality TV programs and endorse a variety of products.
In October 2010, Slater, facing charges of reckless endangerment, criminal mischief and criminal trespassing, agreed to plead guilty to two counts of attempted criminal mischief and was spared jail time. As part of the deal, he agreed to undergo regular mental health and substance abuse counseling sessions for a year. Additionally, he was required to pay JetBlue $10,000 in restitution to replace the emergency chute. The Queens district attorney, Richard Brown, said of the famous flight attendant: “My own view of the situation was that Mr. Slater was humiliated by what he perceived as degrading working conditions, and he had a level of rage at that time that was exacerbated perhaps by alcohol consumption and maybe by other contributing stress factors.” Brown also said that he felt Slater “recognized the seriousness of his actions.”