Slater, 38, activated the plane's chute Monday, moments after the passenger who tried to remove luggage from an overhead bin too early upon landing bonked him on the head with a bag and then swore at him, according to news reports. Slater swore back at the passenger over the plane's loudspeaker and then said, "That's it. I've had it." He grabbed a beer, his own luggage and slid down onto the tarmac.
"I wish we could all quit our jobs like that," passenger Phil Catelinet, who was on Slater's flight from Pittsburgh, told the New York Daily News. "He seemed kind of happy about it. He was like, 'I just quit my job.'"
At least seven Facebook fan pages have been created in Slater's name, one with an image that appears to be from a Jet Blue safety demo showing a man careening down escape chute. "I LOVE YOU! YOU ARE MY HERO!" one fan wrote in all capital letters. "Come to San Francisco and I will buy you a drink," wrote another. "Steven ... you are a hero to many!"
But a Daily News columnist perhaps captures the public reaction to Slater's antics best, with his headline: "Take This Job and Shove It! JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater does what we all dream of doing." The New York Post headline blares: "FREAKIN' FLIER!"
An AOL Jobs piece suggests that Slater's outburst is a symbol of worker stress in a rocky economy.
Despite his new-found fame, Slater is facing charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing. Slater was arraigned in a Queens courtroom today, where a judge set his bail at $2,500, according to The Associated Press. Slater was released on bail Tuesday night. He was arrested Monday at his New York City home, where neighbors described Slater as grinning as police led him into a squad car in handcuffs.
"When they hit that emergency chute, it drops down quickly within seconds," an unidentified law enforcement official told The New York Times. "If someone was on the ground and it came down without warning, someone could be injured or killed."
JetBlue said it is investigating, but "at no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk." The Times also reports that it took JetBlue more than 20 minutes to notify Port Authority police of what happened, in violation of policy. The lag gave Slater enough time to reach his car and drive home from the airport.
The airline suspended Slater pending the results of its investigation.
With strangers inquiring about how they can donate to a legal defense fund, the administrator of another Facebook page with more than 3,600 fans (and counting) wrote: "As of this moment there is no official donation response in effect yet however if such a fund is erected it will be made public on here. Thanks for the support!"
On his MySpace profile, Slater earlier listed his mood as "pissy" but otherwise comes across as being happy with his job. "My airline affiliation allows me amazing travel privileges, and I love to max it out with trips around the world, sometimes on a moment's notice! Let's go!" his profile reads.
Neighbors also described him as a diligent worker and content person, but said his mother has been seriously ill and that he could be stressed out about her condition. "Steven's mother is dying," Judy Rochelle, whose son Kenny lives with Slater, told the Daily News. "She has lung cancer. She's had two chemos and the prognosis is not good. They were on their way out to California this weekend to settle her affairs."
Another neighbor who lives near Slater's mother's home in a Los Angeles suburb told the Times that Slater is a "very conscientious, responsible individual."
"It could be the pressure of his mother's illness, because that's not the type of behavior or conduct that Steve exhibits," Ron Franz told the Times.