Slater's MySpace page shows a man who seemed to love his job as a flight attendant. Yet actions that resulted in his arrest Monday afternoon show a man pushed over the edge, reports CBS News correspondent Michelle Miller.
JetBlue flight 1052 from Pittsburgh had just landed at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport. A passenger who refused Slater's instructions to stay seated, and got up to reach for luggage in an overhead compartment.
The passenger apparently struck the flight attendant in the head while removing a bag. Upset, Slater asked for an apology, and instead, the passenger told Slater off.
Slater then got on the plane's public address system and announced:
"To the passenger who called me a 'm***** f*****,' f*** you!"
He then reportedly said, "I've been in the business 28 years. That's it. I'm done."
In an escape fit for the movies, Slater opened an exit door and inflated the plane's evacuation slide, grabbed two beers, and simply slid away . . . leaving the passengers (and his career) behind.
Slater then left the airport and headed to his home in the Belle Harbor section of Queens. Authorities tracked him down and descended upon him with what neighbors call "the full force of the New York City Police Department."
"They were all over the place," the neighbor said. "SWAT teams, it looked like, there were helicopters, everything."
Slater, 39, will be arraigned this morning.
A spokeswoman for the Queens District Attorney told CBS Station WCBS that Slater is being charged with 2nd- and 4th-degree criminal mischief, 1st- and 2nd-degree reckless endangerment, and criminal trespass in the 3rd degree.
If convicted he could get seven years in prison.
On Monday night a handcuffed Slater was walked out of Port Authority Police Headquarters, sporting a cut on his forehead and a smirk on his face.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Slater has worked for JetBlue since January 2008, and served as chairman of JetBlue's uniform redesign committee and on the company's in-flight values committee. Previous employers listed include Delta, TWA and Business Express Airlines.
JetBlue officials released a statement saying: "There were no injuries and all customers deplaned the aircraft safely through the jetway. At no time was the security or safety of our Customers or Crewmembers at risk."
According to an aviation expert, JetBlue's plane could be out of commission for 3 days until a repaired evacuation slide is inspected.
A neighbor in Slater's hometown of Thousand Oaks, Calif., said the flight attendant was stressed out caring for his ill mother. Media reports mention that Slater had previously cared for his dying father, who was a former pilot.
"It's just really sad," said Michael Young. "I think he's in more pain, and his mom's in more pain, than anybody on the plane."
Slater is now being seen as an everyday hero. A co-worker on the flight told the New York Daily News, "It's something we all fantasize about," and the Internet has exploded with support.
Response on the Internet to the news of Slater's outburst has been fast, furious, and - in a sign of how frustrated other fliers are with abusive passengers - pretty positive.
Comments left on Slater's Facebook page include:
"I applaud you sir … grabbin' a beer for the slide was a nice touch! . . . [expletive] rude folks & their lack of respect."
"You sir, are a god."
"I raise a glass in your honor."
And perhaps the most prophetic: "Kind of jealous. I'll write you in jail, darling!"
In an audio-only YouTube posting, an anonymous woman who identifies herself as a flight attendant for another airline says, "Thank you, Steven Slater, you are my hero," and proceeds to vent herself against the "idiots" who refuse to listen to flight attendants' instructions.
"I'm busting my ass for you. I'm up here working, you're in my office," the woman said.
Already there is a Free Steven Slater Facebook page.
And if there needed to be a sign that Slater may enter the annals of folk hero, it is this: the "Free Steven Slater" T-shirt from Customink.com.
But what of the unruly passenger?
There are demands on the Internet to name the passenger, whose actions would appear to run afoul of 49 U.S.C.A. § 46504:
"An individual on an aircraft in the special aircraft jurisdiction of the United States who, by assaulting or intimidating a flight crew member or flight attendant of the aircraft, interferes with the performance of the duties of the member or attendant or lessens the ability of the member or attendant to perform those duties, or attempts or conspires to do such an act, shall be fined under title 18, imprisoned for not more than 20 years, or both. However, if a dangerous weapon is used in assaulting or intimidating the member or attendant, the individual shall be imprisoned for any term of years or for life."