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Lawyer: New York flight attendant wants to return to air

Friday, August 13, 2010

NEW YORK -- The fed-up flight attendant who set a new standard for quitting when he abandoned his job via an emergency chute apparently isn't as much of a quitter as everyone thought.

Steven Slater, 38, said through his lawyer Thursday that he loves flying and wants to go back to work.

"His hope is to return to the aviation business," his attorney, Howard Turman, told reporters as Slater stood by his side outside his home in Queens. Flying, he added, "is in his blood."

Slater's career appeared to end Monday when he went onto the public address system after a JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh, cursed out a passenger he said had treated him rudely, and then made an I'm-outta-here exit down an emergency chute at Kennedy Airport. He was arrested.

Asked about Slater's desire to return to work, JetBlue spokesman Mateo Lleras said: "As of right now, he has been released of duty pending the investigation. There's nothing more I can say."

Slater's actions have prompted an outpouring of support from people who have fantasized about making a similar exit from a job, although passengers have come forward in the past couple of days to criticize him as brusque and cranky throughout the 90-minute trip. One passenger portrayed Slater as the instigator, saying he cursed without provocation at a woman who had asked about her bag.

Slater would not talk about his actions Thursday. He smiled silently for most of the 10-minute news conference, then offered a brief thanks to the public, saying, "It's been amazing, the support and love ... everything that's been brought to me."

Turman denied Slater was belligerent and said the entire affair can be blamed on a "lack of civility on the part of one passenger."

Some passengers said he might have been disturbed by an injury. They said he had a large cut or welt on his head -- sustained, his lawyer said, when he tried to help a passenger with a bag too big for the overhead bins.

Lauren Dominijanni, 25, of Pittsburgh, said that during the trip, when she asked Slater for a wipe to clean up coffee that had been spilled on her seat, he rolled his eyes, blurted an exasperated "What?" and gestured to the gash on his head. He then told her he needed to take care of himself first, she said.

Other passengers said that throughout the flight, he slammed galley doors and overhead bins unnecessarily and put an apparent early end to snack service.

Others said that until Slater's intercom rant, his interactions with passengers appeared curt but not unusually so in a time when flight attendants are often asked to play hall monitor.

Howard Deneroff, a radio executive for Westwood One, overheard Slater telling a passenger at the start of the flight that her bag wouldn't fit in the overhead bin and would need to be checked, but nothing about the conversation struck him as out of the ordinary.

"I didn't hear any cursing," he said. He said he also didn't hear Slater get injured.

After the plane landed, he and other travelers heard Slater and other crew members repeatedly instruct a passenger to remain seated until the jet reached the gate. The traveler apparently didn't listen. Slater ultimately had to leave his seat to get the person to sit down.

"I happened to notice he had a big Cheshire cat grin when he gestured," said passenger Stuart Marland, but he said the interaction seemed routine.

"He did look a little like Corky St. Clair, just a little more animated than normal. But he didn't look 'crazed' at all," said Marland, referring to the quirky, flamboyant character played by Christopher Guest in the 1996 movie comedy "Waiting for Guffman."

By some accounts, it wasn't until the very end of the flight that things went haywire.

Marjorie Briskin, 53, told The Wall Street Journal that Slater launched an expletive at a female passenger without provocation after she inquired about the whereabouts of her bag, which had been checked at the gate when it couldn't fit in a storage bin.

"It really blew my mind. It was so inappropriate," Briskin said. She described Slater as "disturbed."

Deneroff said Slater announced over the intercom that a passenger had just cursed at him, then he cursed back at the passenger, thanked the rest of those aboard for being civil, and said he was through with the job.

"The people next to us were like, `Welcome to New York,"' Deneroff said.

Some authorities said that Slater had grabbed at least one beer from the jet's galley before jumping out. Turman denied that his client had been drinking during the flight.

Slater faces charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

His boyfriend, Kenneth Rochelle, told reporters outside his home Thursday that Slater is a "lovely, classy, beautiful person," who was ordinarily very patient with passengers, and loved his job.

And his lawyer said: "Everybody who knows him knows that he's a likable man" and "for the most part, somebody that likes people."

He said his client had performed his job "efficiently, effectively and properly" over a 20-year career. Turman also said Slater liked JetBlue and regarded it as "a fair and understanding airline."


AP Business Writer Samantha Bomkamp in New York and Associated Press writer Jennifer Yates in Pittsburgh contributed to this report.


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