Traveler: Jet Blue flight attendant's curses drew laughs

Passenger Kati Doebler noticed a gash over Steve Slater's eye during flight, says she giggled after his tirade

Published August 11, 2010 10:56PM (EDT)

Passengers on a plane on which a flight attendant infamously had a meltdown gasped and then giggled after he dropped the F-bomb repeatedly over the loudspeakers, a traveler aboard the flight says.

The seatbelt light had gone off for the JetBlue flight from Pittsburgh to New York, and most passengers were scrambling for their carry-on bags when the announcement came over the intercom. Using three obscenities, the flight attendant told a passenger who he said had cursed him out exactly where she could go, Kati Doebler said.

"Everyone kind of gasped," Doebler told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "The passengers all started to giggle a little bit."

Doebler, a Pittsburgh website developer, didn't see who was speaking on the intercom at the end of JetBlue Flight 1052 on Monday. She and most others now know it was Steven Slater, a 38-year-old airline veteran who prosecutors say followed up his comments with a quick exit down the plane's emergency slide.

Slater's, uh, unusual departure from his job has made him a cult hero to some, for leaving in a way that many only dream of. It also brought him legal trouble, as he was charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing.

A defense attorney says Slater didn't put anyone in danger. Slater posted bail Tuesday night and was seen at a Manhattan apartment building early Wednesday.

Doebler said when she first saw Slater while boarding the flight, he was walking the aisles with a gash over his eye showing fresh blood.

"He said, 'Oh, they're always trying to kill me around here,'" in response to a passenger's question, she said.

Authorities have said Slater hit his head after being drawn into a fight over luggage space in the overhead bins as the flight was awaiting takeoff.

Doebler said she noticed that Slater never put a bandage on his forehead throughout the 90-minute flight.

"I thought, 'You are handing people glasses. You are handing people ice. You should cover up the bloody wound,'" she said.

Doebler said she never witnessed the fight between Slater and the female passenger at John F. Kennedy International Airport that authorities said sparked Slater's meltdown. But she heard Slater rail at the passenger who had offended him on the public address system.

"To the m----------- who just told me to f--- myself, go f--- yourself," Slater said, according to Doebler.

Authorities said Slater then took a beer and deployed the airliner's emergency slide to leave the plane. By the time Doebler got to the front of the plane, Slater was gone and the door to the exit hatch was closed.

Federal and local aviation officials are investigating the security procedures at the airport that allowed Slater to make it home to his apartment in the Rockaway section of Queens before police arrested him.

A neighbor, Howard Sirota, who lives across the street, said hundreds of city, state and federal officers, a helicopter and a SWAT team descended on Slater's house Monday before he was arrested.

"They acted like they were capturing Osama bin Laden," Sirota said. "First they knocked on the door so it shook, and next they took it off its hinges."

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, which operates the airport, the Federal Aviation Administration and the Transportation Safety Administration are reviewing Slater's exit from the airport, PA Executive Director Chris Ward said.

Slater's situation was unlike other airport incidents in which passengers had gone into restricted areas, Ward said.

"This is not the way anybody expected an air attendant to be leaving the airport and then moving into the transport system," Ward said.

Slater is a "credentialed aviation employee, so his capacity to move through security gates is very different than the incidents where we had before with traveling public," Ward said. "We think we run the best airports in terms of security."

Slater and his actions continued to be topics of water cooler conversation Wednesday. Slater's airline even stepped into the blogosphere, poking fun at the attention.

"Perhaps you heard a little story about one of our flight attendants?" the blog joked.

JetBlue Airways Corp., based in Queens, didn't comment on specifics of the case but acknowledged that Slater's meltdown has resonated beyond airline employees, saying the event "may feed your inner Office Space," a reference to the 1999 comedy about disgruntled technology workers.


Associated Press writers Sara Kugler Frazier and Verena Dobnik, AP Business Writer Samantha Bomkamp and AP researcher Lynn Dombek contributed to this report.

By Deepti Hajela

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