Steward who fled via emergency chute gets bail

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A JetBlue flight attendant who became an Internet hero after storming out of a plane with an expletive-filled intercom address and an escape down the emergency chute had bail set at $2,500 on Tuesday.

Steven Slater, 39, captured the sympathy of frustrated travelers and airline industry workers on Monday with his theatrical departure that was provoked by an altercation with a passenger aboard a jet that had just arrived at New York’s John F. Kennedy international airport.

He had yet to post bail on Tuesday afternoon.

Slater, a 20-year veteran of the airline industry, cursed at the passenger on the plane’s public address, announced he was leaving, grabbed a couple of beers from the galley and slid down the emergency chute that he had deployed, officials and news reports said.

Police arrested him at his home in the borough of Queens and charged him with felony criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.

A New York Daily News columnist called him a modern folk hero. After his court hearing was over, a Facebook page about him was “liked” by some 30,000 people.

“He’s in a lot less trouble if he gets a jury of regular flyers,” Fordham Law Professor Jim Cohen said.

His lawyer told reporters outside the courthouse that Slater acted in part out of frustration with the chaos of air travel and said he was under stress because his mother was suffering from lung cancer.

“People just don’t have courtesy for one another. He’s been in the airline industry since he’s 19 and people just aren’t polite. I don’t know if you travel, aren’t you aware of how rude people are?” defense lawyer Howard Turman said.

“I think in this case more importantly is about the level of civility among us that is missing in the airline industry,” he said.

The problems aboard JetBlue 1052 began before takeoff in Pittsburgh, when a woman verbally abused Slater as he intervened in her squabble with another passenger for space in the overhead luggage bin.

The woman slammed the overhead bin into his forehead, opening a cut, Turman said. Tensions flared anew on the ground in New York when the woman attempted to retrieve her bag before the plane came to a complete stop, the lawyer said.

After that Slater grabbed the intercom -- reports vary on the exact vulgarities he unleashed -- and departed down the slide.

Reporting by Daniel Trotta and Zachary Goelman; Editing by Cynthia Osterman