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JetBlue flight attendant wants his old job back

By the CNN Wire Staff
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Flight attendant lawyer: He loves to fly
  • NEW: JetBlue memo shows management may be unwilling to forgive
  • JetBlue flight attendant Steven Slater is charged with two felonies
  • He made a dramatic emergency-slide exit from an aircraft Monday
  • His attorney says he is optimistic about a settlement with prosecutors

Read JetBlue's message to its employees.

New York (CNN) -- The flight attendant whose dramatic departure from a JetBlue plane at a New York City airport has transformed him into a folk hero to some wants his job back, his lawyer told reporters Thursday.

"That's his life," Steven Slater's Legal Aid defense attorney Howard Turman told reporters outside his client's home in Queens, near John F. Kennedy International Airport, where Slater's exit via an emergency slide vaulted him to national attention. "His father was a pilot; his mother was a flight attendant. That's in his blood. That's what he likes to do."

Whether Slater can regain his wings was unclear. "We're conducting an internal investigation regarding his status as an employee at JetBlue," said airline spokeswoman Jenny Dervin, who added that Slater has been removed from duty pending the outcome of that internal inquiry.

She described Slater's behavior as unlike that of the New York-based airline's other 2,300 flight attendants. "I would say this is highly unique," she said.

Video: JetBlue passenger tells all
Video: Flight attendant flees press

But an internal memo sent Thursday by JetBlue Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer Rob Maruster and obtained by CNN describes a company that appears unlikely to forgive. "Intentionally arming and deploying an evacuation slide for anything other than the express purpose of protecting the safety of our crew and customers is unacceptable," it says. "It will not, and can not, be tolerated."

During the defense lawyer's remarks, the 20-year flight attendant stood at his side and smiled occasionally but made only one brief remark: "Thank you all so much," he said. "It's been amazing -- the support and the love and everything that's been brought to me and given to me by my community and my friends and the industry at large. It's been absolutely wonderful."

The incident may not have appeared so wonderful when it began unfolding Monday morning at Pennsylvania's Pittsburgh International Airport where, according to JetBlue spokeswoman Dervin, Slater was one of two flight attendants aboard an Embraer 190 flight that was scheduled to depart at 10:35 a.m. and arrive 84 minutes later at JFK.

Problems began before the flight, carrying a full load of 100 passengers, took off.

"A number of passengers were competing for overhead carry-on luggage areas," Turman, Slater's attorney, said. "With great difficulty, they were shoving the bags around, attempting to get it in. Steven came over to assist and either the bag or the overhead (bin door) hit him in the head and at that point he suffered an injury."

Turman offered a more graphic description of events on Wednesday, when he said a woman "started cursing and -- based on the information -- slammed the overhead luggage bin on his head."

Then the woman said, "F--- you" to Slater, Turman said.

After the flight landed at JFK, Slater approached the woman as she attempted to retrieve her bag from the bin while the plane was still taxiing to the gate, according to a source familiar with the incident. Passengers are required to stay in their seats with their seat belts fastened until the pilot has reached the gate and gives the all-clear sign.

"We hear Slater on the intercom, 'Will people on the aisle please sit down? We're on an active runway,'" recalled passenger Howard Deneroff, an executive with the Westwood One radio network. Then Slater made a second announcement, Deneroff told CNN. "Please sit down and shut the overhead bin. We cannot move this plane while you're standing."

The passenger cursed Slater again, Turman said Wednesday. Her fury grew upon learning she would have to wait at baggage claim to retrieve luggage she had been forced to check at the gate in Pittsburgh, he said.

At that point, Slater got on the plane's public address system. Passenger Phil Catelinet wrote on his blog that Slater said, "To the passenger who just called me a motherf-----: f--- you. I've been in this business 20 years, and I've had it."

The plane was blocked into the gate at 12:07 p.m., eight minutes late.

After making an expletive-filled announcement, Slater had a confrontation with another crew member, according to passenger Gib Mendelson of Cape Elizabeth, Maine.

"We see him grabbing his roller bag that all flight personnel use. He tossed it out the right door of the plane," Mendelson, a semi-retired attorney, told CNN. "He was scuffling with either the pilot or the co-pilot. I noticed a lot of blue; there was a lot of movement in the galley area."

Slater then grabbed some beer from the beverage cart before deploying the emergency slide and leaving.

The flight crew reported the slide deployment at 12:12 p.m., according to Maruster's memo.

Turman sharply denied a JetBlue passenger's assertion published Thursday that the flight attendant instigated the confrontation.

"It's not so," said Turman.

"Sometimes, some people in our society are not courteous and are impatient," Turman said. "For 20 years, Steven has been very patient, has dealt with the passengers in each of the airlines he worked for in an effective and courteous and polite manner. Sometimes that point can be taken advantage of by others."

He added, "If you think it's easy for flight attendants to get on a plane every day and be concerned for the safety of each and every passenger -- without a tension, without a stress -- you're fooling yourselves."

Slater has pleaded not guilty to charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief -- both felonies -- and criminal trespass. If convicted, he could face a maximum of seven years in prison.

But Turman said Thursday he had spoken with the district attorney's office, "and I believe there will be a favorable outcome for my client that should satisfy all parties in this case."

A spokeswoman for the prosecutor did not respond directly to Turman's remarks. "We will prosecute this case in the court," said Meris Campbell of the district attorney's office. "We're not going to respond to every press conference the attorney gives."

Slater has a court appearance scheduled for September 7.

Meanwhile, Slater had amassed more than 191,000 "fans" on a public Facebook page as of Thursday evening.

CNN's Allan Chernoff and Tom Watkins contributed to this story.