Skip to main content

Ex-flight attendant blames 'perfect storm of bad manners' for outburst

By the CNN Wire Staff
Click to play
Slater describes the 'perfect storm'
  • Steven Slater was "angry" when he blasted a passenger, exited via an evacuation slide
  • The flight attendant became a pop culture icon after the incident
  • Slater has struck a deal to co-write a book, tentatively titled, "Cabin Pressure"
  • He's plead guilty to two counts of criminal mischief, and must get counseling, pay a fine

(CNN) -- Months after he told off a passenger over a plane's public address system, a former JetBlue flight attendant told CNN's Larry King on Tuesday that "a perfect storm of bad manners" triggered his much ballyhooed outburst.

"It was a stressful, rushed (plane) full of harried carriers ... and a harried crew," Steven Slater said in his first extensive interview since the August incident. "I was angry at all of it. I call it the perfect storm of bad manners that created this situation, including my own."

Slater talked to CNN exactly one week after reaching a deal with prosecutors and pleading guilty to second-degree attempted criminal mischief, a felony, and fourth-degree attempted criminal mischief, a misdemeanor. Under terms of the deal, he must enter a yearlong mental health program, which includes treatment for substance abuse, and take certain medications. Slater must also pay a $10,000 fine to JetBlue for the cost of repairing or replacing the chute.

That's a steep cost given that Slater earned $9,700 last year after taking time off to help his ailing mother, said his publicist Howard Bragman. But Slater said he was happy to avoid a trial that, as long as he isn't arrested again, keeps him out of jail.

"I don't look very good in horizontal stripes," he said.

Video: Steven Slater: 'I had a sip or two'
Video: JetBlue flight attendant: I'm free

Slater has signed with a book agent, through the William Morris agency, to work with a co-writer on a story documenting his 20 years in the travel business. The book is tentatively titled "Cabin Pressure," Bragman said.

According to Slater, the incident occurred during the third and final leg of a day of flying for him and his crew, capping three straight days on the road and in the air. While on the ground in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, Slater said his forehead got cut as he worked with a woman trying to wedge an oversized bag into an overhead bin.

He said most of the brief Pittsburgh to New York City flight was largely uneventful, though some passengers later said he'd been rude to them en route. Slater said Tuesday, "I wouldn't deny that one bit. I'm sure my service was less than stellar that day."

After the plane landed at John F. Kennedy International Airport in Queens, Slater said the passenger with the large bag -- which had to be checked as it wouldn't fit in the overhead bin -- began berating him. With the PA microphone already in hand, he said that he thanked the "respectful" passengers on board but not the woman who Slater said had called him a curse word.

Slater said he then grabbed a few beers from the beverage cart, looked outside, opened the emergency evacuation slide and slid down. He described his thoughts at the time as a combination of "pure rage" and serenity and clarity that "I didn't need to do this anymore."

"I was just thinking, 'I'm free, I'm finally free,' " he said. "It was a nice, hot beach day, and I had a couple of cold beers."

Slater hopped in his car and drove to his Belle Harbor, New York, home, where police came and arrested him a few hours later.

A self-described "recovering alcoholic," Slater said he had "a few sips" of an alcoholic beverage while on the late-morning flight, but he denied he was drunk.

Almost hours after it became public, the episode became a national phenomenon. His "take this job and shove it" sentiment stirred support from hundreds of thousands of fans online, on talk radio, on late-night talk shows and elsewhere, as well as strong opinions about Slater, travel stress and the perceived growing rudeness of people.

The son of an American Airlines pilot and flight attendant, Slater said that he'd been a flight attendant for 20 years for TWA, Delta and ultimately JetBlue before that airline suspended him after this summer's incident. Being a flight attendant had changed significantly in that time, he claimed, becoming more stressful, less satisfying and less rewarding -- for people like himself as well as passengers.

Slater said he was set to work a return flight for TWA Flight 800 before it crashed in July 1996 minutes after taking off from New York. He got counseling after that crash, which killed several friends, and after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

"The days of the pillbox hat and the white gloves are long gone," he said. "I think of myself as someone who reached the end of the rope and may not have handled it the best way ... but I'm moving forward."

Slater himself says he was taken aback by the media frenzy and found humor in some of the potshots.

"It's surreal, it's very strange," he said. "I kind of remind myself that (Steven Slater) has been a two-dimensional media, Internet-created figure. This is my chance to become a little more three-dimensional."

Watch Larry King Live Monday through Sunday 9pm ET. For the latest from Larry King Live click here.