A JetBlue flight attendant at Kennedy Airport Monday afternoon activated an emergency slide after a confrontation with a passenger on a plane, grabbed cans of beer from the aircraft's galley and slid down the chute before eventually driving home, officials said.
Steven Slater, 39, ran into the airport terminal and then drove to his home in Belle Harbor, Queens, officials said, where Port Authority Police detectives later arrested him. He's being held at JFK pending arraignment on charges of reckless endangerment and criminal mischief, police said.
According to a law enforcement official, Slater became upset after a passenger accessed the overhead luggage bins while the plane was taxiing to the gate, after being given repeated orders to sit down. The passenger hit Slater in the head with his luggage, and when the passenger refused to apologize, Slater used the plane's public address system to curse at everyone on the plane, the official said.
He then made his dramatic exit through the service door at the front right side of the aircraft - with beer from the galley in tow - and headed to his vehicle in an employee parking lot, the official said.
According to the official, who requested anonymity due to the ongoing investigation, JetBlue waited more than 25 minutes before contacting the Port Authority about the incident.
Phil Catelinet, who said on his blog that he was on the flight, wrote that he saw Slater in the AirTrain terminal after the flight. He wrote: "As we rode the AirTrain to Jamaica Station, he talked about how he'd been a flight attendant for 28 years and he was fed up with this passenger who had a bag problem.
"When we got off at Jamaica, the flight attendant went one way (to the parking lot) and the other passenger walked with me toward the Long Island Rail Road. I asked him if I'd heard correctly that this flight attendant had used the emergency slide to get off the plane, and he confirmed it."
Catelinet, listed as a New York City resident on his blog, went on to write: "The flight was never in danger. We were on the ground, at the gate. None of the passengers on my flight were delayed or detained as far as I know.
"I'm mostly concerned that a flight attendant would lose their cool that way over a bag in the overhead. But I'm sure he's served his last bag of in-flight cookies."
In a statement, JetBlue said there were no injuries in the incident and that all customers deplaned safely through the jetway. The airline declined to comment on how long it took to inform police.
"At this time, we are working with the FAA and the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey to investigate the incident. At no time was the security or safety of our customers or crew members at risk," according to the statement.
The FAA said it had been notified about the incident, but deferred comment to JetBlue and the Port Authority.
Calls to relatives of Slater went unanswered Monday afternoon.
According to his LinkedIn profile, Slater has been with JetBlue since 2008. He is the chairman of the airline's Uniform Redesign Committee and a member of the Inflight Values Committee. According to Slater's MySpace profile, he has been a flight attendant since 1990.