The workaday JetBlues

Warning: In the event of excessive cabin pressure, your flight attendant may go completely ape.

Unfortunately, that’s what happened when an “air rage” incident sent Steven Slater sliding down a jet’s emergency evacuation chute Monday — and might eventually send him to jail. A 20-year veteran flight attendant with JetBlue who sat on a committee dedicated to upholding the airline’s in-flight values, Slater had such a bad day at the aerial office that he’s become something of an international celebrity. And it’s not so much his bizarre behavior that’s striking, what with industry cutbacks that have shattered morale among airline workers, but the public reaction to it.

Slater, 39, reportedly got into a fracas with a passenger on a flight into New York’s Kennedy International Airport. Accounts vary, but apparently the woman was verbally abusive, and at some point Slater’s head was gashed by her carry-on luggage. This produced an attitude failure, with Slater cursing a jet-blue streak at the passenger over the in-flight microphone upon landing, grabbing a beer from the galley and saying Geronimo to his airline career by activating the inflatable slide and dropping to the tarmac. He was subsequently arrested at his home in Queens and charged with felony counts of criminal mischief and reckless endangerment.

The police frown on this sort of thing, but much of the public does not, at least judging from the Internet response. With websites selling “Free Steven Slater” T-shirts, Facebook pages in his honor attracting tens of thousands of supporters and the Twittersphere exploding with positive comments, it’s clear that Slater has become a hero to everybody who has ever fantasized about quitting a job in spectacular fashion. A commenter on the New York Times website may have said it best, or at least most succinctly: “I wish my office had an evacuation slide.”

Slater is probably wishing his didn’t, given his legal woes. But if nothing else, the incident should be a reminder to cranky airline passengers that flight attendants are people too, with problems of their own (Slater was reportedly spending much of his off time caring for his ailing mother in Thousand Oaks). Just because they’re the public face of the airline doesn’t mean your bumpy flight is their fault. So stay in the upright position and keep the skies friendly.