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CNN Larry King Live
Former Flight Attendant Bails Out of Jet and Job
Aired October 26, 2010 - 21:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, Steven Slater exclusive. The flight attendant who bailed out of a JetBlue plane and his job with a beer in hand, opens up for the first time publicly right here about that infamous exit.
Folk hero deserves our sympathy or a felon who should be in jail? What really happened on that flight that day?
He's telling his story next on LARRY KING LIVE.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: Good evening.
Steven Slater is the former JetBlue flight attendant who caused a sensation this summer after he made an emergency chute exit at New York's JFK. He'll be giving us his account of what happened that day.
And it's great to welcome you. Thanks for coming here.
STEVEN SLATER, FORMER JETBLUE FLIGHT ATTENDANT: Good evening. Thank you for having me, Larry.
KING: Let's go back. How are you doing, first?
SLATER: I'm OK. It's been a whirlwind. Life is crazy. It's very different than it was on the morning of August 9th, but I'm getting by. Thank you.
KING: And you are appropriately wearing blue.
SLATER: I am.
KING: I like the look. OK. Let's go through it step by step.
KING: How long have you been with JetBlue?
SLATER: I flew for JetBlue for just under three years.
KING: And before that?
SLATER: I'm a 20-year flight attendant. I was in my 20th year of flying. I'd been with TWA and Delta Airlines as well. And made a career out of it.
KING: And JetBlue was -- how long had they been in business when you joined them?
SLATER: They had been about seven, eight years at that time.
KING: So 10-year airline?
SLATER: Just had their 10-year anniversary.
KING: When you started. All right.
SLATER: Right. Yes.
KING: You plead guilty to two counts of attempted criminal mischief in connection with that August 9th emergency chute. Why did you plea?
SLATER: You know I don't look very good in horizontal stripes. We found a way, I believe, that my attorneys were able to do a beautiful job of seeing that justice was served as needed to be, while also balancing my needs as an individual.
I did accept accountability. I've made my apologies. However, I don't know that it was necessarily a seven-year in Riker's Island-type incident. And fortunately, we were able to come to an understanding.
KING: And you avoided prison time. You have to undergo counseling and substance abuse treatment. For what substance?
SLATER: I am a recovering alcoholic.
KING: Were you -- were you alcoholically involved that day?
SLATER: You know I don't think you end up in a substance abuse program or alcohol court without some purpose. I will admit I have accepted responsibility for the fact that I did have a sip or two. I was in no way intoxicated or impaired at the time of the incident. This was just the end of the rope. But, yes, I have acknowledged that.
KING: All right. What's happened? Let's go through it. JetBlue, the flight originated in Pittsburgh. Was that -- what time of day? Was that your first flight?
SLATER: No, we'd already flown two other flights that day. This was a very typical trip for us in that it was a 4:30 wake-up call. It was probably a 5:15, 5:30 van. We started in Portland, Maine, that morning, having been there the night before.
Flew to New York and then we had gone out to Pittsburgh for a very short turnaround. We didn't even have time to get off and have a bite as is generally the case. I think we were probably there all of 29, maybe 30 minutes, and then we were to work back to New York's Kennedy that morning.
KING: Same pilot, same -- SLATER: Same crew.
KING: Flight attendant.
SLATER: We were together for -- it was a three-day trip.
KING: And you live here in Los Angeles?
SLATER: I spend my time between New York and Los Angeles. I was based at JFK at the time but I was taking care of my mother here in Thousand Oaks, California, at the time.
KING: OK, what happened on the -- that leg of the flight? That was the last leg, right?
SLATER: It was the last leg of a three-day trip. Yes.
KING: Pittsburgh to --
SLATER: We were so looking forward to getting home.
KING: -- JFK.
SLATER: It was --
KING: Short flight?
SLATER: -- as many, many flights are, it was fast, it was furious. We were full. We were running late as is so often the case. Any more, the flight attendants are at many carriers charged with cleaning the aircraft. We had landed.
We had to do our full cabin cleaning and prepare the aircraft for the next round of passengers under -- you know under the time crunch. And as is so often the case now with -- we're asking people to pay to check their luggage, et cetera, people are going through security lines that are ridiculously long anymore.
It was as stressful, rushed, flight full of harried travelers and of course a harried crew. And it started out kind of not on a great note.
KING: Were you the chief attendant?
SLATER: I was. I was the number one flight attend at that day.
KING: Was it first class and --
SLATER: This one is all economy. All economy class, 100 coach passengers.
KING: You were up front?
SLATER: I was. Yes. KING: What happened?
SLATER: As we boarded the aircraft, the first few people started to trickle on. And, you know, shortly down came the stampede. You know, carry-on space is always at a premium. And on this, it was a smaller aircraft. It was two seats and two seats with a center aisle.
Very small bins. Very small bags. Unfortunately for whatever reason there wasn't a great monitoring of luggage coming down the Jetway that day and some people were struggling.
There was a customer -- two customers who were sort of jockeying for position in the overhead compartments and I could see that the bag in question was far larger than anything that should have been on that aircraft at the time.
And it would have required a different arrangement to get it on board. So I went back to assist in getting the items properly stowed and --
KING: This was in the back of the plane?
SLATER: This was about row six or seven. It was still towards the front.
KING: This was a male or a female?
SLATER: There was a lady and a gentleman who were both kind of vying for the same spot at the same time. And she was becoming frustrated because she couldn't wedge this, you know, 10-pound piece into this five-pound bin.
KING: She had the bigger bag?
SLATER: The bigger bag. Yes.
KING: So what happened?
SLATER: Well, I approached to try to see if we could simply shift the bag 90 degrees and get it in. And then she was kind of -- you know, pulling and pushing and pushing and pulling down the bin at the same time.
And it just kind of happened -- in the midst of this, I got smacked across the forehead here. Whether it was the bin or the bag I'm not entirely sure. It might have been both. It was all just kind of a real quick -- you know pulling --
KING: Were you cut?
SLATER: I was. I had a pretty good -- pretty good cut on my forehead at the time. Hindsight being 20/20, if I had it to do again I probably should have said, you know, we're going to take a time-out here. I'm going to have somebody take a look at this and maybe somebody needs to talk to these people and see if we can't civilize this a little bit.
KING: You were ticked?
SLATER: I was. I was. I was frustrated. I was angry.
KING: Mad at the lady?
SLATER: I was angry at all of this. You know, there -- I call it a perfect storm of bad manners that created the situation, including my own. We were -- it was very typical of what we see anymore. We're stressed. You're -- flight attendants are working 12, 14-hour duty days often with as little as six to eight hours rest the night before.
It was the third leg of the day. It was the third day of a three-day trip. Passengers are stressed. We know what trials and tribulations it's become to travel. And I think it all just kind of came to a head at that time.
KING: So the plane took off?
SLATER: We did take off. You know I said to myself it was 48 minutes. How bad can it be? Home stretch. Well --
KING: Did you attend to your cut?
SLATER: No, actually at that particular moment I was just trying to get us on the road.
KING: So you didn't put a band-aid on or anything?
SLATER: We continue -- no. I did go and cleanse it and bandage it up appropriately. But --
KING: And then what happened during the flight?
SLATER: The flight was routine. It was fast. It was rough. You know, we did as much of the service as we could. We did have to stop --
SLATER: A bit turbulent, yes, on the way up and on the way down. Nothing terribly memorable. It was a typical late -- well, late morning commuter run from Pittsburgh to Kennedy.
KING: Now you land. What happens?
SLATER: We landed in New York. And it was at that time on the taxiway that a customer did stand up to retrieve their belongings. Not that untypical, unfortunately. Everyone is in a rush. Everyone wants to go --
KING: This is before you got to the gate?
SLATER: Correct. This is taxiing in to the terminal. We handled that. I got that passenger seated. The other flight attendant came from the back and together we explained, you know, please remain seated for just a few minutes longer. When we did get to the actual gate and the Jetway was brought to the aircraft. That's when the passenger with the large bag, which we had had to check as a matter of fact. It also did not fit in the end, came to the front door and began to sort of argue about where she could collect the baggage and why wasn't it available there at that moment.
I explained that it could be met at carousel, what have you inside, and apparently that wasn't good enough because I did receive that verbal tirade, and there were some names that were used towards me that I didn't appreciate.
KING: On both (INAUDIBLE).
SLATER: No. I got the names said to me. Now at that time I had the PA microphone in my hand because I was about to make an announcement to the passengers that they could collect their baggage at what have you carousel.
And it was in my hand. I took a moment, turned into the cockpit to sort of compose myself and failed.
KING: And that is --
SLATER: And that is when I said to those that have been respectful, appreciated. However, to the passenger who called me a mother so and so, here's to you. It's been 20 years and I'm done.
KING: And then where did you get the chute to go down?
SLATER: In that moment, I was standing at the front of the aircraft and the Jetway was up. The passengers were just starting to come up the aisle. And I just was in this state and people ask me what were you thinking? What were you thinking in that moment?
Well, I was in two completely opposite places at once. I was in a state of pure rage and anger. And I also had this moment of just serenity and clarity when it occurred to me that I didn't need to do this anymore.
I saw this golden ray of sunshine just through that little porthole and I thought to myself you know, my car is just right across that ramp. And the -- it's a beautiful beach day and I think it's time to go and that's a quick way to do it.
Didn't stop. Didn't stop and think to myself, is that an appropriate way to leave, you know, a 20-year career? Obviously not. But in that moment, that's just where it took me. So I gave it a very thorough look out the window.
We're taught for 20 years of training --
KING: The baggage were going down.
SLATER: Well, yes. We're told in training that you assess your inside conditions, you assess the outside conditions, which is looking through that window. And then you activate your exit. Well, I'd seen enough of my inside conditions. I knew I was done with that today. Took a good look outside and out I went.
KING: We'll be back in a moment. LARRY KING LIVE reached out to JetBlue for a statement about Steven Slater in tonight's interview. The company gave this respond -- this response, rather.
"Mr. Slater is no longer employed with JetBlue and out of respect for his privacy, we have no further comment."
Back after this.
KING: Going over some things, Steven. Your first attorney, court- appointed at the time.
KING: Said that you had cut your head before the flight and no one has been able to find the woman who had the big piece of baggage that hit your head. So --
SLATER: No, the cut was early on in the boarding process. It was not before the flight. It was before the majority of the customers were on board the aircraft.
KING: There was a woman trying to get a baggage --
SLATER: There was. Yes.
KING: That was that thing that hit you?
KING: Are you surprised that woman hasn't come forward to say sorry --
SLATER: Not in the least. Not in the least. A customer would -- who were involved in that altercation would face a $25,000 fine by the FAA. I don't imagine --
KING: I see.
SLATER: -- them stepping forward for that. Yes.
KING: "The New York Post" reported that a Brooklyn couple, the second and third people to pre-board, claimed that your forehead was bleeding when they got on the plane.
SLATER: I couldn't tell you about them. That's the first I've heard of them. But no, I can tell you exactly that I was struck early on in the boarding process by this oversized piece of luggage while these customers struggled for --
KING: Several passengers interviewed after the incident said you've been rude to them during the flight. How do you respond?
SLATER: You know what? I wouldn't deny that one bit. They got me --
KING: You were rude?
SLATER: -- at a bad, bad time. It was -- I had just been hit in the head. I was in pain. I was uncomfortable. I was angry. I was frustrated. You know I pride myself on being a professional but I'm sure my service was less than stellar that day.
KING: How did you deploy the chute?
SLATER: How? You simply arm the door and you open it up. It's an automatic mechanism. Just take a look out the window, open the door and it just simply folds out and inflates.
KING: Have you ever had to inflate a chute before?
SLATER: No. We do every year in flight attendant recurrent training. You are required to perform actual evacuation drills where you simulate what you would do. And you might have to do that six or seven times a day but, no, I've -- by the grace of God, never had to do it in an actual emergency.
KING: Did you have a couple of beers?
SLATER: I took them with me. Absolutely. Yes.
KING: So you consumed them during the flight?
KING: Just came out with them?
SLATER: I had a beverage, as I mentioned earlier. I did indeed but.
KING: What were you thinking, Steven, going down the chute?
SLATER: I was just thinking, I'm free. I'm finally free. I was -- it was so fast. It was so quick. But I got the bottom of this wonderful warm sunlight out there. And I just felt this -- I felt (INAUDIBLE) weight off my shoulders like I was back in charge of my own life. Little did I know but at the moment that's how it felt.
KING: Authorities say that deploying the chute could have injured or have killed someone on the tarmac. Is that true?
SLATER: It is. It is. And that's why we're so cognizant of taking a very thorough evaluation of who's out there by looking out those portholes.
KING: There were some reporters caught up with an underground Manhattan parking garage a couple of days after the incident, some are working there, who said you thought about pulling the chute for 20 years. Is that true? SLATER: That quote, and I know that's the one by Mr. Ross, that was something taken completely out of context. It was in an elevator and I was asked if I was -- had ever thought about what it would be like to have to go down the chute.
I explained that we've had -- I've had 20 years of being prepared for that moment. But it was not -- that it was a premeditated exit strategy of my job.
KING: What happened to the beer?
SLATER: It was a nice hot beach day and a couple of cold brews. And --
KING: Consumed it afterwards?
SLATER: They were used when I got home.
KING: On approach?
SLATER: On approach to my -- into my home. Into my living room, yes.
KING: We'll get to the arrest of Steven after this.
KING: Steven was arrested at his home in Belle Harbor by port authority officials hours after the episode. He was arraigned the following day on reckless endangerment, released in $2500 bail.
Did you expect to be arrested?
SLATER: I didn't. No, in all honesty. I knew that there would be an internal issue with my former employer. I didn't -- no, I didn't think beyond the moment. I didn't anticipate that.
KING: When did it get a headline? The next day? Was there an immediate big response to this?
SLATER: You know, I don't know because I was in jail. I had no access to information.
KING: That night, had anybody called you?
KING: No media called you?
SLATER: I was hearing from the police officers that all of this was going on outside the jail. I had no access to information. No television, obviously no radio. I did not know that this was becoming such an interesting case.
KING: Where did you go after you landed? SLATER: I went home.
KING: Drove home?
SLATER: I drove myself right home. Went to the employees parking lot, went straight home. And it was maybe an hour, hour and a half later that they came.
KING: Did you think this would be a big deal?
KING: Did not?
SLATER: Not to the -- certainly not to the extent that it has.
KING: We've had Steven's account of what happened. But barely two days after the incident, Taiwan-based Next Media Animation realized -- released its dramatization of what occurred. How they knew this, I don't know, but check this out and we'll have Steven comment.
KING: OK. Steven, if you can make light of that, tell me what you --
SLATER: I think it's hysterical. That was one of the first things I saw when I came out. And they made me a couple of feet taller. I appreciated it. I thought it was hysterical. The music, the setup, the whole thing. It was just -- it was so over the top. I got a kick out of it.
KING: How did you like being embraced as a folk hero? I mean, many people liked you after this.
SLATER: It's surreal. It's very strange. It's -- you know, it's still me. I still put my pants on one leg at a time. It's hard to understand. You know? I see all of this and the Steven Slater that people hear about -- I kind of remind myself has been a two dimensional media and Internet created figure.
It's kind of a character. It's not necessarily me. You know I'm thankful that I'm here today having a chance to sort of become a little more three dimensional and sort of, you know, who is the real Steven --
KING: Well, they are seeing and hearing you for the first time.
SLATER: They are. They are. And it is -- it's flattering. It's seductive. It really is. I have to, you know, not let it go to my head.
KING: Why did you wait so long to come to a place like this?
SLATER: Going through my legal proceedings, I felt that it was probably in my best interest to just focus on those. Put my head down and focus on what I needed to do at the time.
KING: Are you receiving medical attention now?
SLATER: Part of my arrangement with the court is a counseling and therapy program which -- yes, I am.
KING: You had that before?
SLATER: Like a lot of crew members after 9/11, I did reach out for some assistance. That was a very difficult time to be a pilot or flight attendant in America. Also after the TWA Flight 800 disaster, which I did lose some friends, I had also had been scheduled to work the return trip from Europe of that aircraft.
KING: You were supposed to be on that TWA plane?
SLATER: On the return. The aircraft was to fly to Paris, continue on to Rome and then my crew would work that back to New York. And that was a difficult time. That came a little close and I felt appropriate.
KING: Where were you on 9/11?
SLATER: I was in Manhattan. I was in my apartment around the city.
KING: When did you fly again after that?
SLATER: My next trip would have been September 17th. I went to Madrid.
KING: Six days later. Was that a nervous flight?
SLATER: It was horrific. We were terrified. Absolutely terrified. I will say, though, that once I got to Madrid it was the first time that I could take a deep breath and relax. I was -- had been on such edge in New York City, of course, but I knew that finally being overseas that we were probably safe at the time.
KING: Did you think on 9/11 of quitting?
SLATER: I did. I did. Yes, but you know, that would have let them win, and that wasn't my style.
KING: Steven's story became fodder for the late-night comedians. Take a look.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
JIMMY FALLON, HOST, "LATE NIGHT WITH JIMMY FALLON": You got to you got to your job, get to you, you got to get to --
STEPHEN COLBERT, HOST, "THE COLBERT REPORT": Thanks to Slater, we'll need to make some changes to the airline safety card like in the event of flight attendant freak-out, assume crash position and extend arm to capture meltdown on iPhone.
I mean, seriously, no video of this? Now we know it's true. JetBlue really does have the best in-flight entertainment.
Sully Sullenberger, the bar has been raised.
JIMMY KIMMEL, HOST, "JIMMY KIMMEL LIVE": Unfortunately, nobody got the flip out on video. That's -- I don't know how that works. People are taping constantly. But they did manage to get his arrest on tape.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Hey, you know what? I'm John. I'm John. (EXPLETIVE DELETED) us. You want one of those pillows and a blankie? Get it your (EXPLETIVE DELETED) self.
JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW": He went so crazy. The good news, terrorists are now afraid to fly JetBlue. So that's --
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: What did you think watching all of that and seeing a headline like "Planely Nuts."
SLATER: It was -- it's so surreal. You know, fortunately I do find the humor in all of this and I think a lot of people did.
KING: You do?
SLATER: I do. I do. Yes. I can step away from my angst and my stress and my -- the craziness of all of this and see some humor in the whole thing. And I think fortunately a lot of people do, too, evidently.
KING: Steven has an attorney naturally and as you might guess a very famous publicist. They are here next.
KING: We are back with Steven Slater. If I have to tell you who he is, you are on another planet.
Joining us are Daniel Horowitz, Steven Slater's attorney, and Howard Bragman, Steven Slater's publicist, founder of the media and public relations firm Fifteen Minutes.
Great name for a PR firm.
All right, Daniel. Some people think he got off easy. Did he?
DANIEL HOROWITZ, STEVEN SLATER ATTORNEY: Well, if anybody has got $10,000 to pay his financial fine, I suggest to you that that's not an easy -- an easy penalty. I think the plea bargain was what it was and that it enabled Steven to move on with his life.
KING: Did he endanger lives?
HOROWITZ: You know, he pled guilty to damaging property. And so that's really not a question that anybody reached.
KING: The prosecutor of your case having thought that he felt somewhat -- that Steven felt humiliated by what you perceived as degrading work conditions.
Is that true, Steven, by the way?
SLATER: It's frustrating. You know, 20 years ago, I was carving a Chateau Brion over the North Atlantic and at the end of the career I was checking Cheetohs in the back of a regional jet.
Flight attendants today are performing all the cabin and cleaning duties. It was on a weekly basis I would pull a dirty diaper out of the seat back pocket. The days of the pillbox hat and the white gloves are unfortunately long gone.
KING: Who's paying for the counseling?
HOROWITZ: Steven is going to have to pay for that himself.
KING: On a what income?
HOROWITZ: Well, Steven has got some savings but we're going to find a way to get through it. You know, as I said, it was an appropriate plea bargain and it enabled Steven to move on with his life. As he said he accepted responsibility. So it was fair. And we're going to get through it.
HOWARD BRAGMAN, STEVEN SLATER PUBLICIST: And I want to put in perspective, $10,000 to some people isn't a lot of money. Steven made $9700 last year. He had to take a lot of leave because his mother is ill in California. JetBlue would not give him compassionate transfer to a base in Los Angeles, right?
SLATER: That is correct.
BRAGMAN: And so $10,000 is a pretty stiff fine.
KING: Why didn't they transfer you?
SLATER: Couldn't tell you.
KING: They wouldn't tell you? They just --
SLATER: I followed protocol, put in my request and they felt operationally they couldn't make that allowance.
KING: Daniel, did you come close to having to go to trial?
HOROWITZ: You know, it's something you always think about. Obviously, we discussed what the options were with Steven. I think there was risk for the district attorney in this case.
I mean, I think the fact that we're on this show and we're still talking about this incident, people are paying attention to it, means that there's a lot of sympathy out there. And I think that's something that the district attorney gave some thought to.
As I said earlier, I think that the deal was fair and I think it enabled Steven to move on. You know we went through the risk-and- reward analysis. And at the end of the day, some counseling, a plea to the minor crime at the end of the day, and a financial penalty, you know, is a fair resolution.
KING: Howard, you're going to be with us most of the next segment, so -- did you -- did Steven take the offer right away?
HOROWITZ: There was some negotiation, Larry. The deal that we ended up with was not the deal that they put on the table originally.
HOROWITZ: No. I mean there was some work we had to do to get the result we achieved.
KING: Did you want to go to trial?
SLATER: Not so much.
KING: But if you were a folk hero, you might have beat this.
SLATER: I may have. I may have. But I -- you know, I have priorities in my life. I have things I need to do. I need to be with my family. I need to be with my mother. I had to get on with my life. This afforded us an opportunity to do so.
KING: How difficult was this for you, Daniel?
HOROWITZ: You know a case that's got this kind of publicity and public attention really raises the stakes. You know, people's motivations change. The district attorney was being scrutinized. And to be fair to him, he's got two major airports, airline security in his district and JetBlue is the largest employer in Queens County.
So I think there was a lot of that driving the disposition here. But you know, we made a decision when we got into the case that we needed to lower the temperature, move this toward a resolution, which is what Steven wanted. Didn't want to try it in the press. You know there are times when you do that. This was not the kind of case --
KING: So you had him not do any media attention?
HOROWITZ: Yes, we wanted to lower the temperature to get the right disposition here.
KING: Thanks, Daniel.
HOROWITZ: Sure, Larry.
KING: Howard will remain and we'll get him talking about image as a result of all of this. And why that matters now. Don't go away.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: Do you sympathize with Steven Slater at all because he's deal with people so hostile and rude towards him?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sure, a little bit. Of course.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I do. And I think that the passenger has some responsibility in that as well.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No. I don't sympathize with him. That's part of the job.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Pick another job. It's a service oriented industry. I mean it comes with the territory.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You have to have patience with who you are dealing with. And for him to blow up and do the things that he did was very unprofessional.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Attendants are human, too. They deal with a lot of crap.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think you see more of this because passengers are getting tired. It's not as nice to fly anymore as it used to be.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: NBA season opening tonight. Ron Artest of the Lakers will be here tomorrow night.
Joining us -- remaining with us now is Howard Bragman, Steven Slater's publicist. He's the founder of Fifteen Minutes.
Why is this so resonating a story?
BRAGMAN: Really, it's -- there's three things that this touch. One is the society we live in. We're all working harder than ever before for the same or less money. The second thing is the general lack of politeness and civility.
Have you ever heard somebody running for governor tell a president to shove it before as we did yesterday? I mean, that just didn't used to happen. And the third thing is the airline experience that Steven touched on that we all know is just horrible.
I mean you look at that flight and you can look at his actions and he's taken responsibility and I'm proud of him but you have to look at the bigger picture. What caused all of this to happen?
KING: Steven, why are you here tonight since you didn't want to do any media? Howard must have said OK. Why now? Why not just fade away?
SLATER: You know, I think there are wonderful opportunities to have a dialogue about some of these very issues. And I hope that in the end that some service can come out of this whole thing. Maybe we can have a conversation about common courtesy in America. That might be an opportunity.
KING: We're going to have representatives follow you, flight attendants and the traveler as well.
Why do you think he should remain in the limelight?
BRAGMAN: Well, first of all, he's sort of run out of career options in the travel industry. And number two, you know, I met Steven really quickly after this happened. He called me through some people referring me, and I really thought he could be a voice for a lot of these -- a lot of these nerves that his incident touched on.
And the more I get to know him -- I like his intelligence and his charm and his wit. There's two Steven Slaters. OK? Until tonight there was the Steven Slater, the caricature that Jay Leno and everybody is making fun of.
And then here's a real, live, flesh-and-bones person. And that changes things a great deal. And I think the surprise is wow, he's a lot different than we thought.
KING: Do you think maybe he should have come out sooner?
BRAGMAN: No, I think we did this at exactly the right time. We didn't -- Dan and I were in absolute agreement. You don't say one thing until the legal resolution is behind us. And as soon as we get out to California and sit down with you, this is what we did.
KING: Is there a book deal or a TV something going to happen here?
BRAGMAN: We have signed with a book agent. Right now we were -- we're with --
KING: The life story of Steven --
BRAGMAN: We're with the Morris office, as they say. We're with a great agent there at WME Entertainment. And he has a co-writer. And I think publisher is going to be interested. Are we allowed to talk about the title? We have this fabulous title.
SLATER: We have a few ideas. Yes.
KING: I think just saying it you can copyright it right here. Well, you can copyright --
BRAGMAN: "Cabin Pressure." "Cabin Pressure." It's great. But he has a story to tell of 20 years in the travel business. I think it's sort of coffee, tea or me for the new millennium.
KING: Don't you think there are a lot of people that have been passengers who say I've seen a lot of rude flight attendants, too.
BRAGMAN: I think it works both ways. And I think that's what we touched in society. I have an aunt who is a flight attendant. And right after she read in the news I was representing him she called me up and she said, I've been flying X number of years and she goes, I never pulled the slide so I've heard about it at home, too. But you know --
KING: So you do see another side?
BRAGMAN: Oh, there -- you absolutely see another side. And, you know, people have called Steven a hero. And we've talked about that. And I know how you feel about that.
SLATER: Captain Sullenberger who landed an aircraft successfully on the Hudson River, the flight attendants on that aircraft who successfully got 150 people out in 90 seconds. Those are true heroes.
KING: What -- how do you think of yourself then?
SLATER: I think of myself as someone who reached the end of their rope and might not have handled it the most appropriate way, but is making the best of it and moving forward.
BRAGMAN: I couldn't be any happier to have a client who's taken responsibility, who's really touched this bigger chord in the society. Now the world is open to us. And you'd be -- I think you'd be amazed at the volume of offers that are coming in and the people we're talking to.
KING: To do television and --
BRAGMAN: To do television, for books, for endorsements. There's a lot of different offers that have come in. And we're really sorting through right now to get the right ones.
KING: What's he going to endorse? A chute?
BRAGMAN: You'd be surprised. There's a lot of stuff out there. But, yes -- you know, the playground equipment thing. I don't know if that's going to work.
KING: Thanks, Howard.
Steven touched on it a minute ago. Flying is not like it used to be. A flight attendant and a flyer join us next.
KING: Joining us from Washington is Veda Shook. She is international vice president of the Association of Flight Attendants, CWA, the world's largest labor union organized by flight attendants for flight attendants. She's been a flight attendant 19 years.
And Kate Hanni. She's in San Francisco. And she founded FlyersRights.org back in 2006. A non-profit consumer organization representing airline passengers.
We'll start with Veda.
What do you make of Steven and his story? VEDA SHOOK, FLIGHT ATTENDANT, UNION REPRESENTATIVE: It was good to hear the story tonight, and I look at it from a couple of different perspectives, from representing flight attendants with the Association of Flight Attendants.
Obviously, we're safety professionals first so this was a very extreme event. Frankly, one that I've never heard of before. And then on a similar side, also being a union representative, what are the mitigating factors that led up to this. So we heard about the three- day trip, you know, that that went wrong.
But it sounds like there might have been some other issues at play in Mr. Slater's life. And as a union rep we'd want to know more about that, and how he could have possibly been helped on different moments prior to that.
Like when he was mentioning that he tried to get a hardship transfer. Could that have happened? You know, would that have been able to different outcome?
KING: Yes. JetBlue is nonunion, right?
SLATER: That's correct.
KING: So you're not in a union. Were you in the union when you've worked for the other airlines?
SLATER: I've worked for both union and nonunion carriers. Yes.
KING: OK. All right, Kate, as a founder of Flyers Rights, what do you make of this story and Mr. Slater?
KATE HANNI, FLYERS' RIGHTS ADVOCATE: Well, in terms of Mr. Slater, it sounds to me like he was under supported and had an event that caused him to snap, and as he so eloquently put it in the early part of the show.
As a consumer advocate, I have to say from my perspective, we have a hot line that people call every day and many times they are stuck inside hot, sweaty planes and they are calling our hotline to say what are my options?
And I have had at least two dozen calls in the last four years from people who wanted to pop the emergency exit to get out of what we call a stranding event where they've been stuck for between four and 10 hours on the tarmac.
And we emphatically tell them no. It's not safe to do so. And if you are having a medical event, please call an ambulance. You know, so I think --
KING: As a --
HANNI: We don't want to have this send the wrong message to people that it's OK to pop the emergency exit because it's not.
KING: Are you feeling, Kate, compassion for Steven?
HANNI: Totally. From the minute I heard the story, I felt something had to have been gravely wrong. We get calls from both flight attendants and pilots on our Deep Throat hotline who express a variety of issues with the airlines where they feel undersupported and overworked and underpaid, and their pensions are gone.
And it's pretty much a thankless task being a flight attendant these days. And the passengers are notably more hostile because their experience is so stressful from the time they go to purchase the ticket and all of the ancillary unbundled fees, and then they get to the airport and have to deal with security and the body scanners, and then they get to the gate.
And if they're lucky enough not to be bumped, they may get on the plane and then they have to deal with some white knuckle flying frequently. And a lot of that gets taken out on the flight attendants. So I have a lot of compassion for him.
KING: Veda, what's the number one flight attendant complaint?
SHOOK: Well, how do you synopsize that into one particular issue? Probably long days, short nights, full planes. I mean there are several different issues that we face.
KING: All of them combine into Steven Slater.
SHOOK: I think that's right.
KING: We'll be back after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Right now at JFK, it's a very bad situation, it's been four hours.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes, well, we've had some people vomiting and passing out. There's infants on the plane and they've threatened us with security situations if anyone tries to get off the plane.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It's just unbearable and it should be reported and it should be on the news, and there should be a -- some sort of rights for the passengers who are on these flights.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: We'll be back with Steven Slater in a moment. Let's check in with Anderson Cooper, he'll host "AC 360" at the top of the hour.
What's our lead, Anderson?
ANDERSON COOPER, CNN ANCHOR: Well, I'll tell you, Larry, Republican congressional candidate, advocating revolution, saying any means necessary to change the government, even violence? Texas congressional candidate Pastor Steven Broaden said all options are on the table. He lost a big endorsement because of it. Now he claims he was taken out of context. Tonight we check the context. We're keeping them honest.
In Florida, murder trial in a brutal ninja style home invasion. You may remember this home surveillance video of a group of masked men who allegedly broke into the home of Verd and Melanie Billings in 2009? They lived with their foster kids and they were murdered execution style.
The trial just got underway and there are cameras in the courtroom. It's tonight's "Crime & Punishment."
Those stories, Larry, and the lowdown, dirtiest political ads at the top of the hour.
KING: It will be refreshing when this is over, won't it, Anderson? "AC 360," 10:00 Eastern, 7:00 Pacific.
Steve Slater, are you a little surprised that Veda Shook, who is the vice president of the large union, and you're in the union -- JetBlue had no union. And Kate Hanni, who represents passengers, both of whom seem to have sympathy and support for you.
SLATER: Truthfully, not in the least. And I think what people don't always see is that the flight attendants and the passengers are on the same side. Unfortunately, we're both put in that airplane to deal with very, very trying circumstances.
You know flight attendants come to work wanting our passengers to have a safe, and comfortable, enjoyable trip. That's who we're hired to be and that's who we are at heart. And I love the work that Kate and her organization does. I know sometimes she's a thorn in the side of airline management but so are the flight attendants. You know we have to champion one another.
KING: Veda, does he have a good point there?
SHOOK: Yes, he has a good point. And as does Kate, that you know these planes, these airports, everything's packed more than ever, and sometimes there is going to be some kind of a release. It shouldn't be releasing the slide, obviously. We don't condone that at all, of course.
But, you know, we have to be kinder to one another. And the passengers and the flight attendants are in this together. We're in this pressurized tube at, you know, tens of thousands of feet up in the air, so we all have to work together.
And when I work with a flight attendant, I try to view the airplane as an oasis after everybody's waited in all those lines that Kate was talking about and, you know, before you could have an airline business model that would make money with the planes two-thirds full.
And now it's all about squeezing everything, squeezing the passengers, squeezing the employees all too frequently, you know, putting the seats closer together and all these things can just create a lot of anxiety and tension. And frequently with passengers, as well.
KING: When we come back, I'll ask Kate what's the biggest passenger complaint. We'll be back with Steven Slater and Veda Shook and Kate Hanni right after this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What's your opinion about Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who jumped on the emergency slide with two beers in his hand?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I guess he was looking for the third one. I don't know.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I understand why he did it, you know, I guess he was really thirsty.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And I think he probably should have found a different occupation if it bothered him that much.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think he probably just had enough.
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I just thought it was a -- got humor, funny situation. That's pretty much it.
UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think maybe he just had an issue that he was just trying to deal with something.
UNIDENTIFIED REPORTER: What do you think about the kind of attention he's been getting through the whole thing?
UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I think it's dumb. It makes more people do more idiotic things like that.
(END OF VIDEO CLIP)
KING: By the way, Steven's father was a captain for American Airlines and his mother was a senior flight attendant for American Airlines.
Kate, what's the biggest passenger complaint?
HANNI: The biggest passenger complaint are flight delays, long flight delays, coupled with a lack of customer service to help folks get either rebooked on another air carrier or to help them in any way deal with these very frequent and long flight delays.
KING: Do you get a lot of complaints about flight attendants?
HANNI: We do get some. It's -- you know a fairly unusual thing I think for somebody to be so off the mark that they call our hotline to complain about them, but we have had a number of them and they've been pretty egregious complaints. It seems that there are a few flight attendants out there who are ready to snap and who maybe need a vacation. And listening to Steven Slater, I would say it's very likely that they're undersupported by their airline and that, you know, nobody seems to notice that maybe they need to have a break.
KING: Kate, do flight attendants, have they been talking a lot about Steven?
HANNI: They have. And --
KING: I mean. No, I mean Veda. Let me ask -- that was for -- Veda, have they been talking a lot?
SHOOK: Yes, they certainly were. I mean at first it was -- you know, it's like this, you could not write a better grand escape. I mean you really couldn't. So --
SHOOK: I mean really, everybody was like, you know, a lot of people thought that was, you know, secretly totally cheering him on, but also, you know, all the flight attendants were like, you know, a bit horrified frankly because that was really dangerous, you know, deploying the slide.
So, you know -- and then I think everybody understands, too, what is all -- what all is happening that can create this and what -- you know, what are the bigger pictures and so is that, you know, as Kate saying, somebody needs a vacation, well, can somebody afford to take a vacation? You know, or somebody having to work a second job?
Or what are all the things that are bringing them here? And so if we're talking about air travel and it's, you know, a commodity, how is all this factoring in? The employees shouldn't necessarily be the commodity.
KING: Steven, what have you learned from all this?
SLATER: I've learned that I probably need to take better care of myself. Like we've just heard, everyone's trying to do so much more with so much less. You know, we're at a time in life now where we're trying to raise our children and take care of our parents and we're trying to manage these careers on less.
And, you know, sometimes we forget about taking care of our own needs and I think I would probably slow down and take a little better care of myself as well.
KING: If you had to do it all over again you would not?
SLATER: No, I wouldn't do. I wouldn't do what I did. I would have made an exit. I would have handed in my two weeks and moved on.
KING: But you'll quit? SLATER: I believe so. You know I loved flying, I had a wonderful 20- year career. It was an honor to carry, you know, our troops as they served our country, to -- you know, bring people to weddings and funerals and occasions and, you know, hold the hand of a nervous flyer. I had a wonderful time. But the flying that I loved is not the flying of today. I've come to accept that.
KING: Thanks for coming here. Steven Slater, thanks, Veda, and thanks, Kate.
Hey, want to be the King? You can. Just enter and win our contest. Go to CNN.com/Larryking and for details. You may end up right here interviewing me.
The Los Angeles Lakers star Ron Artest. Lots to talk about with the controversial player for a long time. He's here tomorrow night and tell us why he's raffling off his NBA championship ring. No kidding.
Anderson Cooper, AC360 right now.