It all began with a dispute between Slater and a passenger on board JetBlue Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh International to JFK International Airport. Slater became upset after he was hit in the head with some luggage.
Prosecutors say Slater "lost it." He cursed at a passenger over the intercom before grabbing some beer from the galley and making a dramatic exit down the emergency slide at Kennedy Airport in New York, a grand exit that hardly surprised Slater's ex-wife.
"He is a dramatic fellow, so I wouldn't expect any less of him," said Slater's ex-wife, Cynthia Susanne.
"I've thought about it for 20 years, we've thought about it, you never think you're going to do it," said Slater, speaking about sliding down the emergency chute.
He was arrested at his home in Queens a few hours after the incident. He appeared in court on Tuesday to face charges of criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing. He was released from jail after posting $2,500 bail.
It's not the first time Slater's taken issue with overhead baggage.
Slater reportedly posted comments on an aviation website: "I hate to be a bag Nazi when I work a flight, but I feel if I am not, then I am letting down all those who cooperate."
Slater's mother defended her son, saying she understands his meltdown.
"I think he deserves to be able to have that meltdown if you saw the egg on his head where he got smacked," said Diane Slater, a former flight attendant. "I also don't think that people who are in the service industry should be abused by anybody."
While the law may not be on Slater's side, the outpouring of support for him has been overwhelming, with T-shirts designed in his honor and Facebook tributes.
Slater's "take this job and shove it" moment seemed to resonate with an overworked and underpaid public.
"He finally said, 'I can't stand it anymore and I'm going to take justice into my own hands,' and he became sort of an antihero," said Dr. Nando Pelusi, Psychology Today.
"There's a lot of stressed-out workers in this economy," said Dr. Joseph Haraszti, a psychiatrist. "Many people are working two jobs, people are trying to feed their families. There have been layoffs, cutbacks."
"I think some people are just really stressed out, and some people, especially in times like these, are just kind of stuck and in a ditch and there's not really anywhere to go except down the airplane chute," said Michael Cone, a traveler at LAX.
Wednesday, the Delta Airlines CEO used Slater as an example of how to treat flight attendants: "We ought to all take a lesson and just be respectful of what they do."
Even JetBlue has acknowledged that Slater's action has resonated beyond airline employees. In a company blog post, the airline poked fun at the attention directed at the Slater case.
Public comments on the blog overwhelmingly urged JetBlue to give Slater is job back.
He has been a JetBlue employee since 1994.
Slater stopped to talk to the media Wednesday: "Some really great people out there and I'm getting a glimpse of that. It's a surprise, because obviously I've been away for a little while."