Flight attendant’s ex: ‘I do not believe he was rude’

The ex-wife of Steven Slater, the flight attendant who has become something of a folk hero for his dramatic exit from a JetBlue aircraft after an altercation with a passenger, said Thursday that Slater is a “consummate flight attendant” who was “born to fly.” Cynthia Susanne said that her ex-husband is “such a gentleman” that the passenger who set him off must have been “a nightmare.”

“I do not believe that he was rude to anyone,” Susanne told Meredith Vieira live on TODAY. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say that this passenger was a nightmare” to have provoked Slater, 38, to launch an expletive-laden tirade over the plane’s public address system before activating the plane’s emergency exit slide and driving to his home in Queens, N.Y. “I find it very difficult to believe he would be rude to anyone, especially in the air.”

Susanne said that she first heard of the incident when “it was brought to me by a news reporter over the telephone.” She added: “It was shocking to me, because I couldn’t believe the media frenzy at my door. I can’t imagine what Steven is going through.”

While Slater has indeed become a household name almost overnight — gathering some 160,000 Facebook friends in the days since his tirade and arrest — it may come as a surprise to some that he even has an ex-wife. Susanne says they were married in 1991, but their union lasted less than a year.

Susanne told NBC said she first believed their marriage ended “because we were very young — like kids, really. Now I think I know better than that.”

‘Born to fly’But even though it’s been 20 years since the onetime high school sweethearts’ marriage ended, Susanne said that she and Slater have remained friends over the years, and the person she sees being portrayed in the media isn’t the man she knows.

“I know that Steven is the consummate flight attendant; he was literally born to fly,” Susanne told Vieira. “He absolutely adores everything about the job, takes it very seriously, always has. He’s just a stellar individual and a gentleman.”

Still, some beg to differ. Before Susanne’s interview, Lauren Dominijanni, a passenger on the Aug. 9 flight that Slater dramatically exited, reported in a TODAY telephone interview that Slater had seemed agitated well before the emergency slide incident. “He had a huge gash on his head; he looked very disgruntled,” she said.

Dominijanni also said that when she asked Slater for an antiseptic wipe to clean up some coffee that had been spilled on her seat, Slater rolled his eyes and said, “Not now, honey; maybe when we get in the air.”

Dominijanni, who was sitting in the second row of JetBlue Flight 1052 to New York City from Pittsburgh, told Vieira that Slater made her uncomfortable. “He did seem agitated to me,” she said. “I just thought to myself, ‘He’s having a bad day, or this is the type of person he is,’ and he actually made me feel pretty uncomfortable. He was slamming the overhead containers ... I heard discussions with other flight attendants, he was slamming doors behind the scenes.”

But Susanne told Vieira she finds such accounts “hard to believe” and suspects that passengers’ recollections have been affected by the media frenzy over her ex-husband. “It would not surprise me if perception was skewed ... perception is everything,” she said. “Of course these passengers are going to have their opinions of things.”

‘Sign of the times’Appearing later Thursday morning on “Good Morning America,” Susanne said the offending passenger was lucky she was dealing with Slater, rather than a more aggressive employee. “It could have gone either way with that sort of brutal behavior,” Susanne told ABC. “You know, you never know what could have happened; it could have been some sort of physical altercation. He did not take out any kind of malice on this woman.”

Instead, after his expletive-laced tirade over the plane’s public address system, Slater grabbed some beer from the galley, activated the plane’s emergency slide, headed to his car and drove home to his boyfriend in Queens, N.Y. Slater was subsequently picked up by police, charged with criminal mischief, reckless endangerment and trespassing, and spent the night in jail.

Because Slater had revealed on Facebook that he contends with alcoholism and substance abuse issues “one day at a time,” Vieira asked Susanne whether it was disturbing that her ex-husband took beer before sliding down the emergency chute.

“I don’t know Steven to have a problem with alcohol or substance abuse,” Susanne replied. “He handled it beautifully if that was the case.”

In another interview, on the CBS “Early Show,” Susanne said she didn’t regard Slater’s dramatic actions as criminal. “I think it was a grand gesture to go,” she said on CBS. “We can question his motives for doing the slide thing. It was a stylish exit. Nobody got hurt. I can’t imagine why there would be criminal charges against him.”

Speaking with Vieira, Susanne called the incident “a sign of the times. We’ve all stood behind someone abusing a store clerk. I think flight attendants, more so than anybody else, have to deal with these things.

“They are not waitresses of the sky,” she added. “They are there to save your life. They should have that respect.”

As for Slater, “He’s in the bubble right now,” Susanne said. “I know he will handle this with all the grace and humility that he has and come through this just fine.”