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What could happen to JetBlue passenger who ticked off Steve Slater?

JetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater faces criminal charges for deploying the plane's emergency chute. But the passenger blamed for setting off his tirade could also face charges or fines.

By Ron SchererStaff Writer / August 12, 2010

A JetBlue plane takes off from Miami International Airport in Miami, in this Oct. 2009 photo. By now millions of Americans know lots of details about JetBlue flight attendant Steve Slater, but what about that mystery passenger?

Wilfredo Lee/AP/File

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By now millions of Americans know lots of details about Steve Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant who took the emergency chute after arguing with a female passenger and now faces criminal charges.

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But what about that mystery passenger? Will she face any charges for reportedly getting into a dispute over her carry-on luggage on that infamous flight from Pittsburgh to New York?

Although she has yet to be publicly identified, the authorities investigating the incident certainly would have interviewed her.

In theory, like Mr. Slater, who has been charged with reckless endangerment, trespassing, and criminal mischief, she could be charged with a crime or fined if she did in fact interfere with a flight attendant in the performance of his duties.

Additionally, according Les Dorr, a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) spokesman, there is a rule that passengers must comply with safety instructions, such as keeping your seat belt fastened until the captain signals it’s safe to get up.

“That said, if someone stands up while pulling into the gate, technically it’s a violation of the [regulations], but you usually do not get busted for that,” says Mr. Dorr. “But, if a flight attendant says ‘sit down’ and you disregard them you could be interfering with their duties."

Passengers standing up before the plane stops are a common sight on commercial flights. But Denny Kelly, a retired commercial pilot, says flyers should be aware that the last 10 feet before a plane reaches the gate could be dangerous.

"There could be a baggage cart that causes the pilot to slam on the brakes, or a bunch of ground crew who are not where they are supposed to be,” says Mr. Kelly, now an airline investigator at Kelly James & Associates in Dallas. “I was a safety guy for the airline for many years and I can tell you that when you are in close it can be dangerous.”

John Greaves, a former commercial pilot who is now a lawyer, points out that the flight attendants are “not just waiters and waitresses,” but are actually on board for safety purposes.

“There are no rules on supplying passengers with pillows or drinks but the FAA does require safety training on things like evacuations,” says Mr. Greaves, who is with the Los Angeles law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman that specializes in aviation issues.

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