No. 4: Steven Slater

With the economy stuck in the doldrums and unemployment at a high, many people count themselves lucky to have a job — any job. But that doesn’t mean they have to like it. Job dissatisfaction probably explained the summertime surge in popularity of Steven Slater, the JetBlue flight attendant.

Flight 1052 from Pittsburgh didn’t start well, as Slater would later tell police. A passenger’s large carry-on bag fell out of an overhead bin, cutting the flight attendant’s forehead. Adding insult to injury, the passenger who owned the bag cursed at him as they taxied to JFK Airport. Slater let loose with a curse-laden rant on the plane’s public address system, snagged some beer from a fridge, popped the emergency slide, and slid into notoriety.

JetBlue has been the target of passenger bitterness. In 2007 nine planes were stuck on the tarmac during a snowstorm at JFK Airport in New York, one of the planes for 11 hours, with no working restroom. This time, public sentiment was firmly on the side of Slater, whose tale struck a chord among everyone who’s ever wanted to say, “Take this job and shove it!” With a Facebook fan page and a tribute ballad sung by Jimmy Fallon, Slater seemed like a folk hero for the unhappily employed.

But like Paul Bunyan and Babe the blue ox, Slater’s tale may be just myth. Investigators who interviewed every crew member and every passenger on the flight couldn’t find one person to corroborate Slater’s account of the events leading up to his dramatic — and expensive — exit (estimated cost for the slide: $25,000). Slater expressed remorse and the wish to return to his job, but Jet Blue didn’t oblige. He pleaded guilty to charges of criminal mischief, and agreed to undergo substance abuse counseling and to pay $10,000 in restitution. Despite the plea, the self-confessed alcoholic stood by his story of the rude passenger in a round of October interviews on “Larry King Live,” “The Today Show,” and “Good Morning America.”

That may not matter in any case. Slater traded on his outlaw status to become a rapper pitchman for Mile High Text Club, a contest that rewards the “most outrageous story” on an airplane with an NYC holiday shopping trip and lunch with Slater … although no promises he’ll stick around for dessert.

–Cicely Wedgeworth