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By Bob Palmer Saturday, August 21, 2010 1:09 PM CDT

Folks who fly the friendly skies for a living have certainly been in the news lately.

Steven Slater became a cult hero when he quit his job as a Jet Blue steward on Aug. 10.

As the whole world knows, Slater resigned his position following an address system rant by popping open a beer from the galley, deploying the emergency escape slide and exiting the plane.

Southwest Airlines stewardess Beverly McCurley moved to the head of the class, however, when she intervened Monday after a woman slapped her 13-month-old toddler.

Parents on both sides of the corporal punishment debate agreed that hitting a baby that young was wrong. But they also empathized with the mother, saying they've been exactly where she found herself on Monday on the Dallas-to-Seattle flight: stressed, and trapped on an airplane, with virtually no way to distract or console a child.

McCurley told officers that she saw the mother hit the child on the face with her open hand while the father yelled at the mother to stop screaming at the girl. She noted the girl had a black eye. The parents said the bruise was from a dog bite.

McCurley described the mother as agitated. She said the woman also slapped the baby on the legs and told the child to shut up.

The mother later told police she "popped" the tired tot when the child kicked her, because "when she's screaming and she can't hear me say no, that's the only way I can get her to stop."

The flight attendant said she took the baby and walked to the rear of the plane. She said the father came back, took the child and stood there with her until she fell asleep. The father told McCurley the parents had several arguments about the mother hitting the child.

The federal laws that give crew members broad power to ensure safety can be invoked in situations like the one that unfolded on the flight, said Jerry Sterns, a San Francisco attorney specializing in aviation cases. But those rules don't necessarily protect non-airline employees who want to intervene.

Titus County Attorney John Mark Cobernsaid Texas law demands citizens report child abuse, and grant some protection in severe cases.

Texas Family Code 262.003 states: A person who takes possession of a child without court order is immune from civil liability, if, at the time possession is taken there is reasonable cause to believe there is an immanent danger to the physical health or safety of the child.

"I don't want to insinuate that you can take a child from a parent because the parent is spanking them," Cobern said. "There are a lot of children that need spanking."

Cobern has noted an upswing in a particular kind of abuse.

"I'm seeing a great increase in children being exposed to drugs," Cobern said. "It's amazing how often that is happening. I had a child test positive for cocaine Thursday. They are smoking meth with a child in the room.

"If you think a child is being exposed to drugs you should report it."

The Texas Child Protective services hotline is 800 252 5400. And you don't have to be an airline stewardess to use it.