Korean Air VP Resigns After ‘Nutty’ Episode

by REERA YOO | @reeraboo

Heather Cho resigned as the head of in-flight services for Korean Air amid a surge of public criticism that she delayed a flight over how she was served macadamia nuts, reports the New York Times.

Cho, who is the vice president of Korean Air and the eldest daughter of the airline’s chairman, went “nuts” on Friday when a flight attendant served her nuts without asking beforehand, and in a bag instead of on a plate. The irate executive then summoned the chief flight attendant and interrogated him on in-flight service procedures. When he fumbled, Cho ordered the plane to return to the gate in order to boot him off it. The flight arrived in Incheon, South Korea 11 minutes behind schedule.

The episode triggered a barrage of negative comments from South Korean social media users, many of them demanding a boycott of Korean Air. Some criticized the excessive lifestyle of the chaebols, family-controlled conglomerates that dominate South Korea’s economy, while others compared the Cho family to North Korea’s ruling family.

Cho resigned Tuesday from the airline’s catering and in-flight sales business, and its cabin service and hotel business divisions, according to Korean Air. However, she will be keeping her title as vice president.

“I am sorry for causing trouble to the passengers and the people,” Cho said in a statement. “I seek forgiveness from those who were hurt by what I did.”

Korean Air also issued a formal apology to the flight’s passengers and said there had been no safety hazards involved as the jet was only about 35 feet away from the gate at New York’s JFK International Airport. The company added that it was “natural” for Cho to discipline the flight attendant for not following in-flight service protocol and that the decision to return to the gate was made in consultation with the pilot.

This excuse did not fly with the outraged public.

“No pilot is going to oppose an order from the daughter of the company owner,” said Lee Gae-ho, a lawmaker of the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy.

According to Yonhap, South Korea’s transport ministry said it will investigate whether Cho’s actions had violated the aviation safety law, which bars passengers from causing disturbances, including using violent language or yelling. Korean news outlets reported that Cho had screamed at the flight attendant.

If the ministry finds evidence that proves that she had endangered safety by using threats or violence, she could face up to 5 million won in fine, according to the Korea Times.

Photo courtesy of the Korea Herald