A recent Korean Air Lines flight was delayed when its chairman’s daughter, who is also vice-president responsible for cabin service at the airline, ordered a senior crew member off the plane. The crime? Allowing her and other passengers in the pointy end of the aircraft to be served bagged macadamia nuts instead of nuts on a plate.
The executive, Cho Hyun-ah, resigned yesterday amid a storm of public criticism in South Korea. The airline had earlier excused her behaviour even as it apologised for inconveniencing passengers.
South Korean media reported this week that the flight from New York City to Incheon, South Korea, returned to the gate after Cho told the head of cabin crew to leave the plane. The reports said Cho quarrelled with crew in the first class cabin and the flight departed 20 minutes late.
Cho, 40, is the oldest child of Korean Air’s chairman, tycoon Cho Yang-ho. Her two siblings are also executives at South Korea’s largest airline.
The incident caused uproar in South Korea where it was seen as an example of over-mighty behaviour by the offspring of the moneyed elite.
The South Korean economy is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates known as chaebol. Family members often wield greater influence over major companies than shareholders and executives with no blood ties to the founding family. The Cho family owns about 10% of Korean Air Lines, part of an empire spanning the travel, logistics, hotel and leisure industries.
Korean Air Lines confirmed that Flight 86 was delayed at John F Kennedy airport on December 5 due to the nut incident. But the company said the decision to disembark the crew member was made by the flight’s captain.
South Korea’s government said it is investigating whether Cho violated aviation safety law. Cho could face legal action if the probe shows she interrupted the flight or endangered safety by using threats, her status or violence.
Korean Air Lines said before Cho’s resignation it was “natural” for her to fault the crew’s ignorance of procedures.
The airline said it will step up training to improve customer service and safety.