Korean Air vice president resigns after going nuts over the nuts

A vice president of Korean Air has resigned after ordering a plane back to the gate to remove a crew member who incorrectly answered a question on macadamia nuts, the company said on Tuesday.
Cho Hyun-ah, Korean Air's vice president responsible for cabin service, and the eldest child of the airline's chairman Cho Yang-ho, answers reporters' question during a September news conference in Incheon, South Korea. Ms Cho resigned on December 9 following a media backlash after she deplaned a crew member for allowing nuts to be served incorrectly. Yonhap/AP Photo
Cho Hyun-ah, Korean Air's vice president responsible for cabin service, and the eldest child of the airline's chairman Cho Yang-ho, answers reporters' question during a September news conference in Incheon, South Korea. Ms Cho resigned on December 9 following a media backlash after she deplaned a crew member for allowing nuts to be served incorrectly. Yonhap/AP Photo

SEOUL // A vice president of Korean Air has resigned after ordering a plane back to the gate to remove a crew member who incorrectly answered a question on macadamia nuts, the company said on Tuesday.

Cho Hyun-ah, who is also the daughter of the company’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, ordered flight 86’s chief purser to deplane after another service crew member served Ms Cho macadamia nuts without asking, Korean Air said. Ms Cho then summoned the head of the service crew to ask a question about the airline’s policy on serving nuts. The man was ordered to leave the plane when he couldn’t answer. Under the carrier’s rules, passengers must be asked first before serving.

“I apologise to the customers and the public for causing social issues and to those who have been hurt by my actions,” Ms Cho said in a company statement. “I will take full responsibility and resign from all my positions.”

The New York-Seoul flight had already left the gate for take-off on December 5 and was forced to return. It took the aircraft no more than two minutes to return to the gate to deplane the crew member, Korean Air said. The Airbus A380, which had about 250 passengers on board, was 11 minutes late when it arrived in Seoul the following day.

The company apologised on Monday after facing a media backlash over the incident.

While insisting it was “reasonable” for Ms Cho to have raised a problem with the in-flight service, the airline admitted in a statement that forcing the flight to return to its gate had caused an unreasonable delay.

“Korean Air apologises to its passengers for the inconvenience caused by the excessive behaviour of returning the aircraft and ejecting the flight attendant even though the circumstance was not an emergency,” the airline said.

An English-language version of the same statement omitted the mention of “excessive behaviour.”

Ms Cho, 40, has been widely criticised in the South Korean media for behaving in heavy-handed, imperious fashion.

“She may be able to scold the crew member for inappropriate service as a vice president, but aviation law clearly states that it is the captain who supervises the flight crew,” South Korea’s Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said in an editorial on Tuesday that criticised Ms Cho’s actions as an example of the “sense of privilege” felt by families running the country’s chaebol or conglomerates.

“She should have abided by the rules as one of the passengers and she exceeded her authority,” the newspaper said.

On Monday, South Korea’s transport ministry said it was investigating reports by Yonhap News and YTN about a Korean Air vice president ordering a crew member to deplane, without mentioning either Cho or the specific incident. Action will be taken against the carrier if it flouted any regulations, the ministry said.

Ms Cho, who went to Cornell University, joined South Korea’s largest carrier in 1999, according to a biography posted on the website of Singapore’s Nanyang Business School. She is a member of the school’s advisory board. Ms Cho manages Korean Air’s catering and in-flight sales business, cabin service and hotel business divisions, the biography said.

Her father, Cho Yang-ho, is chairman of the Hanjin Group of companies that includes Korean Air, Hanjin Shipping Co. and Hanjin Transportation Co. He’s also the president of the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics organising committee. Mr Cho has also apologised for the incident, Asia Economic Daily reported on Tuesday.

* Bloomberg and Agence France-Presse

Published: December 9, 2014 04:00 AM

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