The daughter of Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang Ho, who was suffering from what media has dubbed “nut rage,” ordered a plane back to the gate so she could remove a crew member who gave an incorrect answer to a question on how to serve macadamia nuts, the airline said.
Heather Cho, 40, a vice president of the airline, ordered the head of the service crew on Flight 86 from New York to Seoul to deplane after an attendant earlier had served Cho macadamia nuts without asking, the carrier said. Cho then summoned the purser to ask a question about the airline’s policy on serving nuts. Cho ordered the man to leave the plane when he couldn’t answer. Under the carrier’s rules, passengers must be asked first before serving.
The purser didn’t know the company’s procedures and “kept on making up lies and excuses,” Korean Air said in a separate statement late yesterday.
The aircraft had already left the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport for takeoff on Dec. 5. It took no more than two minutes to return to the gate to deplane the crew member, according to the airline. The flight was 11 minutes late when it arrived in Seoul on Dec. 6.
Korean Air in its statement late yesterday apologized to passengers for the inconvenience the incident caused. It noted the plane was less than 10 meters from the gate at JFK when the decision to return was made.
The Airbus A380 had about 250 passengers and 20 cabin crew.
South Korea’s Transport Ministry said yesterday it was investigating reports by Yonhap News and YTN about a Korean Air vice president ordering a crew member to deplane, according to an e-mailed statement that didn’t mention either Cho or the specific incident. Action will be taken against the carrier if it flouted any regulations, the ministry said.
“We’ll see whether her behaviour was against the law. It is an unprecedented case, so we need to see the related regulations,” a ministry official told The Korea Times. “Even though she is senior vice president at the company, she was a passenger at that time, so she had to behave and be treated as a passenger. She could have taken other measures after coming back to Korea, such as strengthening service training.”
Given Cho’s position, it was “reasonable” for her “to raise a problem in service,” Korean Air said late yesterday.
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. Cho is a member of the school’s advisory board. Cho manages Korean Air’s catering and in-flight sales business, cabin service and hotel business divisions, it said.
Cho’s father is also 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 organizing committee.