Korean Air Chairman’s Daughter Deplanes Crew Over Nuts

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Heather Cho
Heather Cho, Vice President of Korean Air Lines Co. Photographer: Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

The daughter of Korean Air Lines Co. Chairman Cho Yang Ho 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 2 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.

“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 today that criticized Cho’s actions as an example of the “sense of privilege” felt by families running the country’s chaebol or conglomerates.

Airline Apology

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

Two calls to Korean Air’s main number in Seoul seeking a comment from Cho went to an automated answering service.

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.

‘Reasonable’ Action

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. Cho manages Korean Air’s catering and in-flight sales business, cabin service and hotel business divisions, it said.

Given her position, it was “reasonable” for her “to raise a problem in service,” Korean Air said late yesterday.

Cho and Korean Air executives should take responsibility for the incident and not blame the cabin crew, the airline’s pilots union said on their website today.

“Cho should be held responsible because she had used her authority to have the pilot return the plane to the gate,” the union said in the statement. “Cho and the management has damaged the company’s reputation.”

Her 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. Chairman Cho Yang Ho also apologized for the incident, Asia Economic Daily reported today.

Korean Air rose in Seoul trading after jet-fuel swaps in Singapore fell to the lowest since May 2010, according to data from PVM Oil Associated Ltd. The shares closed up 5.6 percent and Asiana Airlines Inc. up 2.7 percent.

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