Korean Air ‘nut rage’ heiress returns to management

Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun-Ah erupted into a tantrum when a stewardess served her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than in a bowl on a Seoul-bound flight at New York's JFK airport
AFP

Seoul (AFP) – A Korean Air heiress known for her “nut rage” tantrum that sparked national uproar four years ago made a comeback to management on Thursday, a spokesman said.

At a shareholders meeting, Korean Air subsidiary KAL Hotel Network approved Cho Hyun-ah, 44, as its president, the spokesman said.

Cho, a daughter of Korean Air chief Cho Yang-ho and then the company’s vice president, erupted into a tantrum when a stewardess served her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than in a bowl on a Seoul-bound flight at New York’s John F. Kennedy Airport.

She and the male cabin crew chief were forced to kneel and beg for forgiveness, before Cho struck the woman with a service manual and ordered the aircraft to turn back to the gate so the man could be thrown off the plane. 

The incident was one of the most infamous cases involving offspring of a controlling family of one of the country’s large businesses, whose arrogance and bad behaviour regularly make headlines.

It also triggered a spike in the sale of macadamia nuts in South Korea, which does not grow them but relies on imports.

Cho apologised and resigned as Korean Air vice president and CEO of KAL Hotel Network, which owns four hotels.

Seoul prosecutors charged her with offences including violating aviation security and business practices laws.

She was sentenced to a year in prison by a lower court.

After serving five months in prison, however, she was was freed when the appeals court cleared her of hampering an air route — the most serious charge — as the aircraft was still on the ground.

It maintained the more minor convictions, including interfering with business practices, but reduced her penalty to 10 months in prison, suspended for two years.

The Supreme Court upheld that ruling in December last year.

The flight attendant she berated, Park Chang-jin, has launched a court battle against Korean Air, claiming he has been demoted and discriminated against in the company since the incident. 

Park on Wednesday posted a picture of a fist-sized tumour growing on the back of his head on his Instagram account, saying it would be operated on and blaming it on years of “a hell of stress like nuclear bombs”.

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