SEOUL: South Korea said on Tuesday it will punish Korean Air with a flight ban or fines after the daughter of its chief executive delayed a flight with a tantrum over how some snacks were served, in a “nut rage” incident that caused a national uproar.
Cho Hyun-Ah, a former senior executive with the flag carrier, forced the chief cabin crew member off a New York-Seoul flight after she took exception to being served macadamia nuts she had not asked for – and in a bag, not a bowl.
“We plan to impose a flight ban or a fine against Korean Air”, the transportation ministry said in a statement.
The flight ban could last for up to a month on an unspecified route and the fine could be up to $2 million, it added.
The ministry will also “file formal complaints with the prosecution against Cho Hyun-Ah today” and ask them to open a criminal investigation, it said.
A ministry investigation found that 40-year-old Cho screamed and hurled abuses at a flight attendant and the chief purser during the incident on December 5, a breach of an aviation safety law.
The ministry also vowed to probe whether the firm’s “corporate culture” – criticised for being dominated by the whims of the owner family – posed any safety risk to passengers.
The case has sparked a wave of public anger in South Korea.
State prosecutors are also investigating unconfirmed allegations that Cho used violence against cabin manager Park Chang-Jin, including his claims that she pushed him into the cockpit door and jabbed him with a service manual.
Cho has denied reports she also made him and the flight attendant kneel and beg her forgiveness, but another passenger in first class confirmed most of Park’s account, saying she forced both to their knees.
She publicly apologized and resigned from all her posts at the family-run business conglomerate Hanjin Group, which owns Korean Air, in the face of intense public uproar.
Cho is one of three children of Korean Air chief executive Cho Yang-Ho, the patriarch of Hanjin Group.
Cho Yang-Ho apologized publicly over his daughter’s “foolish act” and suggested he should share some of the blame for not bringing her up correctly.
The Seoul Western Prosecutors’ Office probing the case on a separate request by a civic group has summoned Cho to appear for questioning Wednesday afternoon.
The flight, with some 250 other passengers aboard, was being towed toward a runway at John F. Kenny Airport before it returned to the gate to remove the purser, causing an 11-minute delay in arrival.
Analysts said the episode dramatically exemplifies the extraordinarily authoritarian mindset of the children of founding families of the country’s family-oriented business conglomerates, known as “chaebol.”
“The children or grandchildren of the founding families do not treat their company workers as colleagues. They simply view them as their servants,” Chung Sun-Sup, chief executive officer of Chaebul.com, an website that tracks corporate assets and practices, told Agence France-Presse.
Now mostly in their 30s and 40s, the children or grandchildren of the founders of “chaebols” have already taken over the helm of their empires, or are about to do so.
“There is a growing concern that key investment decisions could be made on a whim of chaebol heirs and heiresses whose managerial prowess has not yet been tested,” Chung said.
“Amid insufficient oversight and checks, this bodes ill for the country’s economy” where the top ten business conglomerates account for over 80 percent of its gross domestic product, he added.