Korean Air Captain Tried To Drink During Flight, Cabin Chief Got Demoted

Filed Under: Korean Air

Oh my…

There’s an incident that has come to light that took place on a December 30, 2018, Korean Air flight from Seoul Incheon to Amsterdam.

According to the report, the flight’s captain walked past a tray of pre-departure drinks and tried to take a glass of champagne, but a cabin crew member blocked him, saying he can’t drink alcohol. He responded that she could then give it to him in a paper cup instead.

Hours later the captain once again asked the cabin crew to bring him a cup of wine. The crew member refused, and reported the case to the cabin chief.

The cabin chief told other crew members, including the co-pilot, but urged them to remain silent until landing and not tell the captain, out of fear of making him angry, and possibly altering his mental state. To me that seems reasonable enough, since you’d want to alert other crew members in case the captain makes a similar request again.

Unfortunately the co-pilot ended up telling the captain what was going on before landing, which caused an altercation between the cabin chief and the pilots.

So after landing the cabin chief filed a formal complaint about the incident on Korean Air’s anonymous online message board.

Korean Air called in the cabin chief and captain, and what happened? The captain got a verbal warning, and the cabin chief got demoted on account of being responsible for the in-flight conflict.

Korean Air said in a statement “it’s true the captain made a controversial action, but it didn’t cause a real trouble.” Meanwhile the cabin chief was demoted for using “insulting words during the altercation and revealing the internal issue.”


In fairness, I can’t say for sure that the cabin chief shouldn’t have been punished in some way, since we don’t know all the details. In other words, was it appropriate to post these details on the message board where it was posted, or should a different procedure have been followed?

However, that a captain only got a verbal warning for repeatedly asking for alcohol, while a cabin chief who tried to control the situation was demoted, is outrageous…

(Tip of the hat to Szymon)

  1. Annnnd this is the issue w Korean carriers. Captain is god. Poor crm and unquestioned hierarchy Has led to several accidents including KE801 and to a lesser extent OZ214.

    Hoped they’d learned and improved and gotten past that. This story doesn’t make it sound like it.

  2. Hosea has Trump Derangement Syndrome…he can’t even tell that this article is about a Korean airline

  3. Hosea, Really ? you just had to bring in your hatred for Trump into a perfectly fine blog. Shame on you and your hatred

  4. This issue isn’t just limited to the Korean carriers; it’s an issue in Korea generally. There’s always some moron who expects absolute deference from their subordinates, and the culture dictates that the underlings must comply.

  5. I am sadden however not surprised at all. I bet this pilot is Korean.
    it’s very typical Korean culture, the hierarchy/pecking order overrules the right thing to do.
    That’s why I avoid korean airlines if possible.

  6. Many Koreans can’t cope with stress and benchmarking issues. Some of my colleagues frequently wash down their frustration with alcohol and other more harmful substances. Our boss always turns a blind eye: “different culture, different rules”

  7. @Endre – yeah, but the rule about not drinking while flying an aircraft, especially a commercial aircraft with passengers aboard, transcends cultures. The captain repeatedly asked for a drink while on duty. That’s a very good indication that he has a problem. For him to get off with a slap on the wrist is very worrisome.

  8. “Was it appropriate to post these details on the message board where it was posted, or should a different procedure have been followed?”

    Knowing how dumb-assed and backwards Asian culture is (I’m Chinese btw) towards “seniority”, I’d say this was probably one of the few options available.

  9. Without knowing Korean Air’s policy and the requirements of the aviation authority in the Republic of Korea, it is hard to say that Korean Air did anything wrong regarding the pilot’s verbal reprimand. The pilot did not drink any alcohol, he merely asked for it and later claimed to have been joking. Does expressing the desire to consume alcohol but not drinking anything violate those policies? Probably not. Even in the US, I think the FAA only bans the consumption of alcohol or operating with alcohol in a pilot’s system. There is a big difference between drinking and expressing a desire to drink. That distinction was probably relied upon by the pilot’s union.

    The FA was demoted for the altercation and “revealing an internal issue.” That last part may be the key. The altercation probably was somewhere in the cabin not on the flight deck. It would be very upsetting for passengers to overhear allegations about the pilot drinking. Upsetting passengers or the potential for it could be the reason for the FA’s demotion.

  10. “Controversial action”

    This reminds me of schools punishing victims of bullying for fighting back while slapping bullies on the wrist

  11. The people running Korean Air sure seem lovely people… :/ I think I will use the “other” Korean airline if I ever have to fly one…

  12. @john
    Expressing the desire to drink (“I wish I had a drink right about now”) and repeatedly asking the crew for a drink (“Grab me a drink please”) are two different things. The latter is not ok, as it’s a call to action.

  13. Joking about drinking is unacceptable when responsible for passengers safety
    Captain should’ve reprimanded.
    Culture in the sir follows universal flight safety laws

  14. @john, all good points, however I think beyond punishment, the Captain needs to go for a psychological assessment to ensure he is 100% fit mentally to be in command of an aircraft.

  15. If the FA had given it to the pilot’s demand and given him alcohol she would have been sacked for sure and shamed (even worse). The captain should have been in big trouble too, but Korean culture being what it is, that part would have been swept under the carpet.

  16. Joking or not, this is completely unacceptable for someone in charge of the daily safety of 300+ passengers, for the same reason wisecracking about bombs in an airport security line is an offense. At minimum (my armchair opinion) this would be worthy of a suspension and blood alcohol tests before and after the flight for an extended period.

    And I commend the FA that said no. As others have mentioned, Korean culture is religious about seniority and it some courage to say no – to either a joke or a legitimate request.

  17. “That a captain only got a verbal warning for repeatedly asking for alcohol, while a cabin chief who tried to control the situation was demoted, is outrageous.” Maybe yes, maybe no. We don’t have enough info to make that call IMO.

    We certainly don’t have enough info to start bashing Korean culture, which when it comes to the authority of the pilot in command, is not all that different from ours. By issuing the verbal warning, at least Korean Air is sending the message that should that pilot make future similar”jokes,” he will be subject to more serious disciplinary action. As @ Dennis stated, a referral to an employee assistance program and drug/alcohol testing would also be good ideas to the extent the employer has the ability to do it.

  18. Nice logic John,

    Try that the next time you’re at an airport and say you “wish you had a bomb to speed things up”. I’m sure local authorities will appreciate your distinction that you don’t actually have one with you, and are only joking, and let you go with a warning.

    Let us know how it goes!

  19. Every pilot should know just like every driver that drinking alcohol is not permitted! End of any discussions! I know some of you will say 0.08 blood alcohol level, blah blah blah. Just don’t drink and drive! Just don’t drink and fly an aircraft with 300 people onboard!

  20. Is this not typical of the class system in that part of the world. If memory serves was there not an incident many years ago where a Korean cargo flight crashed due to the 1st officer challenging the Captain during take off.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *