Korean Air Executive Resigns Over Nuts

Filed Under: Korean Air, Media

Yesterday I shared the crazy story about the Korean Air executive that seemed to lose it after a flight attendant dared to serve her macadamia nuts in a package rather than in a ramekin.

Korean Air first class macadamia nuts

Her attention to detail and frustration wasn’t inappropriate given that she was actually the vice president in charge of onboard service. So while the way nuts are served seems minor, in first class the expectation is that everything is perfect, and clearly that wasn’t the case here.

At the same time, it seems like this is a situation that could be dealt with after the fact without humiliating the flight attendant and turning the plane around. After all, what good is stranding a flight attendant while inconveniencing 400+ people supposed to do?

Well, it seems I wasn’t the only one that found this story to be nuts, since Heather Cho has now resigned from her role at Korean Air, though retains her title as vice president. Via CNN:

A Korean Air executive has resigned from some of her duties after she ordered a flight to be turned around to the gate and a flight attendant off the plane because she was served nuts in a bag instead of on a plate.

Heather Cho, whose Korean name is Cho Hyun-ah, resigned Tuesday from the airline’s catering and in-flight sales business, and its cabin service and hotel business divisions, an airline spokesman said.

But she is keeping her title as a vice president of the national carrier, he said.

This is what happens when the chairman of the company employs all three of his kids at the airline, I guess. 😉

I was kind of surprised that in the comments section of the last post many of you said “good for her.” I totally agree it’s unacceptable (well, in the realm of #.0001%firstworldproblems) that the flight attendant served the nuts in a package since that’s not the procedure. At the same time, I just don’t see how dealing with the situation like this was the solution.

What do you guys think of the tables being turned here, and the executive being the “loser” in this case?

  1. If I was in first class on that plane witnessing the situation, the following would have happened;

    1 – I tell Cho Hyun to also get the fu#k out of this plane making me miss my connection
    2 – in Case she refuses, than I punch her in the face , since I can’t kick her in the balls and I get kicked out. Hey, I already missed my connection so who cares, but I feel much better

    Either way… the plane would fly with one less passenger on first class.

  2. I agree with the spirit of Endre if not the depth of his reaction… 😉

    With that said, clearly in the service industry, of which an airline is a part of, the first duty is to the passenger. While Cho was a passenger per se, she was a company agent and as such has different expectations and role to play with regards to dealing with other employees.

    The level of disservice by offering nuts in a carton instead of on a plate does not rise to the level that was displayed. Clearly there was some ego problems going on there, or a bad hair day. I do realize that the typical employer-employee relationship is different in Asian cultures than American cultures, but general business practices are the same. The golden rule in management is Praise Publicly Punish Privately.

    Not only was it over the top how she treated the flight attendant, not to mention the inconvenience to the passengers who are FIRST AND FOREMOST in the service industry. Cho should have been disciplined for the suffering of the passengers more so than the humiliation put upon to the flight attendant.

    I travel like everyone else on this blog as well as many other things. I have expectations in life about things as we all do. With that said, if something doesn’t meet my expectations, I will deal with it and let someone know about it in the most appropriate way. Getting served nuts in a bag and not on a plate doesn’t constitute a crisis on my side so I won’t make it a crisis on the other side.

  3. Seems like a fair response to me. Whatever her issues with the flight attendant, delaying the passengers and costing the company money (what is the cost of an extra 30 minutes of taxing on an A-380) was obviously not the proper response.

    Also lucky I think you are missing a word in this sentence “This is what the chairman of the company employs all three of his kids at the airline, I guess.”

  4. Of course she’ll keep a job somewhere in the conglomerate, her father *is* the CEO.

    Note this, from Bloomburg: “’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.

    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.”

    She completely overstepped. Aside from being exceptionally unprofessional, rude, and arrogant.

  5. Actually, turns out after she summoned the chief FA, she told him he needs to go check the manual and read it to make sure he is doing it right. He didn’t even know the password to the iPad tablet with the training instructions!

    It is her job and I think she took it very seriously as it is her family’s legacy on the line. If the guy didn’t know the password to the tablet for the manual, how is he supposed to know safety and etc? She did the right thing. The guy was ill trained and not ready for flight.

  6. Meanwhile, in completely superficial problems of the people who are so rich they have to make up stupid things to care about because they’ve become so detached from having REAL problems…

    Nuts? Really? Bitch, please.

  7. Here is my take on this. She was completely wrong in the way she reacted and should suffer the legal consequences over her act. However, if you look simply on her role as VP of onboarding services I understand her frustration since by getting nuts served in a plastic bag goes against the rules of what was instructed by her team as procedure for serving first class passengers. Imagine if Lucky was sitting there and was served nuts in a plastic bag. He would make a comment in his blog and it would be all over the news and the crew would be in trouble. In this case, it was a very bad way for the Korean crew to put in practice all they learned in their jobs. They were probably aware that the big boss was sitting there. No better opportunity to go above and beyond and providing an immaculate service to impress the big boss. Again, her reaction was terrible but if that happened in my company where I screw up in front of our CEO for basically not following the company rules I would be fired. As for the captain, he probably knew who she was and also feared for his job if he confronted her. Very difficult situation to be in his spot.

  8. from some of the news articles i’ve read, seems like she had the captain’s backing on her actions, so technically this was the captain’s decision as much as hers. it is possible her position and that of her father’s in the company may have pressured the captain enough to side with her, lest his own career be put in jeopardy, but this is just speculation on my part.

    while i do think she did blow things out of proportion, in the end, the flight arrived only 11 minutes behind schedule (which is a lot better than what i can say for many domestic flights), so i don’t think passengers were inconvenienced too much.

    just to play devil’s advocate, i do think the media is coming down quite hard on her. based on what i have read, the flight attendant that got thrown off the plane was not the flight attendant that served her the nuts in the bag, but rather the head flight attendant/service manager. cho had questioned him about the nut service procedure after receiving the bag of nuts, instead of served in a ramekin. instead of reciting what the proper service procedure should be, the head servive manager lied and made stuff up. if i were a boss and he were an employee of mine, lying to my face to cover a mistake would definitely piss me off and potentially warrant a firing. as head service manager, he is supposed to know every detail about service on the flight, especially in the ultra competitive space of first class service where passengers can be notoriously picky (i.e. some of us). not recognizing a deficiency and lying about it to his superior (who is being picky in order to better the service quality) qualifies as a failure in my books. however, i do think he should have been disciplined after the flight landed, instead what happened.

  9. It seems like there is little or no managerial training at Korean Air. Yes, the situation should have been dealt with. Even make a personal apology to each F customer for the actions of the flight attendant. Yes, discipline the flight attendant or check training protocols to see where the deficiency happened. But none of these actions should affect the plane and flight. The reaction of the VP tells me she did not know how to deal with the situation other than by expelling the flight attendant. Why not push her to some other duty on the plane? So many ways to deal with it and Cho chose the absolute wrong option.

  10. I agree with Sice completely. There are two issues here: 1) Actions of Cho towards the flight crew; 2) Actions with regards to the plane and the passengers. It does not really matter that the flight was delayed only 11 minutes. The fact that the planes operations were altered for something that had nothing to do with the operation of the plane is paramount to anything question of service level. Had the flight attendant gotten into an argument with a passenger, refused to serve someone, or performed another action that would have made the flight difficult I could have understood the reaction and the reaction towards the crew supervisor. With that said, a failure of service protocol does not warrant an additional failure of service. If I was on the plane, and later read of this I would be upset. It is not the 11 minutes but the fact that as a paying passenger, MY basic interests were lost in all of this, the fact that I paid Korean Air to get me from New York to Soeul.

  11. If this were just over nuts, I would probably agree with you. According to Cho , however, Cho claimed that after she received the nuts in the bag and reprimanded the purser, she started asking the purser about other policies and protocols the KE crew are supposed to follow and the purser failed to answer correctly/lied. If that account to be believed, then the nuts were merely a warning that the purser was failing to do her job correctly. Given that the purser is one of the most important crew members on the flight, and that a purser’s job is not just about putting nuts in bowls, but also about airplane safety, I could see how Cho wouldn’t want her being in charge of a 12+ hour A380 flight from JFK-ICN.

    She probably should have just fired her on the spot, let her fly back to ICN and handled it there, but on the other hand the flight was only delayed by 11 minutes (I mean if anyone had an international connection where 11 minutes made the difference between making the connection and missing it, they shouldn’t have booked that connection in the first place) which is pretty negligible in the grand scheme of things.

  12. @Lantean

    Sure the Captain has final say on whether to return to the gate or not. But I imagine he’d like to keep his job, so he complied.

  13. Karma is a b***h. Although I am not a betting man, I would be willing to wager that this is not Cho’s first blow up. I somehow can’t imagine Ms Cho just stopping a plane over peanuts (NPI) on her first and only blow up/meltdown or whatever you want to call it. Usually such behavior would go on over a period of time and escalate, hence the spoilt brat syndrome. I think she got what she deserved – and she should have been fired from all her positions.

  14. @chasgoose – If Cho was so well versed on policy (which she should be if that’s her responsibility) and if the purser was so deficient/subordinate about it then why not relieve the purser of duty and find someone to fill in with help from Cho. Lots of ‘ifs’ here but if that were me I’d have no problem stepping in to fill a hole in the crew. With her knowledge of policy I’d think she’d look at this as a training session while constantly examining policies in her head for future changes to training. So many lost opportunities to help the team grow and improve; all Cho did was throw a fit and exert that she was in charge.

  15. Kores Airlines has reputation for crew problems. They had so many safety issues and accidents that Delta almost kicked them out of Skyteam. I cannot believe some of comments here. Going back to the gate at JFK can potentially cause a flight to not be able to take off for an hour plus. This bimbo daughter of the CEO is a prime example of why family members should not be in employed. What a conflict of interest! To me, Korea Airlines is another airline that I will not fly.

  16. The fact that anyone, employee or otherwise, would raise a stink about how they are served their nuts, is utterly inane. Bloggers and DYKWIA pax included.

    As a non-rev passenger who should understand that the comfort and convenience of commercial passengers comes first, she deserved to be fired.

    Finally, if she really cared about the quality of onboard product, she would fly where the majority of passengers fly – in Economy.

  17. As someone who grew up in Southern California, we just see this as typical of someone who attended the University of Southern California (USC, or as we locals call it, “University of Spoiled Children or University of Sports Cheaters) as Ms. Cho did:

    1) Doesn’t really have any job skills;
    2) Got the job from daddy;
    3) Feels overly entitled;
    4) Likes to ‘act out’ to show how important they are and ends up looking like, well, someone who delays an international flight because their nuts weren’t served on the proper plate.

  18. This is why ALL Non US carriers, especially the Asian airlines are 1000000 times better than US carriers.

    Non US carriers have far better service, respect for its customers, and better in flight service.

    I won’t be surprised if US carriers will start using plastics for biz and first class passengers

  19. @DavidYoung
    You must know Ms. Cho personally either from being her friend or have worked with her. You listed very specific traits of Ms. Cho in your comment. You must be real close with her if you know “she doesn’t have any job skills”, “Daddy gave her the job” and etc.

    How do you know she doesn’t have any skills? Have you worked with her? Have you provided her job evaluation and performance appraisal?

    Like many others have said here, while her solution to the problem was overblown and she missed a few good opportunities to institute improvement on the spot, her assessment of the Purser’s skills and performance was right. I wouldn’t be confident to work under a Purser who doesn’t know the basic standards of the services, doesn’t know the procedures when asked and biggest offense of all, doesn’t have the access to the services manual (the purser didn’t even know the password to the flight electronic manual on the Purser iPad). This is simply unacceptable if you are in a Team Leader position, a leader that is responsible for a whole aircraft load of staff and passengers. If something worse did happen and crew members approach this Purser for guidance or guideline, think about it, what incompetency.

    Ms. Cho was very right in her assessment of this incompetent Purser but was definitely wrong on her actions dealing with it. Whether or not that go far to prove she lacks any skills as you said is beyond anyone assumption based on the information available.

    For you and other people who come out to say such loaded assumption with such limited information, it just shows how lack of skills you yourself have.

    You acted out in your comment just like what you accused Ms. Cho. Jealous and hate rich people much there DavidYoung?

  20. @ Joe — So where do you draw the line as to what matters for a “top” first class product? If it’s okay to serve nuts in the bag as opposed to the ramekin despite the manual saying otherwise, is it also okay to serve food in first class in a plastic container? Where do you draw the line? I agree this was a total overreaction, but I do think this would be cause for concern, especially if you’re head of onboard service.

  21. @ Lantean — You think the captain would have a job after the flight if he didn’t back the chairman’s daughter? This is a person who would kick someone off over nuts? I see why the captain “backed” her.

  22. @YVR604Flyer most of us had no idea about her. Most of us, who live on flights most of our life, any disruption to schedule is stressful. Most of us didn’t question if the head of attendants should not be fired or whatever. Most of us found it very much against any rules and regulations to pull a plane back with 300-380 people from runway because an employee of the airline didn’t know the company policy how to serve nuts. Taxing a CRJ back to gate unexpectedly causes enough headache to ground control and scheduling, never less an A380. Most of us found it ridicules that a person, whoever she/he may be, has the authority to do such a thing.

  23. @YVR604 – dude, do they not have sarcasm in Vancouver?

    That being said, this type of behaviour is stereotypical of a “USC” attendee. It’s not necessarily true for all of them; but true enough to be a common stereotype. .

  24. @Endre
    So what is your point Endre in response to my comment? My comment was pretty clear that she was wrong in her actions/solutions. So we have the same takes on that. What is your point??

    My comment was to clearly indicate that for anyone to come out and say she lacks any skills at all is…well simply stupid-arrogant. If anything based on the info. most of us have via this forum and other news outlets, Ms. Cho has one quality and that is she has high expectation for customer service. She also has the ability to assess and rationalize whether or not her employee is competent or not. So we know that she has that one skills. But her way of dealing with it was absolutely messy bananas, that I agree.

  25. 1. If you read any NTSB reports about plane crashes you’ll often find some disruption that focused everyone’s attention away from the safe operation of the aircraft. To disrupt the operations of the aircraft to such a degree isn’t a safe thing to do absent a safety of flight issue.

    2. Also, if the service and knowledge was this bad that means there had been numerous training and supervision errors and it’s not the fault of one or more bad employees. This is a management problem that needs to be dealt with by Ms. Cho and her direct reports first.

    3. Yes, with passengers paying $10k for a flight – these kinds of service items are important.

  26. After reading more into this and doing some research, it turns out the nuts WEREN’T the reason the plane was turned around.

    The media is just using the NUTS AS A WAY TO GET ATTENTION.

    Cho reprimanded the purser and the flight attendant after seeing the bag of nuts. She then asked the purser some questions which HE (not a she) knew nothing about! Some of the pop quiz questions were about first class protocol and some were about safety. He knew none of the answers.

    Cho then asked him to look it up in a manual. He did not know the password on the tablets with the manuals which Cho found unacceptable. She bought this to the attention of the captain and together they decided the purser was not fit or trained for flight. Especially the SAFETY part of it.

  27. The problem isn’t her reprimanding either the FA or the service manager (or whatever that title is). The problem is how she chose to deal with it. Yes, these people employees probably deserved some sort of punishment, but kicking the service manager off the plane while delaying it? That is way over the top. Send them to work in economy for the rest of the flight, have them not work and just stay in the crew’s cabin, put them on toilet duty, whatever. But the way she chose to handle the situation is the issue, and it was extremely unprofessional.

    Also, saying that since the plane arrived *only* 11 minutes late is justification for what she did, well, that’s more luck than anything else.

  28. @DavidYoung

    I don’t know. I can’t merely tell people being sarcastic on a written blog comment. I didn’t see any winking face.

  29. I think UpTownGurl has it right. I am not following this story all tat closely but she did not kick out the FA that gave her the nuts in a bag instead of the dish. She kicked off the Chief FA because he was incompetent (or at least didn’t have the answers to her questions) about standard operating procedures. Am I right? In that case, I would want to fly with a competent crew too.

  30. According to the comments from the previous thread many of Lucky’s readers were either amused or outright congratulatory of this lady’s tantrum. Many also claimed it was a benefit to the customers. In the case of First Class that claim is debatable at best and it’s rather disingenuous to imply the bulk of passengers seated in back benefited in any way whatsoever. So far as I can tell all they received was a completely unnecessary delay due to the actions of a fellow passenger. I have far less desire to fly Korean Airlines after they initially tried to excuse the daughter’s outlandish behavior and allowed her to remain employed even after the story became worldwide news. That being said it really hits home how bad American service has become if we’re willing to cheer on a tyrant over something as ridiculous as when and how to serve nuts to a tiny handful of passengers on an aircraft that seats hundreds.

  31. @ Lucky – Look, to be fair I don’t know where to “draw the line” on such minor things. I do feel pretty strongly that having your nuts served in a bag as opposed to a dish, whatever the manual says, is not it.

    In this case, the problem is presumably just a human error, not a systemic one. If it happened all the time, you try to figure out why it’s happening, and try to find the cause of the problem. More often than not, such systemic issues are the result of larger problems – for example, perhaps the crew finds not enough time to plate the nut dish before wheels up, so corners get cut. A good manager (especially an expensively trained MBA) should know this, and would do their best to make sure that the systems are amended to avoid such problems occurring again and again.

    A human error is exactly that. If the error happens just once, you point out the error, try to get it fixed, and move on. I think most frequent fliers are smart enough to make an assessment as to which is which, and to behave accordingly.

    I DO know that a non-rev passenger is a non-rev passenger, regardless of their title or position. When traveling as a non-rev, your primary responsibility is to ensure that no one is really aware of your presence. You defer to the crew, and your expectation is that commercial passengers receive priority over you for everything – your seat, your meal, your overhead locker – I mean, everything.

    For this executive to behave as she did shows a distinct lack of professionalism, regardless of her role and the minor infringement of nut protocol. As Head of Onboard Service, it is pretty disgraceful.

  32. Wow, this discussion is overflowing with hateful, mysogenist comments. Ben, is this the standard of discourse you’re looking for on your site?

  33. How did this person get into the “Purser” position? Was there no proficiency testing? Job Knowledge testing? Who was responsible for that? I can answer that, Heather Cho. She is the vice president in charge of in-flight services and the airline’s hotel businesses. That is according to the Wall Street Journal. Very obvious who needs to be terminated, Heather Cho. Mediocrity breeds mediocrity, perfect example. Korean Air Lines has a history of problems. Korean even hired a retired Delta VP, David Greenberg to reorganize the company, in 2000. KE had a history of hiring relatives and promoting based on connections and friendships. I’m guessing that the problems are back.

  34. Does kicking the chief attendant off the plane somehow improved the safety level???

    I hope she gets her just desserts, not some token resignation from a position.

  35. Will Korean Air be returning as a Chase Ultimate Rewards transfer partner? Chase and Korean have terrible customer service, they didn’t let give any notice about the partnership ending.

  36. The main point is being missed here. This does compromise the safety of the flight. If the Captain felt he or she had no choice but to go back to the gate….what happens when Miss Cho decides that he or she is not flying the plane in a manner suitable or acceptable to her? The Captain should also be fired in my opinion, but then again Ive worked with Koreans and they DO NOT question those in authority.

    As someone else noted, this is exactly why Korean carriers have such problems…all of KE’s crashes back in the 90s because the FO would not question the Captain and basically just sat there and watched the planes fly into the mountains.

    Enough is enough!

    Asiana and its SFO mess..and then the Korean government and that stupid 45 day ban.

    Not to mention the ferry sinking (transport related).

    I think South Korea has massive massive problems and now this makes me think twice about stepping onboard one of their carriers now that I know THE CAPTAIN CLEARLY DOES NOT HAVE FINAL SAY!!.

    This bag of peanuts will cost both Korean carriers tens of millions in lost business.

  37. Actually, the FA served Ms. Cho without asking her whether she wanted nuts or not. This can be a serious liability issue for the company as people may have severe allergic reactions to nuts but may not know of it.

  38. “this discussion is overflowing with hateful, [misogynist] comments”

    I think it is overflowing with hyperbole from people looking for things which do not exist…

    “This can be a serious liability issue for the company as people may have severe allergic reactions to nuts but may not know of it.”

    If they don’t know they are allergic, then it wouldn’t matter if they were asked or not.

  39. No matter how big of an executive you are, even if you own 100% of the airline company, if you are sitting in First class, you are still considered a passenger of the plane. Regardless of your executive position, you should leave all decisions regarding safety and procedures to the Captain of the plane. And no matter how many mistakes the flight attendant made, it should have been dealt with after the conclusion of the flight at ICN. This is a terrible incident that could have been handled much better.

  40. Resigning was unnecessary. It would’ve been more fun to hear what happened to the offending flight attendant.

  41. This entire story is unreal. Why not just open the damn bag and eat the macadamia nuts? Don’t First Class passengers have fingers….!!!??? Yikes. The entire story is totally stupid. Who gives a flying f*ck whether the nuts are in a bag or on a plate? I’m glad not to have these types of “problems”… lol

  42. Al says: “Resigning was unnecessary. It would’ve been more fun to hear what happened to the offending flight attendant.”

    She didn’t resign from her paycheck, only from her duties as an obnoxious princess. Apparently you’re unfamiliar with the repeated antics of the spoiled rotten Cho family. Or maybe you’re just unfamiliar with holding a job.

    Link: http://finance.yahoo.com/news/nut-rage-spat-latest-stumble-korean-air-family-100334576–finance.html

  43. Clearly the media has blown this whole situation out of the water… As the media do. Anything for a good story. The truth is, we don’t REALLY know what went on. I’m in a mind to believe that the whole situation was not over the “nuts”, but the media grabbed at this and milked it for all it was worth!

    To personally attack this woman about her background is not really helpfull, I actually think a woman as educated as this, holding this kind of senior position, would take her job very seriously and follow the correct procedure.

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to participate in the discussion, please adhere to our commenting guidelines. Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *