Korean Air Flight Delayed Over Nuts

Filed Under: Korean Air

Well this story is just nuts! A Korean Air flight on Friday from New York to Seoul returned to the gate after an angry executive seated in first class wasn’t pleased with how she was served her nuts.

Korean Air A380

Via Yahoo News:

Heather Cho, 40, was in a first class seat on a flight bound from New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport for Incheon, near Seoul, on Friday when she took issue with a flight attendant who handed her macadamia nuts in a bag and not on a dish, according to local media reports and an industry source.

Cho, a vice president at the airline, summoned the cabin crew chief to ask whether the flight attendant was following the in-flight service manual, said the industry official, who was briefed on the matter but declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.

When the crew chief could not answer the question promptly, Cho ordered the crew chief to disembark, prompting the pilot to return the plane to the gate, the industry official said, confirming media reports.

Korean Air first class macadamia nuts

So I have two thoughts about this. First of all, it’s unbelievable this is how a situation like this is dealt with. It is worth noting that she’s actually the senior vice president of onboard service, so it wasn’t wrong of her to notice the mistake and even to bring it up to the flight attendant. But is the way to deal with it really to kick the flight attendant off over this? How about dealing with it after the flight instead? This is just terrible for the airline’s employee morale and corporate culture, I imagine.

The Korean transport ministry is apparently also investigating, though I’m not sure what role they could even play here. This wasn’t a safety issue but rather just a service issue coupled with an over-the-top executive.

I guess this is what happens when the chairman of a company gives all three of his kids executive positions…

(Tip of the hat to Min Soo)

  1. I read that daddy’s little girl, Ms. Cho was flying as a passenger. Can we then assume that her broom was out of service that day?

  2. First thing I would do if I was a head flight attendant or purser would be to Google the names of my first class passengers.

  3. elteetrav is making reference to the fact that Ms. Cho is the daughter of YH Cho, the chairman of the airline. I’ve had my own run ins with Mr. Cho and if he is not happy, you hear about it quickly. I doubt the daughter is much different.

  4. Although it was terrible the way she handled the situation I like that Korean Air will do something about this that will benefit passengers. Take the example of your bad experience when flying China Southern when they served cheap champagne.

  5. I assume that “returned to the gate” delayed 300 or 400 (A380?) passengers at least 30 minutes if not 1 hour. I appreciate the attention to detail, but Ms. Cho should have waited until the flight was over to address the issue.

  6. @MK83, the article stated the flight arrived 11 mins late in ICN.

    If the Qatar CEO Akbar al Baker experienced this on his QR A380 First flight, I wouldn’t be surprised if he did the same thing (or worse!)

  7. I’m not saying what she did was right. That said, if you’re working in First, do you really need the instruction manual to know that you’re meant to use the stack of tiny dishes and not fling bags of nuts at the pax in F?

  8. Maybe she assumed that if the cabin crew didn’t care about presenting properly to the daughter of the chairman, they were going to provide &%[email protected]$#! service to everyone for the entire flight. She has to assume that the treatment she’s getting, as a first class pax, senior employee, AND daughter of top man, is their very best. And if that’s their idea of very best, then maybe she feels a need to send a message. I’m just speculating here, but you know? Most pax who get bad service aren’t in a position to do anything about it, and if they so much as whimper a complaint, THEY can get kicked off or even arrested. So who else, other than a top employee, is going to send a message that employees need to do a premium job if they’re selling a premium product? I’m asking not telling but there could be two sides here.

  9. By American standards, it was a ridiculous overreaction, but we can’t judge another culture on their organizational behavior. KE’s culture has produced a couple flights and service that you tremendously enjoyed, if memory serves?

  10. Dayum! Korean corporate executives don’t play, do they? Sounds like a bad Korean drama. Well, they all pretty much suck anyway, but you know what I mean.

  11. @Justin

    By human being standards, it’s an overreaction. Banish the wench to the crew quarters for the duration of the flight, then chew her out in front of the crew upon arrival (after all the passengers disembark, of course).

  12. I think there are a couple of interesting things here:

    1) she didn’t de-plane the FA who served her nuts but rather the crew chief;
    2) the aforementioned crew chief couldn’t answer a simple question on whether the FA followed the protocol by service nuts in a bag. I find that very puzzling because even an infrequent follower of OMAAT knows that nuts are served in a separate dish in F on most any airline.

    While this sounds like a tough punishment, since the delay was only 11 minutes, it doesn’t sound like a huge deal to me assuming KE made sure no one missed their connections.

  13. I thought in civil aviation, the captain is ultimately in command of the aircraft.

    It sounds like KE is an exception, where the CEO’s daughter (and who knows how many others?) is in command.
    Here’s a simplified org. breakdown – Korean Air, feel free to share this with your employees!

    1. Top Dog: Who knows?
    2. Captain: When there’s not a different Top Dog
    3. FO
    4. Lead FA
    5. Senior FA
    6. Junior FA

    I certainly feel better knowing this. And it must make all the crews feel great knowing the reporting authority changes depending on who is on the flight. And how awesome is it that the cabin crew chief was humiliated in front of many people? How awesome? VERY AWESOME! VERY PROFESSIONAL! Well played, KE, well played indeed! You showed your little people just how little they are!

  14. Assuming Ms. Cho was on Flight 82, her flight on Friday actually arrived earlier than the flights on the proceeding five days. In other words, her corrective actions had zero impact on the on-time performance average.

    I’m certain Ms. Cho’s corrective actions did, indeed, impact the level of service passengers received on the flight (very much for the better). To be clear, this story has nothing to do with nuts. It’s about having service standards and making sure that they are consistently maintained. Frankly, it’s the least that someone should EXPECT when purchasing a $9,000 one way first class ticket on the route.

    I say bravo to Ms. Cho. I also say bravo to Korean Air for demonstrating just how important customer service is to them.

  15. This was all a setup. There was probably something wrong with the plane. So instead of the story being “Korean air plane forced to turn back due to maintenance issue”, they made some BS about Korean Air executive not happy with the level of customer service.

    Give their PR team a raise. Saving face at its finest.

  16. Ivan Y’s comment is the best I’ve seen in a while: “Even an infrequent follower of OMAAT knows that nuts are served in a separate dish in F on most any airline.” Now that’s even funnier than it is true. The variable, if my memory as a faithful reader serves, is whether the nuts are warmed or not . . . .

  17. @ Pu — Not sure how humiliating the daughter of the chairman and making the family look good would be saving face? Over an 11 minute delay?

  18. The issue was about the crew not following procedures which was first asking the passengers before serving. I agree with this decision completely given how serious some of the allergies can be. What if she suffered from nut allergy? Whilst her actions may seem to be rather harsh, I think it is ensuring that service levels are maintained – particularly when flying F

    I also do think that the crew chief by not knowing the answer demonstrated to her that the crew may be a bit weak on their procedures. She may have thought that, god forbid, if the crew had to deal with any emergency procedures then she is indeed taking her chances. I think she did well here

  19. Hmmm… There are numerous stories of Steve Jobs holding his employees to high standards regardless of how it impacted their happiness / stress levels. His high standards and attention to detail are part of what led him to be considered a visionary genius. Ms. Cho follows the same model, but it leads to her being considered an irrational “B”. Sounds like a double standard to me. Especially when people suggest she only has the job through nepotism without knowing anything about her. Disembarking the crew chief may have been an inconvenience, but if he/she didn’t know basic service standards what else was his/her level of knowledge deficient on? This also could be a respect issue if the crew chief blew her off at first. An executive that let’s that happen will have credibility problems. I think she is doing her job. Lower standards are what lead to crew like Ms. Peggy.

  20. Have to agree with wwk5d about it being an over reaction even if it was her area of responsibility, while service is the whole reason for First to exist the possibility of delaying the flight and risking passengers missing their connections is not worth it.

    This should have been dealt with on the ground in S.Korea,if needed take the crew members in question off flight status and have them report directly to her office and stand at attention while she chewed them out.

    If load on flight was low enough swap around crew and send the offending crew members to the crew area to reflect on their sins.

    Do now risk delaying the flight (JFK and delays in take off?) and do not create a scene in front the passengers, especially First.

    Assuming the Captain flew faster to make up lost time I wonder how much this stunt cost in extra fuel costs for Korean?

  21. Remember, this is a country where everyone believes electric fans cause “fan death” by various means including my favorite: They chop up the oxygen molecules.
    The should have offered her an electric fan.

    Don’t believe it? Ask a Korean.

  22. i am a loyal KAL customer because i find their customer care impeccable most of the time. so i can understand the executive’s freak reaction.
    having said that, i don’t think the passengers should have been inconvenienced for an act of disciplining an employee. that is a company internal matter and should not have eat up customers’ precious time whether it be 5 minutes or 5 hours.

  23. I find that serving nuts in a bag in first class to a company executive is unacceptable. It’s not really about Ms. Cho being a spolied bratty person, but think about it. The retail price of F class is in tens of thousands, and service is everything in premium travel. The mishap of the FA I think is tremendously worrisome. Also, considering this is an Korean airliner, where respect and service is paramount I am not prone to pounce KE’s handling of the situation. (Honestly, public servants in Korea in post offices serves people better than first class flight attendants on a domestic flight in the states).

    Maybe the issue should have been addressed after landing in ICN sure, but I can understand from the management’s point of view of how disturbing for such dismal show of repsect and service by the FA.

  24. 11 mins late doesnt sound like a lot but that flight is generally always early — sometimes as much as 45 mins because it’s always “#1 for take off” and always “#1 for landing” given the departure and flight times.

    but even if was on time, that doesn’t change the fact that only the pilot has the authority to return the plane back to the gate and this clearly was not an emergency. moreover i would think even if the plane was at the gate, only the pilot has the authority to kick one of his/her crew off the plane.

  25. Ms Cho threw a temper tantrum, that is all. That is what spoilt brats tend to do. It can sometimes be kind of cute when they are 2 or 3 years old, but definitely not when they are 40 years old and supposedly “executives”. More serious when hundreds of people are affected by that temper tantrum. Ms Cho had no way of knowing how long a delay would be because of throwing the person off the plane. Just looks like an “executive” out of control. A professional executive would have addressed this on the ground in Korea. Shame on Ms Cho.

  26. It was an incident sometime back whereby a 4 year old passenger almost died due to a severe case of nut. While the KE Chief Flight Attendant’s mistake may seem trivial, it could have led to severe consequences if the circumstances were similar. It would have been a long 13 hour flight, so necessary precautions are important against any incompetence that may result in health hazard or even death, especially if the incompetence came from the Chief Flight Attendant, someone whose job carries high responsibilities. But of course, the VP’s actions can only be justified from a medical/safety standpoint. If it was just about not serving what she wanted, then she’s just being petty and power-abusive.

  27. Firing the employee for providing substandard service (that can also potentially cause a huge liability issue for the company, if the customer has nut allergies) isn’t wrong, but she definitely could have handled it better. Like many have said, if she absolutely needed to fire anyone, that can always wait after the flight, when they’ve landed in S.Korea.

    However, I find it odd how people consistently referred to the official policy of the captain being the ultimate authority. On technicality, sure the captain has authority while the plane’s doors are closed, but does he want to have authority for just this one last flight? If Cho merely “suggested” to the captain that he should return to the gate, do you seriously think the captain would refuse?

  28. @Bob: “Ms. Cho follows the same model, but it leads to her being considered an irrational “B”. Sounds like a double standard to me.”

    Actually, there are plenty of stories about Steve Jobs that show how he could be a complete asshole. Maybe if you were in the US you’d have heard some of them by now.

    “Disembarking the crew chief may have been an inconvenience”

    It wasn’t merely an “inconvenience”; it was also against regulations.

  29. To Ivan Y,

    That’s what I wonder, too. That crew chief’s issue, although not directly causing any problem this time, might cause serious issues in emergency such as a customer’s having medical emergency. Wondering why most people are only criticizing Cho. Hope it’s not simply for fun…

  30. I believe the matter should have been delt in a professional way than they way its been delt with. there should be always a way to satisfy the customer, or make show that the customer is serviced in a way she or he is happy with.

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