Korean Air Nut Lady Sentenced To One Year In Jail

Filed Under: Korean Air

I’ve written extensively about the Korean Air nut rage incident, which happened last December on a Korean Air A380 flight from New York JFK to Seoul Incheon. During this incident, a Korean Air executive demanded the plane be turned around because she wasn’t pleased with the way she was served macadamia nuts.


For those of you not familiar with the saga, see my previous posts on the subject:

Anyway, this case has taken on a life of its own beyond the airline industry, given that it really gets at the class struggle between the Korean middle class and the ruling families in the country. I figured nothing would ever come of it, though Heather Cho has been in court, and last we heard she could face up to 15 years in prison.

Well, the judge has now ruled, and Heather Cho has been sentenced to one year in jail.

Per BBC News:

Heather Cho, also known as Hyun-ah, was jailed for one year, avoiding a possible maximum sentence of 10 years.

Cho, who was a vice-president with the airline, was found guilty of obstructing aviation safety.

Here’s what the judge had to say:

“This is a case where human dignity was trampled upon,” Judge Oh Sung-woo said on Thursday.

Cho had treated the flight “as if it was her own private plane”, Judge Oh added. “It is doubtful that the way the nuts were served was so wrong.”

The judge said Cho has failed to show enough remorse even after she submitted letters to the court apologising for the incident.

And here’s what her defense team had to say:

In court, Cho wept as she read a letter of contrition, a contrition the judge said he didn’t accept was genuine.

Prosecutors had asked for a sentence of three years in prison on charges of breaking aviation law, assault and interfering in an investigation.

Witnesses testified during the trial that Cho struck a crewmember with the service manual.

Her defence team argued that aviation safety had not been violated as the plane was still being pushed by a truck away from the gate.

However, the judge rejected that argument saying the plane was classed as “in flight” and she interfered, correspondents say.

Bottom line

I’m not going to lie, I feel kind of bad for her. Don’t get me wrong, she clearly deserved this, but at the same time I can’t help but feel like the way she acted was simply a result of her upbringing. Then again, that’s the case for most people that act poorly.

What do you think — is a year in jail a fair sentence for Heather Cho?


  1. This is nuts. I guess 1 year is peanuts compared to 15. I hope she learns how to come out of her shell in prison and acts less salty.

  2. I live in Korea, and I can testify that nothing changed since the happening. Younger people are treated in a worse manner by older people (compared to what I think should be customary), and lower-ranked individuals employed in a company often are told to do the most boring, tedious, and unwanted tasks (buying coffee for others, copying papers, cleaning up after others) and are still expected to turn up before all of their seniors turn up. I remember being bullied in school for saying “hey” to Korean upperclassmen (in English, as I attended an American School)

    The reason for this stubbornness to change is culture. Yes, it isn’t the ideal culture that the west is going to implement anytime soon, but this is Asia. Nothing will change how people value rank and status until a considerable amount of time passes.

  3. She clearly is an arrogant fool and she clearly deserves losing her job(s), in my opinion. Possibly also a suspended jail term of a month or so for the “assault.” But a year in jail is just stupid. She is clearly being a scapegoat for decades of frustration with the elite and is being punished for the collective arrogance and nepotism of the ruling families, which is obviously wrong.

  4. IMO, she certainly deserves what she’s getting. I don’t think for a second she’s really sorry for what she did, she’s just sorry she got caught and is being called to account for it.

  5. 1 year in jail is a bit much, I’d agree. I’d say that a reasonable punishment is that she’ll lose her job and she can’t leave the country for a year or two.

  6. A bit over the top with one year.

    She was doing her job, she just went about it in a totally wrong way. Screaming sessions should taken place on the ground in South Korea.

  7. A bit over the top with one year.

    For obstruction of justice? She is accused of pressuring the victims to lie to investigators – that’s a pretty big deal. As in so many of these cases, it’s not so much the crime that gets you it’s the attempted coverup.

  8. Ben,

    If you or any other passenger were to act the exact same way in a first class cabin you would definitely get at least 5 years in prison. Had someone thrown a similar fit in economy they probably would get 10. She got off easy. I don’t care what her upbringing was, millions of people had faced upbringings full of serious challenges and have become a far better person than this nut-job. She’s an adult, she’s has had life filled with opportunities that 99.99% of the people of world can’t even dream of ever happen. At what point do you think she’s responsible for developing some character?

  9. When a case like this reaches levels that it did here it almost becomes two parts: 1) The individual; 2) The fundamental problem that is being addressed.

    On an individual level, a one year sentence might seem a big excessive, especially since no one got hurt and the level of illegality is questionable. The biggest issues involved are one of ethics and appropriate behavior. People certainly have done worse crimes and have received less physical punishment.

    With that said, the problem for Heather Cho is that this issue has gone beyond her as an individual and become something of a way to address and exemplify a systemic problem that occurs in Korean society. Cho has now been made an example of the problems between average middle class society and the power and influence of the chaebols.

    The predominate viewpoint in Korean and in the rest of the western world is that Cho actions were wrong not just on a personal level but indicative of a larger problem – anything short of a ‘throw the book at her’ response would be construed as being a condoning of sorts of the current situation.

    So, unfortunately for Cho, she has been made an example out of the bigger problem that goes beyond her individual actions and has become the face of all of those who want to make social change. So we’ll see in the end whether this whole incident has any real lasting effect in Korea but suffice to say that Heather Cho is paying the price for a lot of ills in addition to her own.

  10. @Bill Curious to know what makes you think someone would “definitely” get at least 5 years in prison for this. That seems incredibly excessive to me. Do you mean in South Korea? In the US? I’m not saying you’re necessarily wrong, that just seems absolutely insane to me.

    I did a quick search and found case where an unruly passenger caused a transcon flight to be diverted to Denver and he was sentenced to 3 months. That seems like a more extreme situation than this one, since the plane was actually already in the air and had to be diverted midway across the country. And yet the guy only got 3 months. So, based on this limited research, I find it hard to believe that someone would “definitely” get 5 years, let alone 10.

  11. “This is nuts. I guess 1 year is peanuts compared to 15. I hope she learns how to come out of her shell in prison and acts less salty.”

    I almost shot green tea through my nose laughing at this comment. King of puns!

  12. This is just a ridiculous decision. The only thing that concerns me is that the airline apparently tried to bully the witnesses. They are the ones who should be punished.

  13. I did a quick search and found case where an unruly passenger caused a transcon flight to be diverted to Denver and he was sentenced to 3 months.

    But, if it was an enraged airline VP that caused the diversion and the he pressured the flight attendants to lie to the investigators – then the sentence would go up significantly.

  14. Supposedly 1 year but in a regular prison cell with her money and connections. I doubt that very much
    And I doubt she actually serves anything close to that. She’ll get special treatment and will be out in months.

  15. The Korean people and the world can sleep tonight knowing justice has been served
    It is now safe for every woman man and child to walk the street and get on a plane again
    There has never been a criminal more evil and menacing than nut lady in any society
    She should have gotten life or the death penalty but they let her off easy
    Just nuts!

  16. She didn’t learn her lesson. Chae bols don’t need to learn their lesson. These situations just make them smarter about it the next time. All this is a publicity stunt too. They probably negotiated on the back end with the judge in advance since that’s what power, money and connections provide. That’s why she’s only getting a year. And she probably won’t even get through her full 1 year in jail. They have to make sure the punishment appears harsh and then follow up with some event in the future that makes her look good to show that she has transformed into a better person, which ultimately helps her family image. Having the judge hesitate just makes the public system look like they’re doing their job right so people can try to gain trust in the system.

    What’s awesome is that her punishment is a sign that the people’s voice as a society is getting stronger in Korea. You would never see this happen 20 years ago. But for REAL change to happen and someone to actually have justice served… I doubt I’ll see that during my lifetime for Korea for a chaebol. And the sentence and treatment would be totally different if she were a man… but at least this is all a step in the right direction IMO.

  17. I am a former Aircraft despatch officer (not from Korea ) It is reported that a South Korean court has found a former Korean Air executive guilty of violating aviation safety law and jailed her for one year.

    The court in Seoul ruled on Thursday that Cho Hyun-ah,was guilty of breaking the aviation law by forcing a flight to change its route.

    Technically the aircraft in question was shown connected to a vehicle (Tug ) during pushback and not under its own power so the B747 was officially under the control of the ground handlers and not the Captain of the aircraft

    The aircraft could not have taxied or flown by itself until the aircraft was physically disconnected from the tug and the Captain notified and returned to the ground crew an affirmative action.

    Irrespective of her actions on board (which i do not condone )the court ruling is inconsistent with industry regulations of who is in control of the aircraft and so the ruling should be dismissed under the air navigation safe act.

    This would be worth while following up or at least clarify the law.

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