Asia

Korean Air executive 'made steward kneel over nut rage'

  • 13 December 2014
  • From the section Asia
Media captionHeather Cho spoke so quietly at a news conference she could barely be heard

A cabin crew chief says he was forced to kneel and ask forgiveness by the daughter of Korean Air's chairman, before being ordered off a flight.

Heather Cho, who was an executive at the airline, was furious after being served nuts in a bag, not on a plate.

Describing the incident for the first time, the head steward said the company had tried to persuade him to change his story.

The incident has sparked anger and mockery across South Korea.

'Insulted and shamed'

Ms Cho was in first class on a Korean Air flight leaving New York for Incheon in South Korea last week when she demanded a crew member be removed for the manner in which she was served macadamia nuts.

"People who haven't experienced [such abuse] will not understand that feeling of being insulted and shamed," head steward Park Chang-jin told South Korea's KBS television network.

After being confronted about the nuts, he said he was made to kneel down in front of the executive before Ms Cho yelled for the crew to "call right now and stop the plane".

"I will stop this plane from leaving," she is said to have shouted.

Image caption Heather Cho forced the plane to return to the gate and made the cabin crew chief take another flight

Mr Park said that in such a situation, he did not dare to refuse the "owner's daughter". He left the plane and returned to South Korea on a different flight.

Once home, officials from the airline came to his home to ask him to say that Ms Cho did not use abusive language and that he had voluntarily got off the plane, he said.

Korean Air initially defended Ms Cho, noting that she was responsible for overseeing flight service in her role as vice-president, but the company later apologised.

Top family

The government says it is looking into whether Ms Cho, heiress to her father's fortune, violated safety regulations by ordering the plane back to the gate.

On Friday, she bowed in apology when she spoke to reporters outside a government building, where she was due to meet transport officials.

Her father also held a news conference and apologised "as a father and head of Korean Air" for the incident.

Mr Cho said his daughter would step down from all her posts in companies under the Cho family-owned Hanjin Group, which also owns Korean Air.

The Hanjin Group is one of South Korea's top family conglomerates, called chaebol.

Some South Koreans resent chaebols for dominating the economy and many accuse them of acting with impunity.

The Cho family has made headlines before. Mr Cho was at the centre of a tax evasion and embezzlement scandal in the late 1990s and was later jailed for seven months.

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