Korean Air official quits role after nuts service incident

By Ju-min Park, Reuters

Posted at Dec 09 2014 07:37 PM | Updated as of Dec 10 2014 04:06 AM

Cho Hyun-Ah, daughter of Korean Air CEO and executive vice president of the family-run firm, speaks during a press conference in Incheon, South Korea in this file photo. Photo by AFP-Yonhap

SEOUL (UPDATE) - A Korean Air Lines Co executive, whose dismay over the way she was served macadamia nuts led to a plane returning to its gate in order to expel the cabin crew chief, has stepped down as head of in-flight service, the airline said on Tuesday.

Korean Air apologized for Friday's incident at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport in which Heather Cho, a vice president of the airline, took issue with a crew member for substandard service.

However, Cho, the 40-year-old daughter of the airline's chairman, Cho Yang-ho, will remain a vice president with the South Korean flag carrier, the airline said late on Tuesday.

The incident aboard an Airbus A380 jumbo jet that had been pushed back from its gate bound for Incheon, near Seoul, provoked outrage in South Korea when it was reported on Monday.

"I am sorry to our customers and the Korean people that I unintentionally caused social uproar and I ask forgiveness from anyone who has been hurt by me," a company official, speaking to Reuters by telephone, quoted Heather Cho as saying late on Tuesday.

"I take responsibility for the incident," the official quoted her as saying.

The airline said late on Monday that although Cho was responsible for supervising in-flight service, it was "excessive" that the plane was returned to the gate to expel a crew member in a non-emergency situation.

Cho was seated in first-class when she took issue with a flight attendant who handed her macadamia nuts in a bag, not on a dish, according to an industry official briefed on the matter, who declined to be identified.

Cho summoned the cabin crew chief to ask whether the flight attendant was following the in-flight service manual, and the crew chief could not answer promptly, the airline said.

Cho "took issue with the cabin crew chief's qualifications," and the plane was returned by the pilot to its gate to expel the crew chief, the airline said.

The flight arrived in Incheon 11 minutes behind schedule.

South Korea's transport ministry said on Monday it was investigating the incident.

Heather Cho is the oldest of Cho Yang-ho's three children, who are all executives with the airline.