Flight attendant: Korean Air exec yelled, cursed, physically abused her after nuts served
Heather Cho ordered a Korean Air plane back to the gate in early December
Outrage in South Korea over power of national corporations
It wasn’t just the nuts.
The flight attendant who served the offending macadamia nuts testified that she and the chief flight attendant knelt before Heather Cho, the former vice president at Korean Air, and the daughter of the airline’s chairman in apology.
The former executive also shoved her, threw a tablet to her chest and called her a pejorative term for female dog after becoming angry over the service, Kim Do Hee, the flight attendant testified in court Friday.
Cho, a former executive for South Korea’s biggest airline faces charges, after she ordered an international flight back to the gate at New York’s JFK airport after becoming dissatisfied that her macadamia nuts were served in a bag instead of on a plate in first class.
Prosecutors say that the incident, dubbed “nut rage” extends beyond Cho’s behavior, but also to an attempt to systematically cover up what happened on the flight. Kim testified that Korean Air told her to lie about what happened to investigators and not to talk about the violence.
The December 5 flight bound for South Korea had to return to the gate to remove the senior steward from the flight. Although her former role put her in charge of in-flight service, Cho was a passenger and was not flying in an official capacity.
Outrage over corporate privilege
Cho was served with an arrest warrant last month in Korea in a case that has outraged the nation over growing resentment of the power held by its large family-owned corporations known as chaebol.
Cho Yang-ho, her father and Korean Air chairman apologized to the flight attendants and the public for the incident. Swarmed by reporters outside the courtroom, the chairman said, “I sincerely apologize to the people who treasure Korean Air.”
“No matter what, mistreating the flight attendant is not correct,” he said. “I scolded her for not being able to control her emotions.”
He vowed to reform the corporate culture within the airline.
Kim, the flight attendant who initially served the offending nuts, said that Cho wasn’t initially angry, but ordered her to bring over a service manual.
Kim handed a tablet to the chief steward, Park Chang-jin who brought it to Cho.
Then Kim testified that she heard loud voices and went back into the first class cabin, and spotted Park kneeling. Kim also knelt in front of Cho as the executive berated her for having Park bring the tablet.
Then, Cho lifted her up from her kneeling position and pushed her, yelling at her to leave the plane, Kim testified.
Before the plane could take flight, Cho ordered Park to get off the plane, Kim said.
After the incident, Kim said she was told by a Korean Air manager what to tell South Korean investigators from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
“One of the managers said everyone in this ministry from Korean Air, they are all related to us, don’t worry, do what we tell you to do,” she said.
Kim said she was coached by Korean Air not to mention Cho’s yelling and physical abuse.
She added that she never received an apology from Cho, also known by her Korean name, Cho Hyun-ah.
Cho resigned from her post as a vice president at the company in December and trotted out a public apology with her head bowed, saying she accepted “full responsibility.”
Because of that, the airline faces possible disciplinary action from the government because of the captain’s failure to command and supervise crew members to ensure the safe operation of the flight, the ministry said last week.
CNN’s Paula Hancocks contributed to this report from Seoul, South Korea.