Chairman’s daughter quits at KAL

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Chairman’s daughter quits at KAL

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Cho Hyun-ah

Withering criticism and mockery from around the world forced Cho Hyun-ah, the eldest daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho, to quit as an executive of Korean Air Lines for delaying a New York-Incheon flight because she didn’t like the way her macadamia nuts were served in first class.

Korean Air Lines said Tuesday Chairman Cho held a special executive meeting at Incheon International Airport on his return from an International Olympics Committee (IOC) meeting in Monaco and accepted his daughter’s resignation.

At the meeting, the junior Cho, a Korean Air Lines vice president, reportedly apologized for creating such a stir and asked for forgiveness from anyone who was hurt by her actions.

Cho made an apology earlier through the airline for delaying the flight because the nuts were served in a pack and not on a plate or in a bowl.

But the airline insisted that Cho was justified in demanding the plane return to the gate to unload the offending flight manager because she was in charge of catering and in-flight services, setting off new accusations of arrogance.

Hanjin owns Korean Air Lines.

On Monday it was reported by local media that Cho, who goes by the name Heather Cho, forced KAL Flight 86 back to its gate at New York’s JFK International Airport to eject a flight manager who had served her macadamia nuts in a sealed pack. Her yelling was reportedly heard in economy class.

Cho’s behavior raised questions of whether she violated any safety precautions or laws.

A plane on the runway is only supposed to return to a gate when there is concern over the safety of the passengers because of mechanical problems or if a passenger threatens the safety of the flight.

In her statement, Cho admitted that forcing the aircraft back to the gate in a non-emergency situation was excessive, and “[apologized] for causing inconvenience to passengers.”

But the statement went on to assert that there were no safety concerns as the plane had moved less than 10 meters (33 feet) from the boarding bridge. The statement stressed that Cho was acting reasonably in raising the macadamia nut issue “as an executive in charge of in-flight services and meals.”

According to the statement, all KAL executives have an obligation to check in-flight services and safety while on board.

The statement also said it was the pilot’s decision to eject the flight manager. “The reason the flight manager had to leave was because he ignored the regulations and procedures despite the vice president’s response,” the statement said. It also said the manager “made excuses and lied, which is why Vice President Cho pointed out that the flight manager was not suitable for this position.”

KAL’s pilot labor union called the management irresponsible in a statement. “The company is forcing the responsibility onto the crew to cover up Vice President Cho’s gross negligence,” the union said.

Cho’s fit of pique was contrasted with a comment she wrote on the company’s online message board in April 2013.

Commenting on an incident in which a KAL passenger reportedly hit a flight attendant with a magazine for unsatisfactory service, Cho wrote: “It is regrettable [to think] how baffled and mortified the flight attendant would have felt.”

That incident created huge news when it turned out the abusive passenger was a senior vice president at an affiliate of Posco, the steel giant. He was reportedly displeased with the way his in-flight ramen were cooked.

After the incident was made public, Posco Energy made a public apology over the executive’s action that was posted on the company’s website. The executive finally quit.

Cho joined her father’s company in 1999 after graduating from Cornell University with a bachelor’s degree in hotel management. She previously worked in the hotel duty-free business and quickly climbed the corporate ladder. She earned her first executive title in 2006 as she headed in-flight food services.

Cho will retain her executive positions in other affiliates of Hanjin Group.

BY kim eun-ji, lee ho-jeong [eunjik@joongang.co.kr]

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