A suspicious apology

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A suspicious apology

Cho Hyun-ah, the vice president of Korean Air who disgraced the name of the airliner and her owner family by ordering the plane to go back to the gate to eject a crew member because her macadamia nuts were served the wrong way, deeply bowed to apologize for the incident. She made her first public appearance six days after the nutty episode went viral. Transport authorities are looking into whether she has violated safety and flight regulations for ordering the flight back to the gate at John F. Kennedy airport for non-emergency reasons and delaying it with more than 200 people on board.

The 40-year-old daughter of Hanjin Group Chairman Cho Yang-ho stood before journalists and whispered that she was sorry before walking into the Gimpo International Airport for questioning by Transportation Ministry officials. Her apology came only after her father spoke at a press conference to “sincerely apologize” for his daughter’s behavior and took part of the blame for not having raised his daughter properly. The belated father-daughter apology did not help improve public scorn over the incident and against the Cho family. The father was ridiculed for apologizing for his adult daughter.

The scandal snowballed because KAL responded poorly to the incident from the beginning. If Cho had apologized immediately and resigned, she and the airliner could have been saved from bad publicity. But the airliner from the start blamed the crew member and manager for failing to follow the exact in-flight service manual on how to serve snacks to justify Cho’s behavior. Amid public criticism, Cho offered to resign from the head of cabin service at the airliner, but she retained the title of vice president as well as executive positions in other Hanjin affiliates. It was obvious that she intended to return to her posts once the controversy subsided.

The sincerity behind the show of modesty and public apology is also under suspicion. Cho stayed aloof until prosecution raided KAL headquarters and the transportation authority summoned her for questioning. She first asked for a delay in questioning citing health problems. She only complied after pressure from authorities. She now may face criminal charges and removal from all corporate posts.

The public sees the incident as arrogance and insolence by the moneyed elite rather than a violation of aviation regulations. In order to regain public and consumer confidence, KAL will have to do more than promise better service and safety. The family should first treat its staff better before it can offer good customer service.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 13, Page 34

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