Korean Air’s “nut rage” case has made its way back to New York, with the flight attendant who served the offending macadamia nuts filing a lawsuit against the airline and a former executive.
Heather Cho, a Korean Air executive and daughter of the airline’s chairman, is serving a one-year prison sentence in South Korea after throwing a fit on a New York flight because her nuts were served in a bag instead of a porcelain bowl.
In a civil suit filed this week in state Supreme Court in Queens, New York, Cho — whose name is listed as Heather Hyun A-Cho in court documents — is accused of “verbally and physically” attacking flight attendant Kim Do-hee in December on a Seoul-bound flight departing from John F. Kennedy International Airport.
‘Corrupt and entitled behavior’
At the time, Cho, who was seated in first class, demanded that the plane go back to the gate so Kim could be kicked off the flight, according to the lawsuit. The episode, which was widely reported, was a “prime example of the corrupt and entitled behavior of the members of elite South Korean business families,” the lawsuit states.
The suit describes Cho as the “princess” of the “so-called royal” family that controls Korean Air, and says the executive screamed obscenities at Kim before hitting, shoving and threatening the flight attendant.
On her return to South Korea, the lawsuit states, Kim was “pressured to lie to government regulators in order to cover up the incident, and to appear in public with Cho as part of an orchestrated effort to try and rehabilitate Cho’s public image.”
Plane as personal car
A South Korean judge last month said that Cho’s actions threatened the development of the aviation industry and inconvenienced passengers, and ruled that she violated aviation law, changed a flight path and interfered with operations. She was sentenced to a year in jail.
The judge blasted Cho for her conduct, saying that she had used the plane as if it were her personal car and that as a passenger, she could not override crew members and give orders during a flight.
The case is emblematic of growing resentment over the perceived privileges and nepotism of the families that control the country’s top companies.
Cho resigned as vice president at the company a few days after the incident and publicly apologized, saying she accepted “full responsibility.”
Last month, she appeared in a South Korean court wearing a green prison uniform. She gazed downward. Her hair hung in her face.
“I don’t know how to find forgiveness,” she said.
Kneeling in apology
Park Chang-jin, the chief steward who was booted from the flight instead of Kim, has said the former executive treated crew members like “feudal slaves.”
Park and Kim, the flight attendant who served the nuts, had knelt in front of Cho in apology. Kim testified that Cho berated them about the service and later shoved and cursed her.
When the flight arrived in Korea, the flight attendant said another airline manager, Yeo Woon-jin, pressured her not to talk to investigators about Cho’s physically abusing her and Park.
Yeo was found guilty of interfering with an investigation.
‘Humiliating, degrading and damaging’
Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho apologized to the flight attendants and the public following the public uproar over the incident.
In a statement, Kim’s lawyer, Andrew Weinstein, called Heather Cho’s behavior “humiliating, degrading, and damaging to Ms. Kim, but … also emblematic of Ms. Cho’s unbridled arrogance and disturbing sense of entitlement.”
The incident has damaged Kim’s “career, reputation, and emotional well-being,” and efforts to settle the case out of court have been unsuccessful, according to the statement — which didn’t specify how much was being sought in damages.
Attempts to reach representatives of Korean Air as well as lawyers for Cho were unsuccessful.