SEOUL, South Korea—The Korean Air Lines Co. executive who delayed a flight in an incident dubbed “nut rage” bowed deep in apology Friday before facing questioning by transport officials. Her father, the airline’s chairman, also apologized and said he regrets he didn’t raise her better.
The apologies came in response to simmering public anger about the incident and the airline’s handling of it.
Cho Hyun-ah, who was head of cabin service at Korean Air, was angered when a flight attendant in first class offered her macadamia nuts in a bag, not on a plate. She ordered a senior crew member off the plane, forcing it to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy airport in New York City.
“I sincerely apologize. I’m sorry,” a gloomy-faced Cho said before droves of journalists in an almost inaudible, trembling voice. She said she will meet the victimized crew member and “apologize sincerely.”
Clad in a long black coat, she lowered her face as she made the brief comments without making eye contact. It was her first public appearance since the Dec. 5 incident. Transport Ministry officials had summoned Cho for questioning over the possibility her actions violated aviation safety law.
Hours before her apology, Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho also made a deep bow before journalists. He called his daughter’s behaviour foolish and said he regrets he didn’t raise her better.
“It’s my fault,” he said. “As chairman and father, I ask for the public’s generous forgiveness.”
Cho Hyun-ah’s actions caused an uproar in South Korea and abroad. South Korean media called the 40-year-old a princess and some Koreans said she was an international embarrassment to her country.
Despite the anger, many South Koreans were not surprised by Cho’s display of entitlement
There was once respect in South Korea for the families that founded the industrial conglomerates, known as chaebol, which helped modernize the country and make it wealthy. Nowadays there is growing criticism of ostentatious wealth and unfettered power.
The criticism is particularly directed at the newest generation, which is inheriting the business empires founded by their fathers and grandfathers. All three children of Cho Yang-ho rose quickly to the top ranks of the airline, holding executive roles in it and affiliate companies.
“It’s something that people haven’t openly talked about but it was only a matter of time” before bad behaviour would cross a red line for the public, said Kim Seul-ki, a 28-year-old office worker. “We often hear about not just Korean Air but other chaebol families acting recklessly.”
In a separate probe, prosecutors searched the headquarters of Korean Air Lines on Thursday after a civil society group made a complaint about Cho’s behaviour on the plane.
Korean Air Lines had earlier excused her behaviour even as it apologized for inconveniencing passengers. The flight bound for South Korea was delayed by 20 minutes due to the incident.
Earlier this week, Cho resigned as Korean Air’s head of cabin service but retained other executive roles at the airline and its affiliated companies. Her father said Friday she is resigning from executive roles at all affiliates of Hanjin, the group that controls Korean Air.