Ex-Korean Air executive detained in 'nut rage' case

Ex-head of cabin service had demanded steward quit flight over macadamia serving

Cho Hyun-Ah, eldest daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-Ho and former vice-president of the airline, appears for questioning at a public prosecutor’s office in Seoul, South Korea, on December 17th last. File photograph: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA

A South Korean court on Tuesday ordered that a former Korean Air Lines executive be detained for delaying a flight following an outburst over the way she was served nuts, in a case that prompted both outrage and ridicule.

"Heather" Cho Hyun-Ah, the daughter of the airline's chairman and head of in-flight service before she resigned after the incident, had demanded the chief steward be removed from the flight at John F Kennedy airport in New York on December 5th last for serving macadamia nuts in a bag, not a dish.

The court’s decision late on Tuesday comes after local prosecutors last week sought a detention warrant for Ms Cho, (40), who faces charges of violating the aviation safety law.

"The necessity for detention is recognised as the case is grave and there has been an attempt to systematically cover up charges from the beginning," Lee Kwang-woo, a judge at the Seoul Western District Court who handles media affairs, said in a text message.


‘Nut rage’

In what media have dubbed the "nut rage" incident, the Airbus A380 jet, which had pushed back from its gate, returned for the chief attendant to disembark. The flight arrived in Incheon, near Seoul, 11 minutes late.

On her way to a detention facility from the prosecutors’ office late on Tuesday, Ms Cho was flanked by prosecution officials and did not respond to questions from media, only saying “sorry” several times, her eyes closed and her head bowed.

An inquiry by South Korea's Transport Ministry concluded that Ms Cho abused flight attendants in the incident, and that airline officials may have tried to cover up the episode.

The ministry came under fire after revelations that some of its officials leaked information to the company and committed other misconduct during the investigation.

The ministry said on Monday it would penalise eight officials involved in the case, one of whom was detained on Friday.

Public outrage

Public outrage over the episode grew when Korean Air initially issued what many people took to be a half-hearted apology that appeared to rationalise Ms Cho’s conduct in the face of what it said was inadequate performance by the cabin crew.

Ms Cho’s case has aggravated public resentment towards the country’s powerful family-run conglomerates, called chaebol, stirred by their dominance of the economy and a widening gap in wealth in society.

Heather Cho is the eldest of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho’s three children. Her siblings are also executives with the airline.