Hawaii’s US$38 million macadamia nut industry demand is suddenly skyrocketing from South Korea, thanks to a spoilt princess of Korean Air boss Cho Yang-Ho, the patriarch of business conglomerate Hanjin Group. Macadamia nut sales had increased 20-times from one week to the next earlier this month, after Heather Cho Hyun-ah threw tantrums about how she was served nuts in first class.
Mainly grown in warm regions such as Hawaii, Australia, South Africa and Central America, macadamias have been relatively unknown to Korea or even China. But the free publicity generated after the Korean Air heiress Heather Cho’s fiasco is seeing macadamia nuts being snapped up like hot cakes off Korean stores. While macadamia nuts producers are laughing at the huge demands, 40-year-old Heather Cho is getting deeper into trouble.
In a latest twist, South Korean prosecutors today (Wednesday) requested a detention warrant for the former Korean Airlines executive. Heather Cho, the oldest of three children of Korean Air boss, is potentially looking at charges of violating aviation law and another airline official for abetting perjury. Detention warrants are issued when the court believes there is a risk of flight or evidence tampering by suspects while investigations are ongoing.
Apparently, a junior attendant had offered Ms Cho macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of serving the nuts on a plate. An angry Heather Cho, who was then the vice-president of the airline, grilled, screamed and hurled abuse at the flight attendant and chief flight attendant, Park Chang-Jin, over in-flight service standards and ordered him (Mr Park) expelled from the plane on a December 5 New York-Seoul flight.
As a result, the Flight 86 was taxied back to the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport and eventually arrived in South Korea 11-minutes behind schedule. Mr Park claimed that Ms Cho pushed him into the cockpit door and jabbed him with a service manual, even when he kneeled to apologise to her. Prosecutors believe they have a strong case based on testimony of passengers and other flight attendants.
Heather has publicly apologised and resigned from all her posts in the organisation. Besides being the Executive Vice President for Korean Air, Heather was also the Chief Executive Officer of Korean Airline Hotel Network, a hotel affiliate of Korean Air. A graduate of the Cornell University School of Hotel Administration in Ithaca, New York, she also holds a Master of Business Administration degree from the University of Southern California.
After the incident was exposed, it drew wide and deep criticism in South Korea where the economy is dominated by family-controlled conglomerates known as “Chaebol”. Netizens also do not believe Heather Cho was sincere in her apologies. The anger from the public was magnified further because safety and procedures related to important services were simply ignored due to Ms Cho’s status.
Initially, the airline came to her defence and justified that checking quality of service was one of Ms Cho’s jobs, as she was responsible for in-flight service for the carrier. The airline also claimed the crew member had replied with “lies and excuses” when challenged over the correct nut-serving procedure. However, even if Heather Cho was senior vice-president at the company, she was a passenger at that time, so she had to behave as such.
Furthermore, aviation law clearly states that it is the captain who supervises the flight crew. A captain is the only person who has the authority to deplane or even to put passengers causing violence or threatening the safety of passengers and the flight under arrest. According to Korea’s Aviation Safety and Security Law, passengers are barred from causing disturbances, including violent language or yelling.
Of course, being the airline big boss’ daughter, the captain could be too chicken to object to Ms Cho’s outburst, let alone lecture her about aviation law. If she had acted professionally, she should have waited for the flight landed before lecturing the flight attendants. In this case, the chief flight attendant, who has judicial police power, was removed from an operating flight by violence and private authority.
This means such action has infringed on the attendant’s personal interest and caused legal disorder on the flight. Prosecutors are also investigating whether Korean Air officials coerced cabin crew to give false testimony to government inspectors to protect princess Cho. Investigators have raided the office of a transportation ministry official who is suspected of leaking some details of the ministry’s investigation to the powerful Cho family.
Amusingly, Heather Cho’s younger sister and Senior Vice President, 31-year-old Emily Cho Hyun-Min, has singlehandedly blamed all Korean Air workers for problems at the company. Her outburst was contained in an email to marketing employees. But all the staffs suspect that she wrote such email because critics had focused on the authoritative and exclusive corporate culture at the airline, which the Cho family controls.
Although the airline’s chairman Cho Yang-ho subsequently apologised and said her daughter’s conduct was “foolish”, public opinions believe such arrogant behaviours should not go unpunished. It’s also believed that Korean Air top management is censoring crew members and instructing them to say bad things about the removed chief flight attendant Mr Park. She must be nuts to go ballistic about some nuts (*grin*).
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