Korean Air scion faces probe for bad in-flight behavior
Posted : 2014-12-08 18:22
Updated : 2014-12-15 17:09
By Kim Se-jeong
The transportation authority said Monday it is looking into whether a Korean Air senior vice president's behavior on a plane, including yelling at flight attendants and ordering the plane to stop, violated the Aviation Safety and Security Act.
The investigation comes after Heather Cho, the airline's senior vice president and the airline group Chairman Cho Yang-ho's eldest daughter, allegedly had an aircraft on the runway proceed back to the gate at JFK International Airport in New York to have a flight attendant thrown off due to "poor service."
"Two inspectors are at Korean Air, talking with people. We'll see whether her behavior was against the law. It is an unprecedented case, so we need to see the related regulations," a ministry official said on Monday.
The official said her actions were inappropriate, although it was meant to improve the quality of attendants' service.
"Even though she is senior vice president at the company, she was a passenger at that time, so she had to behave and be treated as a passenger. She could have taken other measures after coming back to Korea, such as strengthening service training."
According to the law, Cho did not have the authority to do what she did because the pilot is in charge of the management of flight attendants during flights.
The law also says passengers should not cause disturbances, including using violent language or yelling, for safety reasons. It says those disturbing flight crew's service through violence or threats, and threatening the safety of passengers and the flight, are subject to up to 5 million won in fine.
According to the carrier and witnesses, Cho was seated in first class on Flight KE086 bound from New York to Incheon on Friday.
When a junior flight attendant offered her a bag of nuts before departure, Cho told her that she was not following the correct in-flight service manual ― a flight attendant is supposed to ask passengers whether they will have nuts, and to offer nuts on a dish rather than the entire bag.
Cho demanded the chief flight attendant bring out the manual and, when he failed to find it immediately, Cho ordered him to get off the plane. She shouted during the incident, according to witnesses.
"The chief flight attendant failed to get the right manual, and this led Cho to believe he was not qualified for that job," according to a Korean Air official.
While that was happening, the plane was 30-40 meters onto the runway. Nevertheless, the plane returned to the gate to drop off the chief flight attendant. Korean Air said an announcement was unnecessary because the plane was still close to the gate.
The incident caused the plane carrying 250 passengers to arrive at Incheon International Airport 11 minutes later than scheduled.
People in the airline industry say that an aircraft on the runway sometimes goes back to the gate in case of aircraft issues or patients with emergencies.
"But I've never heard about a return made because of such reasons," an official at another airline company said.
Korean Air said checking the quality of service was one of Cho's jobs as she is in charge of in-flight service for the carrier. The company also said it needs time to confirm whether Cho really yelled at the flight attendants. The chief flight attendant was not available for comment.