South Korea to report ex-Korean Air exec to prosecutors over role in flight delay

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 15, 2014 9:07 PM

SEOUL (Reuters) - South Korea's transport ministry said on Tuesday it would report to prosecutors a former Korean Air Lines executive who delayed a flight earlier this month because she was unhappy about how she was served nuts.

A ministry official said its probe has confirmed the former executive, Heather Cho, was engaged in abusive behavior towards flight attendants in the Dec. 5 incident at John F. Kennedy airport in New York and may have broken aviation law. Cho may face legal charges if prosecutors pursue the case.

Cho is the daughter of the airline's chairman and was previously head of its in-flight services. She apologized over the incident, which fueled outrage and ridicule in South Korea, and resigned her posts last week.

"As it has been confirmed that (Heather) Cho raised her voice and used abusive language as testified by some flight crew members and passengers, we will report her to the prosecution for potential violation of aviation safety law," the ministry said in a statement.

The ministry said Korean Air also violated aviation law and it is reviewing punitive measures for the airline, which could include flight suspensions and a fine, the statement said.

Korean Air didn't immediately comment on the ministry's statement.

The plane pushed away from the airport departure gate as the incident was taking place on board. The pilot then brought the plane back to the gate to expel the cabin crew chief, after Cho complained about being served macadamia nuts by a flight attendant in a bag and not on a dish.

The incident was first reported on Monday. Public outrage grew after Korean Air issued what many in the country took to be a half-hearted apology for what it termed an inadequate performance by the cabin crew chief, appearing to rationalize Cho's conduct.

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The crew chief said in a local television interview that Cho swore at him and jabbed his hand with a document folder, pointing her finger at him while he kneeled to apologize to her.

The ministry said it was not able to confirm whether Cho physically assaulted any of the crew members.

(Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Paul Tait and Kenneth Maxwell)