Korean Air faces backlash for nut rage, ticketing incident

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Former Korean Air vice-president Hyuna Cho caused controversy last December for commanding her flight to taxi back to the airport and kicking out the cabin manager due to her dissatisfaction with the way nuts were served. When her trial began on Jan. 19, she denied all charges against her. The charges include obstruction of aviation safety, as she abused her power to change the flight’s route even though she was onboard the plane as a passenger. Furthermore, she has also been accused of conspiring with the company to coerce crewmembers to lie about the incident to investigators from the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport (MOLIT). In addition, the MOLIT officials have been criticized for their close relationship with the airline, with many bureaucrats being former employees.

“There is a legacy of the government hiring former employees because they understand how companies try to break the rules,” said Courtney Caldwell, history teacher. “Of course, the drawback is that they may be corrupt or display favoritism toward their company.”

According to Seoul Broadcasting System, the incident was seen as yet another example of the abuse of power by members of the chaebol, family. It also came at a time when there was social uproar over the exploitation of superior social positions, such as violence against security guards in apartment complexes by residents.

“I think this incident is indicative of how Confucianism and its emphasis on hierarchy has been skewed by modern beliefs that stress financial success,” said Dustin Yoon (12), MUN member. “Workers have to remain professional even if their costumers are abusive because they could be fired if they complain to their employers. This problem is exacerbated when they are serving the members of the family that own the business they work for.”

Korean Air’s image has been further tarnished by various incidents, such as one where popular singer Bobby Kim screamed at and assaulted flight attendants on Jan. 15 after being aggravated by a ticketing mistake committed by staff members on the ground. Based on the official report by Korean Air, which was referred to on the Korea Times, Mr. Kim had upgraded his ticket to business class but was assigned an economy class seat. Thus, he was forced to sit there for the entire ride. Furthermore, the flight attendants were reported to have served Mr. Kim more than six glasses of wine, enough to get him drunk.

“I do not think that airlines are as affected by the company image because most consumers look at price or the availability of flights when making their decision,” said Steven Smith, economics teacher. “However, Korean Air needs to maintain a perception of higher quality service if it wants to compete with more low cost carriers.”