A Cornell alumna is in the international spotlight after she “halted a flight over a bag of nuts” that weren’t properly served, according to the Guardian newspaper.

Why I shop downtown — Marty

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Cho Hyun-ah, 40, is the daughter of the chairman of Korean Air. On Dec. 5, she ordered a Korean Air flight grounded and kicked an attendant off the plane for how he served macadamia nuts, according to multiple accounts.

Korea Air

This is how the Guardian explains the incident:

Cho … became enraged when a flight attendant on flight KE086 leaving John F Kennedy airport in New York for Incheon handed her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of first class’s customary bowl.

She summoned the senior crew member in charge and demanded an explanation for the mistake. When his answer dissatisfied her, she ordered him off the plane, forcing it to return to the gate so that the offending crew member could be ejected from the aircraft.

The story has since been covered by The Washington Post, The New York Times, CBS News, Canada.com and a few dozen other news outlets.

Cho has since resigned her post as vice president for cabin service and catering at the Seoul-based airline, according to Bloomberg. Bloomberg reported that Cho graduated from Cornell University in 1999, and the Associated Press adds that Cho is a graduate of Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration.


The Times picked up the story today:

In another finding that was likely to damage Korean Air’s image, the ministry said the airline’s executives had tried to persuade the cabin crew members to “make false statements” to government investigators in order to protect Ms. Cho, who had earlier denied using abusive language or violence….

The ministry briefed the media on Tuesday on its investigation of the Dec. 5 episode, in which the irate Ms. Cho ordered Korean Air Flight 86, bound for Incheon, South Korea, and already taxiing at Kennedy International Airport in New York to return to the gate to kick off the chief steward.

South Koreans believed that Ms. Cho could do so not because she was Korean Air’s vice president in charge of in-flight services but because she was a daughter of its powerful chairman, Cho Yang-ho. Ms. Cho and Korean Air have since become objects of withering criticism and ridicule. The reaction was particularly harsh in South Korea, where people saw Ms. Cho as the latest example of arrogance and entitlement prevalent among the families that control big South Korean businesses, such as Korean Air.

Korean media outlets report that Korea Air has seen its ticket sales fall as news of the incident spread. Meanwhile, according to other accounts, sales of macadamia nuts have soared.

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.