Chief steward humiliated by Korean Air heiress Heather Cho returns to work

Mr Park Chang Jin, the Korean Air cabin crew chief who was humiliated by the airline's heiress and former vice-president Heather Cho, returned to work on Sunday, Feb 1, 2015, Yonhap news agency reported. -- PHOTO: KBS NEWS
Mr Park Chang Jin, the Korean Air cabin crew chief who was humiliated by the airline's heiress and former vice-president Heather Cho, returned to work on Sunday, Feb 1, 2015, Yonhap news agency reported. -- PHOTO: KBS NEWS

THE chief steward of the Korean Air flight whose humiliation by the company's heiress and vice-president Heather Cho sparked a nationwide outcry returned to work on Sunday, Yonhap news agency reported.

Park Chang Jin served as a flight attendant instead of the purser, or chief steward, on a morning domestic flight out of Seoul to the southern city of Busan, Korean Air said according to Yonhap.

While it appeared to be a demotion, the airline said Park was put on a domestic flight as part of the company's policy on duty rotation.

"Serving on long-distance flights is exhausting, so crew members are placed on domestic or Japan routes three to four times a month," a company official was quoted by Yonhap as saying.

"(Park) is likely to go on long-distance flights toward the end of this month," the official said.

South Korea's leading carrier has come under intense scrutiny since the Dec 5 incident now dubbed "nut rage".

Cho, who was in charge of in-flight service at Korean Air, was sitting in the first class cabin when she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of a dish.

Incensed by what she deemed to be poor service, she confronted the attendant Kim Do Hee as well as Park, shouting at them as they knelt on the floor.

Cho then demanded that Park be booted from the New York-Incheon flight, forcing the pilot to turn back to the gate at John F. Kennedy airport and delaying its arrival in Incheon by 11 minutes.

The 40-year-old heiress is now on trial for breaking aviation laws and conspiring with other company executives to force crew members to lie about the incident.

Kim has testified that airline executives tried to pressure her and Park to lie to government authorities about the incident and they pressed her to accept Cho's apology with an offer of a job as a professor at a school affiliated with the airline.

The case came to light after Park told Korean media what happened. "People who haven't experienced (such abuse) will not understand that feeling of being insulted and shamed," Park told South Korea's KBS television network, as he described how Cho 'poked the back of his hand with a corner of the flight manual book several times' as he knelt in front of her.

He said that he did not dare to refuse the "owner's daughter" when told to leave the plane. He returned to South Korea on a different flight and went on leave right after the controversy broke.

Cho Yang Ho, CEO of Korean Air and Heather Cho's father, said at her trial last week he had scolded her for her behaviour. He apologised to Park and said there would be "no disadvantage" against him when he returned to work.

seokhwai@sph.com.sg