Nut rage incident wiped out all of Korean Air heiress Cho Hyun Ah's hard work

Ms Cho had introduced many initiatives that improved Korean Air. -- PHOTO: THE KOREA HERALD/ANN
Ms Cho had introduced many initiatives that improved Korean Air. -- PHOTO: THE KOREA HERALD/ANN

Ms Cho Hyun Ah, 40, who sparked the Korean Air "nut rage" incident, was embroiled in another controversy last year when she delivered her twin boys in the United States.

The move apparently was to give them American citizenship so they could escape South Korea's mandatory military service.

Ms Cho, whose father is the chairman of Korean Air and who is married to a prominent plastic surgeon, stepped down as senior vice-president of the airline after drawing flak for her imperious behaviour and shabby treatment of airline crew early this month.

While it is easy to write her off as another hoity-toity power-abusing chaebol heiress, the hotel management-trained Ms Cho undertook initiatives to improve Korean Air, which she joined in 1999.

Under her charge, the airline had a major image overhaul, complete with new uniforms, redesigned cabin interiors and improved inflight service and duty-free offerings. In 2005, it achieved US$158 million (S$207 million) in duty-free sales, reportedly the highest-ever by any airline at that time.

This figure is expected to hit US$190 million this year, according to travel retail magazine The Moodie Report, which described Ms Cho as a "highly driven individual by her own admission" in a 2006 interview.

Ms Cho was also credited with revamping the inflight magazine and giving it a much-needed feminine touch. She also spent three years convincing La Mer to join the airline's duty-free offerings - a first for the luxury skincare brand.

"I try to be an ambassador to introduce new and great brands to Koreans who travel," she told Moodie Report.

The eldest of three children, Ms Cho was often the face of Korean Air when it launched new initiatives or won awards. She was present when the airline announced its sponsorship of K-pop star Rain's world tour in 2007.

She was also a key figure in running Korean Air's hotel business, which includes the Hyatt chain in Korea and the Wilshire Grand in Los Angeles. She sits on the advisory board of Nanyang Technological University's Nanyang Business School.

Sadly for Ms Cho, a nutty moment of folly, apparently under the influence of alcohol, has wiped out all her hard work and turned her into a major embarrassment for the airline.

She faces possible charges relating to violating aviation laws for ordering the plane to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport to expel the head steward on Dec 5.

Chang May Choon