SEOUL (AFP) - Korean Air apologised as it faced a media backlash over the daughter of the airline's chief executive, who had a chief purser ejected from a plane in a furious reaction to being incorrectly served some macadamia nuts.
While insisting it was "reasonable" for its executive vice-president Cho Hyun Ah to have raised a problem with the in-flight service, the airline admitted that forcing the New York-Seoul flight to return to its gate to remove the senior crew member had caused an unreasonable delay.
Ms Cho, 40, is the daughter of the family-run carrier's chief executive, and she has been widely criticised in the South Korean media for behaving in heavy-handed, imperious fashion. "Korean Air apologises to its passengers for the inconvenience caused by the excessive behaviour of returning the aircraft and ejecting the flight attendant even though the circumstance was not an emergency," the airline said. An English-language version of the same statement omitted the mention of "excessive behaviour".
Ms Cho took exception to the arrival of some macadamia nuts she had not asked for, and to the fact that they were served in a packet rather than a bowl. She summoned the chief purser who, according to the Korean Air statement, replied with "lies and excuses" when challenged over his crew's knowledge of in-flight service procedures. Ms Cho then decided the chief purser was "incapable" and the plane returned to the gate, where he disembarked.
The Seoul flight had just left its gate at New York's JFK airport on Friday when the incident occurred.
The airline statement noted that the final decision to deplane the chief flight attendant was taken by the captain.
South Korean Transport Minister Suh Seoung Hwan said on Tuesday that the incident was being investigated and any regulatory breach would be "handled sternly". The media backlash against Ms Cho has been extensive.
"This ugly behaviour by the Korean Air boss' daughter puts the entire nation to shame," Seoul's top business daily, the Maeil Business Newspaper, said in an editorial.
"This is a global embarrassment for South Korea ... Korean Air should punish Cho, and she should apologise to the public for disregarding passengers' safety," it said.
The Dong-A Ilbo newspaper said Ms Cho's action had exposed the "sense of entitlement and supercilious attitude" prevalent among the rich.
"Apparently some members of owner families like Cho see their companies like their own kingdom," it added.
Ms Cho, one of chief executive Cho Yang Ho's three children, joined the flag carrier in 1999 and was promoted to vice-president this year.