Chairman apologises over South Korean Asiana Airlines' 'inflight-meal chaos'

On June 30, 2018, 36 Asiana flights took off without meals out of the 80 planes scheduled for the day. On July 1, out of 75 flights, 20 were delayed and 18 took off without meals.
On June 30, 2018, 36 Asiana flights took off without meals out of the 80 planes scheduled for the day. On July 1, out of 75 flights, 20 were delayed and 18 took off without meals.PHOTO: FACEBOOK/ASIANA AIRLINES

SEOUL (THE KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, BLOOMBERG) - The head of the group that controls Asiana Airlines apologised publicly on Wednesday (July 4) as South Korea's second-biggest carrier's struggle to provide in-flight meals to passengers departing Seoul continued for a fourth day after a caterer was unable to deliver the food on time.

About seven out of 79 flights were expected to depart on Wednesday from Incheon airport, which serves Seoul, without any food for passengers, a spokesman for the airline said. The carrier is working to resolve the issue and providing small meal boxes on some flights, he said. 

As many as 51 Asiana flights were delayed on Sunday as planes waited for meals to arrive, while 36 flights took off without meals.

On Monday, out of 75 flights, 20 were delayed and 18 took off without meals.

The trouble with the food service started last Friday after a fire at the facility of Gate Gourmet Korea (GGK), its venture with Gategroup Holding AG, forced Asiana to sign a three-month contract with a local vendor, Sharp Do & Co Korea, which lacks scale to meet the needs of a full-service carrier.

The Seoul-based airline typically needs about 25,000 meals a day, and that increases to about 30,000 during the summer peak season, according to the spokesman.

Mr Park Sam-koo, chairman of Kumho Asiana Group, apologised for the brouhaha at a press conference on Wednesday. He said his apology should have come earlier, but that he had been receiving hospital treatment at Yonsei University's Severance Hospital since Sunday.

Mr Park also expressed his condolences over the death of the CEO of Sharp Do & Co Korea, who was found dead in an apparent suicide on Monday. The CEO had been under "enormous" stress for causing the so-called "inflight-meal fiasco", despite working days without a break, according to his employees.

Police have opened an investigation into the death.

The head of Asiana Airlines, an air carrier under Kumho Asiana Group, had apologised on Tuesday for causing inconvenience to customers. But the statement was issued without mentioning the death of the Sharp Do & Co CEO.

Industry insiders said that the fiasco started after Asiana terminated a 15-year-old deal with LSG Sky Chefs, a subsidiary of German airline Lufthansa, and inked a contract with GGK instead.

GGK is an in-flight catering service firm Asiana jointly set up with China's HNA Group. Starting from July, Asiana was to receive GGK in-flight meals for the next 30 years.

Some insiders have claimed that the 15-year-old partnership with LSG ended after Asiana reportedly demanded the German company acquire 160 billion won (S$195.5 million) worth of bond with warrant issued by Kumho Holdings at a time when Asiana was seeking to secure capital to buy back Kumho Tire.

LSG, which derived 70 per cent of its revenue from its contract with Asiana, has since filed a complaint with the Fair Trade Commission with the claim in April.

Asiana Airlines refuted the allegation and said that its deal with GGK was more favourable to the carrier.

After a fire hit the new GGK plant, Asiana signed a temporary three-month contract with Sharp Do & Co, which has just 63 employees and produces 3,000 meals a day.

But the logistics of transporting the prepared meals to the planes took longer than predicted, resulting in dozens of Asiana flights taking off without in-flight meals, according to reports.