Korean Airline Executive Assaults Pilot After Being Served Nuts Incorrectly
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Korean Airline Executive Assaults Pilot After Being Served Nuts Incorrectly

We’ve long been on the lookout for some of the travel industry’s bests and worst. Take this business class layout with “coffin seats” or this first-class meal choice as prime examples. This week, however, we felt it was high time to revisit the ultimate and most infamous instance of in-flight rage as its tenth anniversary rapidly approaches…

Almost a decade has passed since “nutgate”, a straight-up b*tshit episode that unfolded back in December 2014 aboard Korean Air Flight 086 at JFK Airport in New York City. At the centre of this controversy to top all controversies was Heather Cho, then vice president of Korean Air, whose inexplicable dissatisfaction (read: abject rage) with the serving of macadamia nuts to first-class passengers escalated into a physical confrontation that turned heads around the world.

WATCH: Chinese ‘Time Traveller’ Passenger Cancels Flight Destined To Crash Like MH370, According To Him

Cho, expecting her nuts to be served on a pristine plate rather than in their original plastic packaging, confronted the cabin crew chief, Park Chang-jin, about this apparent afront. The confrontation quickly turned physical, with Cho assaulting him, making him kneel in front of the entire plane-load of passengers, and demanding that he be removed from the plane. This led to a 20-minute delay as the aircraft returned to the gate at her behest…

Though sparking from something profoundly petty, the incident sparked outrage and condemnation around the world. In part, this is because it tapped directly into broader but long-ignored issues within South Korea’s corporate culture, particularly in regard to the behaviour of people in positions of (sometimes immense) power, especially in the context of massive family-owned conglomerates known as ‘chaebols’.

Daughter of Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho — and thus a central figure in a family that runs South Korea’s most central carrier — she created a PR nightmare in a country where dynasties are already rife with controversy.

As Anna Fifield has written for The Washington Post, while North Korea’s own dynastic sh*tshow may get a lot more of the world’s attention, the way many South Korean conglomerates are run “sometimes looks similar to Pyongyang”. One Samsung insider said this of the company’s corporate culture and its titanic founder-chairman:

“He is unquestionable… the word of the owner is like the word of the emperor, the word of God, and it can’t be refuted in any way.”

Anonymous Samsung Insider

The incident was such a cultural phenomenon that it popularised the term “gapjil” in South Korea, referring to the rampant abuse of power by those in authority. In the fallout of the event, Cho resigned from one of her executive positions at Korean Air and faced a swathe of legal consequences. She was found guilty of obstructing aviation safety and served a five-month prison sentence.

A decade later, the nut rage incident still serves as a much-needed cautionary tale about the danger of corporate-sponsored entitlement. Long before the term ‘nepo baby’ was common parlance, this woman showed the world what a lifetime of spoiling can do to someone… and the life-changing consequences that can arise if things get out of hand.