Nut rage and the entitlement of S. Korea's elite

Cho Yang-ho, the owner and chairman of Korean Air, apologized for raising his daughter poorly after she forced a plane to turn back in anger over her macadamia nuts snack. He fired her from all her posts in the family conglomerate.

Lee Jin-man/AP
Cho Hyun-ah apologizes for her "nut rage" incident in front of reporters outside the Transport Ministry in Seoul on Friday.

The owner of Korea's flagship airline took the blame Friday for his daughter’s in-flight tantrum that forced the plane she was on back to its gate, striking a sensitive chord in a country where shame – and resentment of family-controlled wealth – runs deep.

“Please blame me. It’s my fault,” Cho Yang-ho, the owner and chairman of Korean Air, said in front of cameras in Seoul, at one point bowing deeply. “I failed to raise her properly,” he added.

Mr. Cho's daughter, Cho Hyun-ah, delayed a flight on Dec. 5 when she raged at a senior flight attendant for serving her macadamia nuts in an unopened bag, not on a plate. She ordered the plane to return to its gate at Kennedy International Airport in New York City, after it had begun taxiing down a runway, so the flight attendant could be removed.

Hours after her father made his public apology on Friday, Ms. Cho appeared in front of cameras outside the Transport Ministry in Seoul. "I sincerely apologize,” she told reporters, adding that she planned to say sorry personally to the affected crew members.

In addition to taking responsibility for the incident, Mr. Cho stripped his 40-year-old daughter of all her executive posts at his family-owned company. Ms. Cho had already resigned as the head of Korea Air’s in-flight services on Tuesday. On Friday, she lost her other executive jobs within her father’s Hanjin Group – the nation’s 10th-largest conglomerate – which also owns hotel, shipping, and logistics businesses.

The so-called “nut rage” incident has made Ms. Cho the latest symbol of excess within South Korea’s conglomerates, known collectively as chaebol. As The New York Times reports, South Koreans have long accused the controlling families of running their companies like dynasties.

Bloggers ridiculed Ms. Cho, who also uses the given name Heather, for “going nuts over nuts.” “She is a national embarrassment to all of us,” one Internet user said on Korean Air’s official Facebook page. Some even likened the Cho family to that of the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, who rules that country as a totalitarian fief.

The Associated Press reports that South Korean media and the public have been harshly negative, calling Ms. Cho a spoiled princess.

"This is a reflection of materialism at its height in our country. Just because she is rich and in place of power, she shouldn't have undermined the crew like that," Suyeong Kang, a college student in Seoul, told the AP.

A business school professor in Seoul described the episode as a "dismal side effect of dynastic leadership succession," according to the BBC, while a left-wing campaign group said it illustrated a "feudal form of employer-employee relationship."

The Korea Herald reports that the Transport Ministry is investigating whether Cho violated any aviation laws. Her outburst delayed the flight by 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, South Korean media reported on Wednesday that macadamia sales have spiked at the country’s major online marketplaces, in some cases more than doubling from last week.

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