The nut rage incident, also referred to as nutgate (Korean: 땅콩 회항, Ttangkong hoehang), was an air rage incident that occurred on December 5, 2014, at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. Korean Air vice president Heather Cho (Cho Hyun-ah), dissatisfied with the way a flight attendant served nuts on the plane, ordered the aircraft to return to the gate before takeoff.
First-class passengers, including Cho, were given nuts bagged in their original packaging—in keeping with the airline's procedures—but Cho had expected them to be served on a plate in first class. She questioned the cabin crew chief about the standard procedure of serving the nuts. After a heated confrontation, Cho assaulted him and ordered him off the plane, requiring a return to the gate and delaying the flight about 20 minutes.
When the incident became public, Cho and Korean Air were heavily criticized, and in the aftermath, Cho resigned from one of her several executive positions at Korean Air. She was subsequently found guilty in a South Korean court of obstructing aviation safety and given a twelve-month prison sentence, of which she served five months. The flight attendant and cabin crew chief returned to their positions by April 2016.
Initial incident and official report
On December 5, 2014, Heather Cho (Korean name: Cho Hyun-ah; Korean: 조현아), a businesswoman who is the daughter of the then Korean Air chairman and CEO Cho Yang-ho, boarded Korean Air Flight 86 at John F. Kennedy International Airport, destined for Incheon International Airport in South Korea. Prior to takeoff, she was served macadamia nuts in a closed bag rather than on a plate.
Upon being served the nuts in a bag, Cho rebuked flight attendant Kim Do-hee, and called over cabin crew chief Park Chang-jin, to complain. It was alleged that, under Cho's orders, the chief was forced to kneel down before her and beg for forgiveness. Cho repeatedly struck his knuckles with the edge of a digital tablet, and immediately dismissed him. Cho ordered the chief to get off the plane, requiring it to taxi back to the airport's gate. The incident created a delay of approximately 20 minutes for the flight with 250 people on board. The chief allegedly initially agreed with executives to refrain from making public statements and disclosing the incident to officials, but when he and the flight attendant heard about Cho's apparent attempts to spread false rumors of sexual relations between the flight attendant and chief, he decided to file an official complaint.
Korean Air issued an apology to passengers, but attempted to justify Cho's action, saying it was in accordance with her job of inspecting in-flight service and airplane safety. They apologized for the inconvenience. Initially, the minister of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport said that the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board was investigating the case. An aggrieved first class passenger contacted the airline about the incident she observed, and received a model airplane and a calendar in the mail by way of apology.
Following the flight attendant's dismissal, the airline contacted him over a dozen times, pressuring him to tell the South Korean transport authorities that he had voluntarily resigned. Two members of the supposedly independent investigative team assigned to the incident were former Korean Air employees. According to the flight attendant, Korean Air officials were present at the investigation and were allowed to ask him questions. He believed that the government investigation would be unjust, and instead reported the incident directly to the media, initiating a public furor.
After the incident was made public, it was revealed that Cho had attacked a flight attendant in 2013 after being served improperly cooked ramen noodles. This incident had been covered up by the airline, which found no wrongdoing. According to the police, a company executive ordered employees to delete records of the nut rage incident. It was also known that Heather Cho's representative, Korean Air, pressured the victims (flight attendant and the chief) to lie about the incident, and downplay what happened while being publicly questioned. But unaffiliated witnesses (including a first-class passenger) corroborated the victims' accounts by describing how Cho threw the packet of nuts and physically attacked the employees, and the plan was leaked, stirring the controversy even further. Cho herself denied any such actions despite widespread skepticism.
When the incident became public, there was popular indignation against Cho and Korean Air. Korean Air responded to public outrage by forcing Cho to resign from her job as vice-president. She initially said she would resign from all positions, but actually kept her position as chairperson of Korean Air, president of KAL Hotel Network and Hanjin Tour. Despite the early cover-up, criminal charges were later brought against her. It was thought that Korean Air could be fined around US$2 million. Cho attended the investigation of Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board on December 12, saying she would issue an apology to the cabin crew chief and flight attendant in question. Cho's father, Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho, also apologized for his daughter's "foolish act". Heather Cho visited the homes of the cabin crew chief and flight attendant to apologize in person, but left them notes because they were not at home.
One of the reasons for the widespread press coverage of the incident, particularly in South Korea, is that it illustrates the apparent widespread power (and abuse of it) held by the members of South Korean family businesses (chaebols). Passenger rates on Korean Air domestic flights dropped 6.6% in December 2014, compared to the previous year.
On January 12, 2015, a member of the National Assembly of South Korea released papers from Cho's indictment which showed for the first time that macadamia nuts were properly served in a bag, according to the airline's manual. Furthermore, Cho had been informed of this, and the specific reason she gave for the cabin crew chief's firing was that he had not informed her earlier.
The trial began on January 19 in the Seoul Western District Court with the defendant denying all charges. When Cho's father appeared in court, he asserted that the chief could work with no disadvantages. Despite a court summons, the chief did not appear in court. The flight attendant who served the nuts appeared, and testified that Cho had pushed her and made her kneel. She also said that she had been offered a teaching position at a KAL-affiliated college.
On February 12, 2015, Cho was given a one-year prison sentence for obstructing aviation safety. The Seoul Western District Court handed the sentence to Cho during a hearing, saying she was guilty of changing the flight plan, an offense that carries the penalty of up to ten years in prison.
On May 22, 2015, in Seoul High Court, she was found not guilty of changing the aircraft's route. The sentence was reduced to 10 months, suspended for two years and she was released immediately, having served five months in prison.
The flight attendant, Kim Do-hee and the cabin crew chief, Park Chang-jin, filed a civil lawsuit in the Supreme Court of the State of New York in March 2015 against both Cho and the airline, seeking compensation for an alleged verbal and physical attack by Cho. She was represented by two law firms and was seeking unspecified compensatory and punitive damages. Kim also alleged that she was pressured by the airline to lie to government investigators in a bid to cover up the incident as well as appear in public with Cho to help "rehabilitate Cho's public image". Both cases were dismissed as "all parties (concerned), evidences, and witnesses" were in South Korea.
In a separate suit, the Seoul Western District Court ordered that Korean Air pay the flight attendant 20 million KRW (about 18,000 USD) for attempting to coerce him to drop the case. He is also entitled to another 30 million KRW (about 27,000 USD) as compensation for Cho's assaults and insults.
Increase of macadamia sales volume
On December 14 and 28, Korean Sunday comedy show Gag Concert aired a parody on its sketch comedy television program. As a guest of Radio Star (TV series) and other TV shows, Kang Kyun-sung, a singer in South Korea gained popularity by having imitating the facial expressions Cho showed while being tried in court. The South Korean drama Persevere, Goo Hae-Ra on the Mnet channel included a filmed parody of the incident but, for unknown reasons, it was not broadcast. There were suspicions that pressure had been applied from the chaebol (Korean family owned business) to stop the broadcast, but the producers denied this.
- "Flight Attendant Kicked Off Korean Air Flight Alleges Cover-Up". The New York Times. December 18, 2014. Archived from the original on December 24, 2014.
- "South Korea probes reports airline boss' daughter ordered attendant off plane". Yahoo! News Canada. Reuters. December 8, 2014. Archived from the original on December 14, 2014.
- Nam, In-soo (December 8, 2014). "Korean Air Executive Ejects Crew Member After Poor Nut Service". The Wall Street Journal. Archived from the original on December 12, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
- Han, Yeonghye (December 8, 2014). "조현아 대한한공 부사장, '땅콩' 봉지째 받고 이륙 지연". Joongang Ilbo (in Korean). Archived from the original on December 30, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- Lee, Youkyung. "Nut rage flight attendant sues Korean Air, former exec". Associated Press. Archived from the original on March 13, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
- "'Nut rage': Prosecutors seek arrest for Korean Air executive". BBC News. Archived from the original on August 9, 2017.
- "Korean Air executive apologizes for macadamia nut controversy". Fortune. December 12, 2014. Archived from the original on December 27, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- "조현아 대한항공 부사장 '땅콩리턴' 논란, 출발에서 현재까지" [Heather Cho Vice president of Korean Air 'nuts rage controversy' from start to end]. KyungHyang (in Korean). December 10, 2014. Retrieved December 19, 2014.
- "'땅콩회항' 일등석 승객 "조현아,고성·파일 던져"". NAVER (in Korean). December 13, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "Daily News from Korea – Transport Ministry Must Submit to Independent Probe". The Chosun Ilbo (English Edition). Archived from the original on December 26, 2014.
- "'땅콩 회항' 조현아 부사장은 누구? 남편은 성형외과 의사 지난해 원정출산". Busan Times (in Korean). December 9, 2014.
- "Court issues arrest warrant against Korean Air heiress in 'nut rage' case". The Straits Times. Archived from the original on December 30, 2014.
- "Korean Air to be sanctioned for 'Nut Rage' Nepotism Fiasco". Flight Club. Paul Thompson. Archived from the original on December 27, 2014. Retrieved December 18, 2014.
- "Korean Air chairman's daughter denies conspiring in nut-rage coverup". The Guardian. Reuters of Seoul. Archived from the original on January 19, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "Korean Air chief's daughter resigns after causing social uproar". Global Post. December 9, 2014. Archived from the original on December 22, 2014.
- "Korean Air 'nut rage' executive Heather Cho resigns". BBC. December 9, 2014. Archived from the original on December 25, 2014.
- "Arrest warrant sought for Korean Air heiress Heather Cho over outburst of macadamia nut service". ABC News. Australia. December 24, 2014. Archived from the original on August 15, 2015. Retrieved November 9, 2015.
- "South Korea investigate Korean Air over Heather Cho outburst of nut service; company faces $2m fine". ABC News. Australia. December 16, 2014. Archived from the original on December 30, 2014.
- Hae-sik, Park (December 12, 2014). "조현아 전 부사장 "사무장·승무원 직접만나 진심으로 사과하겠다"" [Heather Cho "I'll apology to Chief and flight attendant directly"]. Dong-a Ilbo (in Korean). Archived from the original on December 30, 2014. Retrieved December 26, 2014.
- "'Nut rage': Former Korean Air executive visits air stewards". BBC News. Archived from the original on December 27, 2014. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "Why 'nut rage' is such a big deal in South Korea". Washington Post. December 12, 2014. Archived from the original on June 29, 2015.
- Smith, Geoffrey (December 9, 2014). "Korea's Nut Rage scandal ends with victory for the little people". Fortune. Archived from the original on December 31, 2014.
- "'Nut rage' exposes the many cracks in South Korea's elite". The Independent. London. December 12, 2014. Archived from the original on February 8, 2018.
- "大韓航空の国内線利用者６．６％減、"ナッツリターン"が影響か". 中央日報 (in Japanese). January 18, 2015. Archived from the original on January 19, 2015. Retrieved January 19, 2015.
- "責任者に「全部おまえのせい」＝大韓航空前副社長が「逆ギレ」―ナッツ事件・韓国". Yahoo Japan (in Japanese). Jiji Press. January 16, 2015. Archived from the original on January 16, 2015. Retrieved January 16, 2015.
- "조현아 첫 공판, 재판정서 '턱 괴고' 있다가 2차례 지적받아...'재판관 심기 불편'" [Heather Cho first trial... She got warned for resting her chin on her hand... Judge in a bad temper]. Asia Economy (in Korean). January 21, 2015. Archived from the original on January 26, 2015. Retrieved January 29, 2015.
- Park Ha-na (January 30, 2015). "Korean Air chairman Cho testifies in 'nut rage' trial". Korea Herald. Archived from the original on February 1, 2015. Retrieved January 31, 2015.
- "Korean Air executive jailed in 'nut rage' case". BBC News. February 12, 2015. Archived from the original on February 16, 2015. Retrieved February 18, 2015.
- Park, Madison; Hancocks, Paula (February 12, 2015). "Korean Air executive jailed over 'nut rage' incident". CNN. Archived from the original on October 12, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
- Pickles, Kate (February 12, 2015). "'Nut rage' Korean Air heiress handed one-year prison sentence". Mail Online. Archived from the original on October 3, 2015. Retrieved October 2, 2015.
The daughter of Korean Air's chairman has been in custody since December 30 and was charged with forcing a flight to change its normal route and which carries a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
- ""坚果返航"二审 赵显娥被判缓刑". 新闻晨报. May 23, 2015. Archived from the original on August 11, 2016. Retrieved May 23, 2015.
- Sang-Hun, Choe (November 20, 2017). "'Nut Rage' Whistle-Blower Says Korean Air Retaliated Against Him". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Archived from the original on November 20, 2017. Retrieved November 21, 2017.
- Kim, Bomi (April 16, 2016). "'땅콩회항' 피해자, 대한항공 사무장·승무원 1년여 만에 업무 복귀" (in Korean). 경향비즈. Retrieved June 28, 2016.
- "'Nut rage' flight attendant sues Korean Air Lines and exec Cho Hyun-ah". cbc.ca. March 11, 2015. Archived from the original on March 11, 2015. Retrieved March 11, 2015.
- Jeong, Sophie; Berlinger, Joshua. "$18,000 settlement over Korean Air 'nut rage'". CNN.
- 긴말 필요없는 그 땅콩…'마카다미아' 인기 폭발, 머니투데이
- 조현아 부사장 `땅콩리턴` 논란에 `마카다미아` 판매 증가, Maeil Business Newspaper
- Kwaak, Jeyup S. (December 11, 2014). "'땅콩 리턴' 승자도 있다! 마카다미아 판매량 급증". Wall Street Journal (in Korean). Retrieved August 20, 2018.
- "개그콘서트, 땅콩리턴 풍자 "지 마음대로 후진해"". 인사이트 (in Korean). December 15, 2014.
- "개그우먼 이현정, 조현아 전 부사장 땅콩회항 패러디…독기 품은 눈빛 '완벽'". Joongang Ilbo (in Korean). December 29, 2014.
- "강균성, 조현아 싱크로율 100% 패러디…"그러고 비행기 타지마라" 사진 보니 '충격'". Joongang Ilbo (in Korean). February 12, 2015.
- "ナッツ・リターン事件のパロディ、放送されず...ドラマ「七転び八起き、ク・ヘラ」側"圧力なかった"と反論". Kstyle (in Japanese). February 10, 2015. Archived from the original on February 10, 2015. Retrieved February 11, 2015.
- Sang-Hun, Choe (April 13, 2018). "Sister of Korean 'Nut Rage' Heiress Accused of Throwing Her Own Tantrum". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved April 16, 2018.
- Kim, Jong-cheol; Kim, Ji-hye (December 9, 2014). ""조현아 부사장, 원래 횡포로 유명" 밤 늦은 사과문, 오히려 '후폭풍' 됐다". Ohmynews (in Korean). Retrieved December 26, 2014.