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Airline faces 'nut rage' punishment


Cho Hyun-ah quit her executive post at Korean Air after the 'nut rage' incident (AP)

Cho Hyun-ah quit her executive post at Korean Air after the 'nut rage' incident (AP)

Cho Hyun-ah quit her executive post at Korean Air after the 'nut rage' incident (AP)

Korean Air Lines will face penalties for pressuring staff to lie during a government probe into the "nut rage" incident.

South Korea's transport ministry said the carrier could face up to 21 days of flight suspensions or shell out a £830,000 fine for breaking aviation law.

Cho Hyun-ah, the daughter of Korean Air's chairman, went crackers after she was served macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate, forcing the aircraft to return to the gate and ordering a crew member off the December 5 flight.

She later resigned from executive roles including head of cabin service amid a storm of criticism over the incident, which made world headlines and spawned parodies on the internet.

Demand for macadamia nuts also skyrocketed, with Auction, a South Korean unit of eBay, saying sales surged nearly 1,200% during the five days to Sunday without any promotions.

And the website of e-commerce firm Coupang showed Mauna Loa macadamia nuts were out of stock.

The transport ministry said the airline would also be punished because Ms Cho lied during the inquiry into the incident and the captain was negligent in his duties.

It said Ms Cho used abusive language to flight attendants but could not ascertain if she used violence.

The government probe has highlighted the tyrannical behaviour of a top Korean business family and the transport ministry said it would also investigate whether the airline's corporate culture poses safety risks because Ms Cho, 40, overruled the captain to force the plane to return to the gate.

The captain will not face any sanction as he was powerless to refuse a member of the family that controls the airline.

Ministry director Lee Gwang-hee said the airline's punishment would be determined by a separate committee that could decide to increase or lessen it.

Park Chang-jin, the attendant forced to leave the plane, later told South Korea's KBS television network that Ms Cho had shamed and insulted crew members.

A first-class passenger told Yonhap news agency that she yelled at flight attendants who kneeled before her, pushed one's shoulder and threw an object at the cabin wall.

Mr Park was visited by Korean Air Lines officials who pressured him to give a sanitised version of events to investigators.

Prosecutors earlier launched a separate investigation into the Korean Air case after receiving a complaint from a civic group and have summoned Ms Cho to be questioned tomorrow, according to Yonhap.

Ms Cho and her father apologised last week, but a new furore erupted over Korean Air's attempt to foil government investigators and media reports that exposed how Korean Air employees were treated like servants of the Cho family.

"If the incident itself were not beastly enough, Korean Air's response has been abominable," the Korea Herald said in an editorial.

"In attempts that are akin to feudal servants trying to protect their lord's daughter, Korean Air staff rallied to the rescue of Korean Air CEO Cho Yang-ho's daughter."