December 12, 2014 / 5:40 AM / 3 years ago

Korean Air executive apologizes after nuts incident sparks national outrage

Cho Hyun-ah, also known as Heather Cho, daughter of chairman of Korean Air Lines, Cho Yang-ho, appears in front of the media outside the offices of the Aviation and Railway Accident Investigation Board of the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, in Seoul December 12, 2014. REUTERS/Song Eun-seok/News1 (SOUTH KOREA

SEOUL (Reuters) - The former Korean Air Lines executive who delayed a flight because she was unhappy with the way she was served macadamia nuts apologized on Friday over the incident, which fueled outrage and ridicule in South Korea.

Heather Cho, the daughter of the airline’s chairman and head of in-flight service before she stepped down from the post this week, also said she would apologize to the cabin crew chief, who had been ordered to disembark, delaying the flight.

“I will apologize sincerely... in person,” Cho said in response to a question by a reporter as she arrived at a transportation ministry office where she was expected to answer questions about last Friday’s incident at New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.

Dressed in black, Cho, 40, emerged from a black Hyundai sedan at a building near Gimpo International Airport. She stood before cameras but looked towards the ground as snow fell, her voice barely audible.

“I sincerely apologize for causing trouble for everyone. I‘m sorry,” she said.

“I will truthfully answer questions,” said Cho, who is also under a separate investigation by local prosecutors following a complaint filed by a civic group that accused her of breaking multiple laws.

The incident was first reported on Monday, and public outrage grew after Korean Air issued what many in the country took to be a half-hearted apology that rationalized her conduct in the face of inadequate performance by the cabin crew chief.

The event unfolding in the cabin led to confusion at JFK as flight crew and officials on the ground discussed returning the plane to the gate to drop off the crew chief, and whether they needed to replace him.

Earlier on Friday, the airline’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, said his daughter was being removed from all posts at affiliate companies. She had already quit her position as vice president.

“I apologize to the people of this country as chairman of Korean Air and as a father for the trouble caused by my daughter’s foolish conduct,” said Cho, who bowed deeply in front of media crowded in the lobby of the airline’s headquarters.

His daughter, who was seated in first class on the flight, was displeased with being served macadamia nuts in a bag and not a dish. The pilot brought the plane back to its gate for the cabin crew chief to be expelled. The Airbus A380 arrived at Incheon, near Seoul, 11 minutes behind schedule.

The Transport Ministry said it was reviewing whether Heather Cho violated aviation laws. She could face prosecution and a fine if found to have committed wrongdoing, an official said.

Investigators searched the offices of Korean Air on Thursday.

“I am sorry I did not educate her well,” her father said.

The incident has stoked both mirth and anger in South Korea, whose economy is dominated by powerful family-run conglomerates known as chaebol. Local sales of macadamia nuts reportedly surged in the days following news of the incident.

Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Tony Munroe and Ryan Woo

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