Korean Air Flight Attendant Who Was Abused By “Nut Rage” Executive Speaks Out (Again)

In 2014, an incident that occurred on a Korean Air flight from New York JFK to Seoul Incheon went viral. In this incident, a Korean Air executive (also the daughter of the company’s chairman) went nuts after a flight attendant dared to serve her nuts in a bag rather than in a ramekin. She demanded that the flight attendants get on their knees to apologize, that the plane be turned around, and that the flight attendant who served her incorrectly be offloaded.

Part of the reason this story went viral is because of the tension between big corporations led by the country’s “ruling” families, and everyone else. This was the perfect example of the abuse of power that seems to be all too common in Korea. The Korean Air executive ended up being sentenced to one year in jail for obstructing aviation safety, though she was released after just three months. At the time there were rumors that she’d make a return to the company, though that ended up not happening. Instead her sister has many of her roles, and her sister texted to assure her that she would be “avenged.”

With the Olympics now being in Korea, and Korean Air being an official sponsor, the nutty former Korean Air executive is once again in the news. Specifically, she was seen alongside her sister and father, carrying the Olympic torch.

So while she’s living the high life, The Straits Times has an interesting look at the life that 47 year old Park Chang Jin is now living. He was the chief flight attendant on the nut rage flight (not even the flight attendant who allegedly served her incorrectly), and is still working for Korean Air, though under very different conditions than before. He went from a chief flight attendant to just a standard economy flight attendant:

In the interview, the immaculately dressed and groomed former chief flight attendant described a hostile work environment that he believes is designed to force him to resign.

Rumours spread about him and people began to recognise him on the street, he said.

Park said his working conditions also deteriorated sharply, with his superiors belittling him and asking him why he had returned to work or why he was not married.

“I have suffered physically and psychologically,” he said, describing how he had to take a total of 18 months’ sick leave while he sought hospital treatment. He is now taking anti-depressants and often experiences agoraphobia and difficulty breathing. He wiped his eyes several times during the interview.

When Park returned to work, he had to renew all his qualifications after more than a year off. He was repeatedly given failing grades on language tests – in Korean and in English – and began to suspect it was on purpose.

After having worked as chief flight attendant and in first class, he was assigned to economy class and often given the most menial tasks, including cleaning the toilets.

Park is suing Cho and Korean Air, alleging they demoted him illegally and have led to him being ostracized at work. While Park says he doesn’t expect to win, he is doing this to make a point.

I feel horribly for the guy. It’s disgusting that this was allowed to happen to begin with, and I guess not surprising that the company now seems to have a vendetta against him. I know pride is important in Korean culture, so it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that the company is out to get him, given the (accurate) things he’s saying about them. But that doesn’t make it alright…

Hang in there, Mr. Park!

(Tip of the hat to Stanley C)

Comments

  1. Yikes. Somehow I doubt Nutgate is the only incident to have ever pushed someone to a point where they’re experiencing something akin to Mr. Park.

  2. I have worked with Koreans and unfortunately I have no reason at all to doubt this story. In my experience I found them incredibly difficult people to work with with stubborn and rigid mindsets. And extremely sensitive to status and ranks amongst themselves.
    After that experience I have no trouble to understand why the koreans are technically still at war and why korean planes can hit mountains while co-pilots see the danger but fail to speak up.

    Very difficult people.

  3. Likewise I too have little reason to doubt this story. With some of these Asian carriers, though they may provide excellent customer service, internally their management culture is demeaning, belittling of others. Very unfortunate that this flight attendant had to go through all that he went through even after the fact that executive was in the wrong. Very shameful treatment of their employee.

  4. I agree with Ron, the only way this FA can get anything is public embarrassment of Korean Airlines and the family. Sad but true

  5. @ron. I understand everything what you said. stubborn and rigid mindsets. That affected that society and made some problems as we read in this case. But you cannot say that’s why they are still at war. At least, if you have ever studied world history and political science, it’s not that simple matter that can blame everything on Korean’s mindsets.

  6. Like many here i have all the reasons to believe Mr Park’s story and feel extremely sorry for him. Koreans can be bully towards people who are below them in ranks. I know I might not make much of a difference but I won’t fly KE until justice is served and Mr Park can once again be a proud flight attendant.

  7. Sorry but Park can go f**k his immaculately groomed self! I expect he didn’t know he was serving a KE exec, but still considered his shortcuts acceptable for someone paying up to $10k for a F fare! It’s pathetic people will accept this in long haul F and astonishing people will defend it in the comments!!

  8. Asian society is so different to what we are used to in the west. As a 20-something year old guy I applied to be a London based Flight Attendant with JAL about fifteen years ago. I was successful in my application and was shipped off to Narita for six weeks of my training course. It was such a culture shock.

    Day one, we begun the course with one of the Japanese instructors. Midway through some tutorial or another this weird music started playing over the speakers and the instructor stopped what he was doing and started doing star jumps! I kid you not. A few of us found this hilarious and laughed. Little did we know it is something common and seriously taken in the Japanese workplace – a kind of exercise break. We were asked to stay once that days class was finished and were told as punishment we would have to wash the floors of the training centre. So we did. We quickly learned the term ‘nikkin kyoiku’ or ‘daytime education’. You would be faced with this if you failed an exam, or were caught placing a coffee cup on a passengers tray with the handle facing in the non-standard direction. It was supposed to be ‘further training’ but in reality it was a humiliation exercise – you’d be given tasks like putting letters in envelopes or stapling pieces of paper.

    I used to feel sorry for the Japanese girls I would work alongside. The sh*t they used to have to put up with from the japanese businessmen would have been out of place in the west even in the 1950’s airline industry. Sexual harassment was rife and I don’t mean in the #metoo guise of today (oh he made an unwanted pass at me). It was full on sticking hands up their skirts and even on two occasions on flights I worked, masturbating. You seldom saw male crew at JAL. In fact the airline only recruited males in their european bases because they were taken to a tribunal (and lost) as for years they only hired women. Maybe 15-20% of their japanese based crew were male and nearly always occupied the senior roles. The Japanese female crew would have to slog their a*s off for twenty years at JAL before maybe finally achieving a Chief Purser position – then watch a male colleague with three years service be promoted to the same position because he has a penis.

  9. Mr Park won’t be able to hang in there too much longer, given that he already suffered medical condition due to the hostile environment. Now with him suing them, he needs to be prepared things will get worst for him big time, not sure if he can handle what’s coming ahead. I feel sorry for him, it’s sad but that’s the truth on the culture and environment in certain countries won’t be changed anytime soon. I hope he can another job in a non Korea airline. Staying in there won’t do him much good.

  10. While I really don’t care one way or another you got the central point of this story wrong.

    The woman, who was actually an executive within company responsible for this specific service element, after being served the but’s in a bag, called the head FA and asked him what was the procedure for serving nuts. He wasn’t able to answer the question and just went silent. Then she had him offloaded from the flight. Supposedly for not knowing the serving procedures.

  11. Dcaguy… are you kidding me here? Because of a bag of nuts, the plane actually had to return to the gate, after being pushed back. Not to mention both F/As had to kneel down to apologize. NO ONE deserves that kind of humiliation over a bag of nuts served in a bag or a bowl. If someone forgets about the serving procedure, you can demote them to work in business class or just give them “retraining,” but they should not have returned to the gate to offload the passengers. When Miss Cho screamed and yelled, she was putting on a show and going on a major power trip. That is just WRONG.

    What Park experiences does not surprise me and in some ways, he is way tougher than the other F/A, who possibly quits after this incident. Korean Air obviously wants him gone but if they fire him directly, they will be in bigger troubles. So they go the “humiliating” track. I actually think the reality is possibly ten times worst. But I admire Park’s determination to speak out and clear his name. You also begin to see the change in the mindset of the new generation of Koreans and people are upset at this inequality. Park knows that this lawsuit is just another uphill battle but wants to make a point. However there is one thing that Park will win forever. Miss Cho will always be a convict and known as a criminal. She will continue to suffer humiliation in the elite society. Even times can erase this history, the gossips will never stop. But Miss Cho deserves it and six months in jail are nothing.

    As Ben says, hang on Park!

  12. @AlbionEmera, the KAL manual stated that nuts were to be served in a bag. Blame costcutting on the airline’s part but not the attendant – he was following policy.

  13. @ron I have worked with Americans and unfortunately I have no reason at all to doubt this story. In my experience I found them incredibly difficult people to work with with stubborn and rigid mindsets. And extremely sensitive to money and competition amongst themselves.
    After that experience I have no trouble to understand why the Americans are always at war and why American executives can reap huge benefits while workers see the danger but fail to speak up.

    Very difficult people.

  14. Referring to “Asian” airlines is not helpful. This doesn’t happen at Singapore Airlines.

    Lumping things together like “Asian airlines” is just like lumping Hitler and Trump or Hillary together because we are all White.

    Korean Air was a crappy and dangerous airline before. Now they are still bad but a little less dangerous.

  15. Dcaguy it’s not the whole story.

    Korean had always served their nuts in a bowl.

    Just a week before the incident, they changed their standard officially to serve them in a packet due to allergy concerns.

    The exec was unaware of this.

    None of us were there. But put yourself in the Pursers position. You are pushing back on a routine flight and the CEO’s daughter launches into a rage about nuts and demands the aircraft return to stand. The poor guy was probably in a state of shock and it is just NOT in the Korean culture to argue a point with someone of her seniority.

  16. @ron, I wouldn’t tolerate your racism implied comment, such as mentioning about why Koreas are still in war. You’re very ignorant in history and politics, just like the NBC guy who said “all Koreans will appreciate Japanese occupation”.
    @Derek, fun fact, Korean Air got shot down by USSR fighter jets/missles twice and bombed/hijacked by NK several times. Other than that, except for Guam 1997 would be the only “major” accident/incident

    Anyhow, back to Park story,
    1. EVERYONE from KE knows who she is (at least the Korean origin employees)
    2. Park and other FA, who served the macadamia to Cho, were physically abused by Cho
    3. Everyone here should understand the unique conglomerate (Chae-bol) structure of Korean corps. It’s more like late 19C – 20C oligopoly in the US. Learned all these when I was stationed in Korea as an active duty Army and doing MBA there.

  17. The fact that Korean Air decided to be vengeful is unsurprising because the moronic dinosaurs running the show are so out of touch with public opinion that they believe in their “born to rule” status. The comments of the sister a case in point. They, and their ilk, believe that the little people are insignificant ( think Leona Helmsley in a Korean dress).
    It would be a brave judge to rule against Mr Park. Of course if the dimwits at Korean Air had any sense they would settle. They don’t and won’t.
    Good luck Mr Park , who should be encouraged that 80%+ of Koreans support his cause.

  18. His story is incredibly sad. His lawsuit is like David vs Goliath. The Korean culture will not change overnight unless more people like Mr. Park stand up against the system.

  19. Having lived and worked in Singapore for several years this empowered attitude (called wasta in the Middle East) is prevalent throughout Asia, not just Korea.

    It is generally claimed that the ME3 treat their employees like slaves – but in my experience they employees in the Middle East airlines are actually treated much better than this example of Asian culture.

  20. this sounds like what happens in any other company when someone who has done nothing wrong gets abused. The evil bitch and her family should be jailed.

  21. Korean companies regularly chew up and spit out their workers. Many aren’t even able to make it until retirement age, at least as we think of it in the States, at 65. Many are essentially forced to quit in their 50s or even 40s, and they actually refer to that as their “retirement.” I could go on for hours about the conformist, hierarchical b.s. that permeates Korean culture. It’s changing, but too slowly.

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