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'Nut Rage' Punishment: 1 Year In Jail For Former Korean Air Executive

Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, was sentenced to one year in prison for her behavior aboard an international flight. She's seen here in December.
Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, was sentenced to one year in prison for her behavior aboard an international flight. She's seen here in December.

Citing violations of aviation safety rules, a court in South Korea has sentenced Cho Hyun-ah, former vice president of Korean Air, to one year in prison. Cho sparked an uproar after she demanded that the jet she was on return to an airport gate to leave behind a flight attendant.

The incident on the plane at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport immediately drew criticism from Koreans who saw the outburst by Cho, whose family controls Korean Air, as another sign of the entitlement enjoyed by the country's wealthy families.

It also inspired a nickname that stuck: "Nut Rage."

The Dec. 5 incident began after Cho was displeased by the manner in which she had been served macadamia nuts: they were in a bag rather than on a plate, and she had not been asked if she would like them.

Cho, who was then in charge of cabin service for the airline, angrily questioned the crew about protocol and demanded that the plane, which had pulled away from its gate to leave New York City for South Korea, return to the gate and leave a member of the cabin crew behind.

Days after the incident, Cho, who's also known as Heather Cho, apologized and resigned from the airline. But she was arrested in late December.

According to the Korea Herald, in its ruling, Seoul's Seobu District Court found that Cho "had violated a law banning passengers from pressuring crew members to deviate from the flight route," and that she "physically and verbally assaulted a female flight attendant as well as the cabin crew chief."

Prosecutors had sought a three-year sentence for Cho.

In addition to the former executive, two other people — another airline employee and an official at South Korea's Transportation Ministry — were also punished by the Seoul court.

The Korea Herald says that Korean Air's executive director was sentenced to eight months in jail after being accused of destroying evidence; a government official who had reportedly tried to interfere with witness testimony was given a suspended prison term.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.

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