Korean Air has said that a pilot who attempted to drink alcohol during an international flight between Seoul and Amsterdam “didn’t cause real trouble” but took the decision to demote an onboard cabin crew manager who stopped the pilot and then reported him to the airline. The case will raise serious questions about Korean Air’s safety reporting practices and its “just safety culture”.
According to South Korean media reports, the incident took place in December 2018 but is only just coming to light now after the airline concluded its investigation and issued sanctions against the cabin crew member.
Apparently, it all started when the Captain tried to pluck a glass of Champagne from a drinks tray during boarding but was quickly stopped and scolded by a crew member. Yet halfway through the nearly 11-hour flight between Seoul Incheon and Amsterdam’s Schipol Airport, the Captain allegedly requested a cup of wine.
The cabin crew reported what had happened the cabin manager and at this point, the purser informed the other crew members and co-pilots. The plan had been to keep the whole thing quiet until the flight landed in order to avoid causing a scene and out of fear for the Captain’s mental state.
Unfortunately, one of the co-pilot’s decided to tell the Captain and before long an “altercation” had started between the commander and the cabin manager. Understandably, the cabin manager reported what had happened to Korean Air and a formal investigation got underway.
And this is where things get strange – according to the Korea Times, a spokesperson for the airline said that while “it’s true the Captain made a controversial action, it didn’t cause real trouble.”
But Korean Air said the cabin manager deserved to be demoted because they had used “insulting words during the altercation” and revealed what happened on an internal and anonymous message board. You have to wonder whether any other crew would be brave enough to speak up about safety issues if that’s how the airline treats reporters.
Of course, this isn’t the first time that Korean Air has been mired in controversy. In 2014, the daughter of Korean Air’s then Chairman, Heather Cho caused the infamous ‘nut gate’ incident – Cho was a passenger onboard a Korean Air flight from New York JFK when a flight attendant served her pre-departure nuts in a bag rather than a china ramekin.
Cho was so incensed that she ordered the plane back to the gate and had the flight attendant removed from the flight. After a huge public backlash, Cho was investigated by Korean police and eventually found guilty of obstructing aviation safety and spent five months in prison.
Both Heather Cho and her younger sister Cho Hyun-min who worked as a marketing executive for Korean Air were forced to leave the airline last year after the younger sister flew into a rage and threw water in the face of a colleague. Their father, Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho passed away in April just two weeks after being ousted from the airline’s board.
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.