The really nuts thing about the Korean Air nuts story


The headlines were predictable. Earlier this week on a Korean Air flight Heather Cho – the daughter of Cho yang-ho, head of the Hanjin group which owns the airline – shouted at a flight attendant for serving her macadamias in a packet instead of on a plate.

Cho – who joined the firm aged 25 and in just six years has been promoted to vice-president – then insisted that the flight return to its stand and a crew-member be removed.

She had, said nearly every newspaper and website that covered the story, “gone nuts”.

South Korean authorities are said to be investigating whether she broke the law by overriding the pilot’s authority, and unions are up in arms. The story has gone viral.

Bizarre? Yes. But the wider context is that it is yet another example of the arrogance of the owners of the chaebols, the increasingly unpopular family-owned conglomerates such as Samsung and LG that dominate South Korea’s economy.

Only recently Hyundai paid $10bn for a plot of land in the fashionable Gangnam district of Seoul to build a flashy HQ, while telling its car-factory workers it couldn’t afford pay-rises.

The Sewol ferry disaster in which 300 people died was also partly blamed on possibly corrupt corner-cutting by the chaebol that owned the ferry company. Examples of law-breaking by chaebol owners are common.

Both the populace and government are getting fed up with chaebols’ outrageous behaviour, and regulations that will break them up and make them more accountable are rapidly coming into force. The nut episode will only speed things up.

Albert Einstein said that insanity was “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. That the chaebols’ owners keep behaving with such jaw-dropping arrogance is the thing that is really nuts.