Friday, December 12, 2014

All that and a bag of nuts

As Peter Paul Candy taught us year’s ago, some times you feel like a nut, some times you don’t.

I’m one of those folks who, most of the time, does feel like a nut. And when I do, I tend not to care whether that nut comes out of a bag, sits in a dish, or is served on a silver platter.

Like everyone else, of course, I occasionally have to struggle to open the nut bag on the airlines – or I did, until most airlines I fly on banned nuts. When the incredible shrinking nut bags were handed out, I was always worried whether I’d chip a tooth trying to rip it open with my teeth, or whether the bag would explode and send those few, those proud, those eleven salted and/or sugared peanuts flying.

And while on the subject of nuts, I do have to say that when I’m at Fenway Park sharing a box of Cracker Jacks with my sister Trish, we are generally appalled by the paltry number of peanuts. Bad enough that the surprise inside is a shadow of former Cracker Jack greatness. Wouldn’t you rather have a tiny plastic yo-yo that doesn’t work than a wash-off tattoo?

But my next round of Cracker Jacks is months away, and the nut-related subject at hand is the Korean Air exec – the VP of cabin service and catering - who reportedly went a bit nuts last week when a flight attendant served her macadamia nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate.

Heather Cho – who’s not just any old airline VP, why, she’s the daughter of the chairman – wasn’t content to just chew out the flight attendant on the spot, or write up this completely egregious breach of protocol and destroy the flight attendant’s career after the fact. No, she had to demand that the pilot pull the plane back to the gate so that the unworthy flight attendant could be bodily removed.

Here’s how the initial reports said things went down:

Local media reports said that a junior attendant had offered Ms. Cho macadamia nuts in a bag, instead of serving the nuts on a plate.

Ms. Cho, daughter of company boss Cho Yang-ho, then questioned the chief flight attendant over in-flight service standards and ordered him off the plane.

Korean Air said the plane arrived 11 minutes late, and that the decision to expel the senior flight attendant had been made in consultation with the pilot. (Source: BBC)

Ms. Cho, whose charter includes service standards – which, as the CEO’s daughter, likely translates into jetting around in first class, back and forth between Inchon and wherever; getting fawned over by airline employees; and collecting a big, fat paycheck  - was, as it turns out, just traveling as a regular old passenger when the incident occurred.

As a passenger, she had no right to demand that the plane get turned around, which got South Korean travel authorities trying to decide whether a criminal offense had occurred. I mean a criminal offense above and beyond serving macadamia nuts in a bag.

In the bag, or not?

A few days after the nut news broke, it was announced the Ms. Cho had resigned, at a meeting “presided over” by dear old dad.

“I apologize to the customers and the public for causing social issues and to those who have been hurt by my actions,” Heather Cho said in the statement. “I will take full responsibility and resign from all my positions.” (Source: Bloomberg)

She had been getting it in the neck from South Korean news, which cited her as an example of what happens when above-it-all family members of the families that run the country’s business conglomerates get jobs in the family business. Surprise, surprise.

Meanwhile, there’s a conflicting story about the kernel at the center of Nutgate. It may not have been a case of plated vs. bagged nuts, after all.

Heather Cho ordered the head of the service crew on Flight 86 from New York to Seoul to deplane on Dec. 5 after an attendant earlier had served her macadamia nuts without asking, the carrier said Dec. 8. Cho then summoned the purser to ask a question about the airline’s policy on serving nuts. She ordered the plane back to the gate and instructed the man to leave the plane when he couldn’t answer.

Given the sensitivity – life and death sensitivity, at that – around all things nutty, it does make sense to have a policy about nuts: ask and you shall receive, keep them in the bag, or do away with nuts on the plane, altogether. Much as I like nuts, I think I could live without them for the duration of a flight. (I would be less happy if ballparks banned Cracker Jacks, but I’m fine if they want to have peanut-free sections in the stands.)

What was over the top was Ms. Cho’s reaction.

From the sounds of things, the crew member that she booted off the plane is now on leave, doctor’s letter in hand.

If this were the states, I think we could safely say “law suit” here.

Don’t know what this bodes in South Korea.

Anyway, just because she’s the boss’s daughter doesn’t give Heather Cho the right to act like a boor boss to some hapless employee who, senior flight attendant/purser or not – is well down the totem pole, let alone order a plane back to the gate.

I’d say good riddance, but the betting money has it that, once things die down, she’ll be back in some capacity.

VP title, no doubt, safely on the business card.

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