A South Korean court on Thursday sentenced the daughter of Korean Air’s chairman to one year in prison after she was found guilty of violating aviation safety rules with an outburst over the way she was served nuts in a first-class cabin.
Heather Cho achieved worldwide notoriety after she ordered the chief flight attendant off a December 5 flight after objecting to the way she was served nuts, forcing it to return to the gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York.
Cho, who at the time served as a Korean Air executive vice president and was the head of the airline’s in-flight service, was angered that she had been offered macadamia nuts in a bag instead of in a dish, and had a heated confrontation with members of the cabin crew.
The court also found Cho guilty of interfering with the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties and forcing a crew member off the plane. It found her not guilty of obstructing the transport ministry investigation into the incident or of physically assaulting the chief steward, Park Chang-Jin, who says she made him kneel and beg for forgiveness while jabbing him with a service manual.
She had pleaded not guilty to most of the charges.
Cho, in custody since December 30, wiped away tears as a letter expressing her remorse was read to the court by head Judge Oh Seong-woo.
The letter included details about how Cho, one of the richest women in South Korea and who regularly flew first class, was adjusting to the basic conditions of her prison and finding time to reflect on her life. “I know my faults and I’m very sorry,” Cho said in her letter.
Prosecutors had called for a three-year sentence.
Cho’s behaviour, dubbed “nut rage” by the press, caused an uproar in South Korea. The incident touched a nerve in a country where the economy is dominated by family-run conglomerates known as chaebol that often act above the law.