Turbulence rocks two of Korea’s leading airlines
Asiana changed caterers, which resulted in few in-flight meals and a tragedy, while members of the family running Korean Air were hit with some flak
It is not only passengers who have been impacted by the lack of in-flight meals on Asiana flights – the CEO of one of the companies responsible has reportedly committed suicide.
Korea’s number two carrier has been plagued by three days of delays due to a lack of meals after it temporarily switched its meal supplier from Lufthansa subsidiary Sky Chefs to Sharp DO & CO, a local, but smaller firm, the Joongang Daily reported. The shift was required after a fire temporarily slowed the operations of the original supplier.
However, the local firm proved unequal to the task. The newspaper reported that 61 of 75 Asiana international flights on Tuesday took off with no meals aboard. The airline has apologized and expects normal meal services to be resumed within two to three days. In the meantime, it is handing out duty-free gift certificates to flyers in lieu of meals.
But while passengers may be left hungry, an un-named subcontractor of Sharp DO & CO has been left without its CEO.
The 56-year-old appeared to have committed suicide on Monday, after telling a friend that the delays were his fault, that he had worked 28 hours straight and that all female employees were in tears, according to the Joongang. Police are reportedly investigating.
While the situation is a serious embarrassment for the carrier, Asiana has been left untouched by the PR firestorm that has engulfed cross-town rival Korean Air.
Nutty family in hot water
Korean Air, an affiliate of family-run conglomerate Hanjin Group, has being rocked by allegations that its ruling family, the Chos, are – among other malfeasances – serial abusers of staff and sub-contractors.
One of the chairman’s two daughters, then-Senior Vice-President Cho Hyun-ah, was publicly lambasted and briefly jailed after it was revealed she had thrown a wobbly and ordered a flight from New York to turn around so it could remove a cabin attendant who had served her macadamia nuts in a bag, rather than on a tray. She also lost her job at the carrier, but now runs the group’s hotel operations.
The “nut rage” incident was followed by her younger sister’s “water rage” affair. Senior Vice-President Cho Hyun-min faced public outrage after she allegedly screamed abuse at and hurled a cup of water – according to some reports, orange juice – over an ad executive whose pitch apparently displeased her.
Meanwhile the family matriarch, Lee Myung-hee, is facing court proceedings after footage leaked of her abusing workers at her home. Police are also investigating allegations that the Chos illegally hired maids, and used the airline – the national flag carrier – to smuggle luxury items into Korea for the family.
The Cho saga has cast harsh light on the practice known in Korean as gapjil – the abuse of juniors by seniors in what remains a deeply hierarchical society.
Still, at least Korean Air’s corporate scandals have not directly impacted passengers. The same cannot be said for Asiana.
A Frenchman in Seoul who is a frequent traveler vowed to avoid Asiana for the time being. “On Korean Air you might be insulted, but at least you will get your macadamia nuts,” he told Asia Times.