Cho Hyun-ah has been sentenced to one year in prison for an in-flight tantrum that resulted in the flight changing its route.
A Seoul court found 40-year old Cho guilty of obstructing the flight’s captain in the performance of his duties, forcing a flight to change its route, assaulting a crew member and forcing a crew member off a plane.
The sentence stemmed from an in-flight incident on December 5 when Cho, daughter of Korea’s Air chairman and Korean Air heiress, kicked the chief flight attendant off the plane because a crew member offered her macadamia nuts in a bag rather than on a dish. At the time, Cho was vice-president of cabin services. The in-flight tantrum has since been dubbed nut rage.
Cho has been in custody since December 30. During her sentencing she read a letter to head judge, Oh Seong-woo, while wiping away tears. The letter included details about how, being one of the richest women in South Korea, she is now reflecting on her life.
“I know my faults and I’m very sorry,” Cho said in her letter. She detailed how since being imprisoned she has only received soap, underwear and toilet paper and has been humbled that other prisoners were willing to share their toiletries with her.
“People there lent me their toner, lotion, shampoo and rinse. I was so thankful,” the she said. “They didn’t ask me anything about this case. I felt that this was indeed being considerate for others.”
Head judge, Oh, said, “If she were considerate to people, if she didn’t treat employees like slaves, if she could have controlled her emotion, this case would not have happened.”
Public outrage at the excesses of South Korea’s business elite peaked when Cho’s high-and-mighty behavior made worldwide headlines. Known as chaebol, family-run conglomerates that run above the law often receive suspended prison sentences and eventual pardons. Prosecutors were originally calling for a three-year sentence.
Cho’s attorney did not say whether they would appeal. Some South Koreans felt the sentence was inadequate.