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Korean Air 'Nut Rage' Executive Freed From Prison

Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-Ah, after being released by a Seoul appeals court.
Jung Yeon-je
AFP/Getty Images
Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-Ah, after being released by a Seoul appeals court.

Former Korean Air executive Cho Hyun-ah, or Heather Cho, is out of prison after a four-month stay. If her name and alias don't ring a bell for you, the reason why she was jailed might.

She's the executive who wanted her macadamia nuts served on a plate and not in a bag, and was so outraged about the service on the airline for which she was vice president that she threw a tantrum when confronting the flight crew. As our Bill Chappell summed up in February:

"Cho sparked an uproar after she demanded that the jet she was on return to an airport gate to leave behind a flight attendant.

"The incident on the plane at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport immediately drew criticism from Koreans who saw the outburst by Cho, whose family controls Korean Air, as another sign of the entitlement enjoyed by the country's wealthy families."

In February, Cho was sentenced to one year in prison for violating aviation laws by forcing a flight to change its route and two other charges — obstructing the flight's captain in the performance of his duties and forcing a crew member off a plane.

On Thursday, a South Korean appeals court overturned that lower court's decision to imprison Cho, the daughter of Korean Air's chairman. The higher court reduced the one-year term to 10 months, suspended for two years. After already spending the last four months in prison, the ruling means Cho won't spend any additional time in the slammer so long as she doesn't commit a crime in the next two years.

"She has shown remorse for the wrongdoing she committed. She must have learned a lesson from it. We judge she should have a chance to start her life anew," Seoul High Court Judge Kim Sang-whan said.

It's unclear what Cho will be doing for work now that she's free. She apologized and resigned from her executive position just days after the December "nut rage" incident. We should also mention that the widespread coverage of this incident led macadamia nut sales to soar.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elise Hu is a host-at-large based at NPR West in Culver City, Calif. Previously, she explored the future with her video series, Future You with Elise Hu, and served as the founding bureau chief and International Correspondent for NPR's Seoul office. She was based in Seoul for nearly four years, responsible for the network's coverage of both Koreas and Japan, and filed from a dozen countries across Asia.