Heather Cho, Korean Air's executive vice president, has come under fire for allegedly exceeding her authority by ordering a flight manager of the airline to get off a plane for poor services.
The plane, carrying some 250 passengers on board, was delayed for 12 minutes due to the incident. It was on the landing strip of JFK Airport in New York on Friday, bound for Incheon Airport in South Korea.
Cho was flying first class and yelled at a flight attendant who handed out a bag of nut snacks without asking whether the passenger wanted it or not.
Being in charge of flight services of the country's No. 1 air carrier, Cho called for the purser ― indicating the flight manager ― to check the plane's service manual. When he failed to locate the guidelines on a tablet PC, she ordered him to deplane.
According to Korean Air, the pilot of flight KE086 turned the plane around to drop the manager off after notifying the control tower that there was a problem with a flight attendant.
The pilot, however, did not make the announcement to the passengers.
Some believe Cho may have violated related aviation laws that put the cabin crew onboard under the sole supervision of the pilot.
Korean Air claimed that Cho discussed the matter with the pilot, who reportedly made the call.
The airliner also said the absence of the purser had not caused any problems for the flight or the passengers as there were 19 other crew members onboard ― the number having already exceeded the minimum of 16 attendants.
Cho is the eldest daughter of Cho Yang-ho, chairman of Hanjin Group, the parent firm of Korean Air.
As industry watchers pointed out, it is rare for a flight to return to the boarding gate unless there were technical snags or other problems threatening passenger safety.
"We will review the situation as (Cho) has not shown conduct expected of all passengers on commercial flights," said an official of The Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport.
Cho, 40, previously faced public criticism after briefly leaving the country to give birth to twins in Hawaii last year to give them US citizenship.