The case of "nut rage" that occurred aboard Korean Air Flight 86 at New York's Kennedy airport has received extensive coverage -- seasoned with a huge dose of schadenfreude -- in Japan.
Heather Cho (aka Cho Hyun-ah), 40-year-old daughter of Korean Air Chairman Cho Yang-ho and an executive in charge of the airline's cabin service, had become infuriated on a Dec 5 flight between JFK and Incheon, when an attendant in first class served her macadamia nuts in a bag instead of on a plate. After verbally abusing chief purser Park Chang-Jin, Cho demanded that the aircraft, which had already moved a short distance from the terminal, return to the gate so that Park could disembark.
Despite the departure delay, inconvenience to the other passengers was minimal as the flight arrived at Incheon International Airport only 11 minutes behind schedule. But according to the latest media reports, South Korean prosecutors are preparing to slap the 40-year-old Cho -- who has been working for the carrier since 1999 -- with multiple criminal charges, including violation of the aviation safety law, coercion and interference in the execution of duty.
Nikkan Gendai (Dec 25) put its own spin on what the Japanese tabloids are calling the "nattsu retaan" (nuts return) case -- as well as another recent case in which passengers on a Thai airliner bound for China flung a container of instant noodles in hot broth at a flight attendant.
Could these sort of shenanigans happen on a Japanese carrier? Well, the captain (head pilot) has say-so over whatever occurs on his aircraft, and should a miscreant threaten to cause trouble, he is empowered to read from a "Kinshi meirei-sho" (a written order to cease and desist), by which he addresses the offender saying: "Sir (or madam, as the case may be): In accordance with Article 73, Section 4, Clause 5 of Japan's Aviation Law, you are hereby ordered to desist from any acts specified therein."
Specifically, the above-mentioned article strictly forbids the following eight acts: engaging in reckless behavior when embarking or disembarking; smoking in a lavatory; interfering in the duties of flight attendants; utilizing cell phones or other communications devices (other than set to the on-board mode); not securing one's seat belt; not returning to one's seat during takeoffs and landings; blocking the aisle with hand baggage; and disregarding an order to put on a life vest.
To make sure there's absolutely no misunderstanding, the pilot presents the written order to the offender, like a policeman handing out a speeding ticket.
Should the miscreant persist in the offensive behavior, the pilot can order him or her to be physically restrained, deviate the flight to the nearest airport and request that police meet the flight and arrest the offender. Penalties include a maximum fine of up to 500,000 yen, and drunkenness is not accepted as an excuse. Furthermore, the offender can be billed for any resulting damages.
Nikkan Gendai's take on what occurred on the Korean Air flight is that had Cho thrown her fit aboard a Japanese carrier, she would have been physically restrained.
Last February when a Japanese passenger aboard an All Nippon Airways flight from New York became involved in an altercation with another passenger, the plane made an unscheduled diversion to Anchorage, Alaska, and the man was handed over to the FBI.
Attorney Hiroto Kaneko warns that when a crime occurs on an international flight, the jurisdiction might either come under the country in which the aircraft is registered, or to the national airspace over which the aircraft is flying.
"The stance foreign authorities typically take in such instances is 'guilty until proven innocent,'" Kaneko remarks. "In countries that are particularly sensitive to terrorist threats, even cracking a joke about a bomb on board can result in stiff penalties."
And these days, one thing you don't want to do is make a wisecrack about having contracted Ebola.
"In cases where danger is perceived to the crew, passengers and property, the captain is might decide to return to the originating airport," Kaneko points out. "This policy is particularly strict for international flights."© Japan Today