Cabin Chief Denies Korean Pilot Alcohol – Gets Demoted

In an interesting turn of events, a cabin chief at Korean Air denied a captain access to alcohol during the flight. However, after reporting the incident, the cabin chief received a punishment in the form of a demotion. Here is the story.

Update on July 10, 2019: Korean Air provided the following statement to Simple Flying: “Regarding the case, we have found out that there was a miscommunication between the captain and the cabin crew. Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport of Korea is currently under investigation on this, and we are fully cooperating with them. “

Korean Air 747-8I
A Korean Air cabin chief was demoted after preventing a captain from accessing alcohol during flight. Photo: Boeing

The events

Multiple events transpired before Korean Air disciplined the cabin chief. This story, as reported by One Mile At A Time, is shocking since there seems to be a legitimate concern of passenger safety. The events started while on the ground.

Pre-departure

Many airlines serve pre-departure beverages in premium cabins. These are usually options such as juice, water, and champagne.

Lufthansa pr-departure
Pre-departure champagne in Lufthansa First Class
Photo: Jay Singh/Simple Flying

The captain reportedly attempted to take a glass of champagne. His efforts were impeded by a member of the cabin crew. After this denial, the captain reportedly asked for alcohol to be served in a paper cup rather than proper glassware. Ultimately, glassware isn’t the issue. Alcohol and crew duties tend not to mix well.

In-flight

During the long-haul trek from Seoul to Amsterdam, the captain decided to try again for a glass of wine. Again, a cabin crew member refused this request. However, in this case, the crewmember reported the case to the cabin chief.

Korean Air
A Korean Air cabin crew member alerted the cabin chief as to the captain’s request. Photo: Boeing

The cabin chief then had a word with all the crew onboard the aircraft. This move is not entirely unwise, since the captain could make the request again which could be obliged by a different crew member. Most importantly, the cabin chief asked for secrecy as the captain likely would not appreciate this plan. Unfortunately, this ended up being the case.

Altercation

The co-pilot told the captain about the cabin chief’s actions. This led to some anger flaring as the pilots and the cabin chief got into a bit of an argument, since each side had a different story. Fortunately, the aircraft landed safely in Amsterdam with all members of crew and staff unharmed.

After landing

The cabin chief filed a complaint about the captain’s actions. Except, this action was taken using Korean’s anonymous online message board. Korean Air then investigated and called in both parties for a resolution.

Korean Air 737
The Korean Air flight landed safely in Amsterdam. Photo: Boeing

The outcome

The captain received a verbal warning. Meanwhile, the cabin chief ended up with a demotion due to disrupting the onboard experience with such a scuffle. There most definitely may have been an issue tied to Korean cultural norms. Typically, yielding to higher authority figures is encouraged. In this case, the cabin chief did not comply with the request. For reference, here is a post on Korean Air’s Instagram account detailing table etiquette:

In other East Asian countries, like Japan, the issue of pilots and alcohol is taken very seriously. Recently, the Japan Airlines President took a pay cut due to an incident involving a drunk pilot.

Overall

There very well could be grounds for the cabin chief’s demotion. The entire story is still not out in the open since details regarding the inflight altercation are a bit scarce. However, there also seems to be a slight misalignment of punishment. A captain who asks for alcohol multiple times inflight only receives a verbal warning. Meanwhile, a crewmember who denied the captain’s request receives a demotion.

Do you think the cabin chief deserved a demotion? Let us know in the comments!

14 comments
  1. Simple don’t fly Korean Air. Alcohol impairs physical reactions and it should be a company rule. How often has this gone on.

    1. The Cabin Chief deserves a promotion. He had ensured the safety of the flight by refusing alcohol to be served to the Captain.

      The Captain should be demoted as he would have broken the rules and regulations of drinking whilst on duty.

      For him to be so persistent to be serve alcoholic beverages in flight, may be an indication that he is an alcoholic.

      1. At the very least, the captain should have received some guidance from the airline regarding his behaviour I feel.

  2. This is pretty scary for aviation safety. Employees should feel comfortable reporting safety issues without fear of repercussions. I’m hesitant to fly Korean Air after reading this.

    1. I recall the cause of the Korean Air Stansted Airport 747 crash mentioned Korean pilot culture, and that the co-pilot would’ve had the correct readings but didn’t challenge his superior. That was back in 1999 though. One would hope it has changed by now.

  3. Endangering passenger safety. Offending Korean cultural norms. Causing upset to passengers whilst protecting passenger safety. Rank these 3 in order of significance.

  4. Pilot was probably an alcoholic, with a need for alcohol. Korean airlines management should have fired him outright. Cabin chief should have been applauded by management, not demoted. In this respect, Korean culture sucks because sucking up to seniority system endangers the lives of all aboard the plane. I will not be flying Korean Air.

  5. Safety of a flight should supercede all other considerations!

    on the face of it the actions taken by the management seem topsy-turvy?

  6. I am an airline pilot in the U.S. The captain should have been fired immediately. The cabin chief should have been promoted immediately. Nothing else needs to be said.

    1. I think it is a little unfair to take this incident and blanket Korean Air as an overall unsafe airline. There are definitely some pieces to the story that haven’t been fully revealed. However, if there is a pattern of this kind of action at Korean Air, it can be a little concerning.

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