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[NEWSMAKER] Korean Air on hot seat over air rage incident

Flagship carrier bogged down by inability to control violent incident, pilot strike

Korea’s flagship air carrier is likely to spend Christmas fending off controversy over the training of its cabin crew and labor relations, as an in-flight incident involving an international pop star took off Tuesday via social media, just ahead of a scheduled strike by its pilots.

On Tuesday, singer-songwriter Richard Marx posted multiple times to his official Facebook page about a four-hour “chaotic and dangerous event” on Korean Air Flight 480’s Prestige business class, flying from Hanoi, Vietnam to Incheon. 

Photos posted by Marx showed a man pulling the hair of a female flight attendant, then being physically held back by crew and other passengers, including Marx.

Photos from the incident on KE480 posted to Richard Marx’s Facebook page (Richard Marx Official Facebook)
Photos from the incident on KE480 posted to Richard Marx’s Facebook page (Richard Marx Official Facebook)

“My wife and I are safe but one crew member and two passengers were injured. The all-female crew was clueless and not trained as to how to restrain this psycho,” Marx wrote in a post. “Korean Air should be sanctioned for not knowing how to handle a situation like this without passenger interference.”

The passenger was subdued and handed over to police when the flight landed at Incheon Airport at around 6:30 p.m. Due to his intoxicated state, he was booked but not taken into custody. After the flight, Marx headed home to Los Angeles. 

According to Korean Air, the incident broke out after the 34-year-old male passenger drank 2 1/2 glasses of whiskey with his meal. He began an argument with the passenger next to him and became violent, leading the flight crew to issue warnings and eventually restrain him using rope with the help of passengers, including Marx.

Following reports of the incident, it became known that the passenger was the son of a businessman running a medium-sized company. Social media users criticized the passenger pointing to his privileged background as the cause of his disruptive and violent behavior.

A spokesman for Korean Air said that the stun gun shown in Marx’s photos was not used because of the proximity of other passengers. “The flight crew responded to the situation according to the proper protocol,” he said, adding that all cabin crew are required to go through safety training at least once a year. 

However, there was still criticism of the airline’s crew. One comment on Marx’s Facebook page said that hiring flight attendants at Korean airlines was akin to a “beauty pageant.” 

Marx, an American singer known for his 1989 hit “Right Here Waiting,” posted again Wednesday, saying he did what he “would hope anyone would do in the same situation.”

The incident came just two days before the scheduled start of a strike by unionized Korean Air pilots, which is likely to ground nearly 140 passenger flights, including international flights to Japan, Hong Kong and the Middle East through Dec. 31. The strike is the result of failed wage increase negotiations with the pilots’ union. The airline is currently offering flight changes and cancellations free of charge to affected passengers. 

By Won Ho-jung (
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Korea Herald daum