Controversy escalated Tuesday over some flights of major South Korean air carrier Asiana Airlines not providing inflight meals, not only for causing inconvenience to passengers but also on allegations of a questionable deal.
The air carrier’s catering service for some international routes got suspended Friday, citing a fire that had broken out at a plant of its new supplier Gate Gourmet Korea in March, according to local reports that quoted officials involved in the matter.
To fill the lack in supply, Asiana Airlines scouted out a smaller company, Sharp Do & Co Korea. But the company capable of manufacturing 3,000 meals a day was reportedly inadequate to cover Asiana’s catering service, which goes up to 30,000 meals a day during the peak season.
In a radical turn of events, the head of Sharp Do & Co Korea's subcontractor was found dead in an apparent suicide Monday. He was under “enormous” stress for causing the so-called “inflight-meal fiasco,” despite working days without a break, according to his employees. Police have opened an investigation.
The head of Asiana Airlines, an air carrier under Kumho Asiana Group, apologized Tuesday for causing customers inconvenience. But the statement was issued without mentioning the death of the Sharp Do & Co CEO.
Industry insiders said that the fiasco started after Asiana terminated a 15-year-old deal with LSG Sky Chefs, a subsidiary of German airline Lufthansa, and inked a contract with GGK instead. GGK is an in-flight catering service firm Asiana jointly set up with China’s HNA Group. Starting from July, Asiana was to receive GGK in-flight meals for the next 30 years.
Some insiders have claimed that the 15-year-old partnership with LSG ended after Asiana reportedly demanded the German company acquire 160 billion won worth of bond with warrant issued by Kumho Holdings at a time when Asiana was seeking to secure capital to buy back Kumho Tire.
LSG, which had 70 percent of its revenue relying on the deal with Asiana, has since filed a complaint with the Fair Trade Commission with the claim in April.
Asiana Airlines refuted the allegation and said that its deal with GGK was more favorable to the carrier.
After a fire hit the new GGK plant, Asiana signed a temporary three-month contract with Sharp Do & Co, which has just 63 employees.
Asiana argued the new supplier had no issue in terms of its production system and supply capacity. But the logistics of transporting the prepared meals to the planes took longer than predicted, resulting in dozens of Asiana flights taking off without in-flight meals, according to reports.
On Sunday, 36 Asiana flights took off without meals out of the 80 planes scheduled for the day. Due to the time spent waiting for meals to arrive, 51 flights were delayed. On Monday, out of 75 flights, 20 were delayed and 18 took off without meals.
By Cho Chung-un