Ben DiPietro, The Wall Street Journal’s Risk & Compliance Journal, December 15, 2014

This week’s crisis assignment is nuts—literally. We asked our experts to look into how Korean Air Lines Co. handled the incident in which Cho Hyun-ah, a company executive vice president—and daughter of the airline’s chairman—ordered a plane that was set to take off back to the terminal after one of the flight attendants failed to follow the airline’s protocol for serving macadamia nuts.

The incident, which required the plane to return to the terminal and delayed takeoff by 20 minutes, led to extensive criticism of the airline, the resignation of the woman and an apology by the airline’s chairman, Cho Yang-ho, who said the incident reflected on his failures as a father. It also led to a sharp increase in sales of macadamia nuts.

Davia Temin, president and chief executive, Temin Co.: “Mixed messaging rarely works when issuing an institutional apology. And since, these days, perception usually trumps reality, it really doesn’t matter much whether the mistake made was nuanced–the apology can not be. To assuage rampant public outrage on social media, and this new “mean age” we are all living in, a public apology must be clear, seemingly heartfelt, and unequivocal. That is exactly what Korean Airlines did not do.

“Their apology was probably meant to reflect the infraction–a version of flight crews and supervisors acting badly, but hardly a tragic misstep. And it also was most likely meant to be as gentle as possible to the chairman and his daughter. But it doesn’t work. It hit the wrong note. It should have apologized not only to customers, but shareholders, and passengers and the public at large. And because of this miscalculation it did not contain the damage, and most likely inflamed it.

“No one is exempt from scrutiny, outing or public censure. The entitled may forget that, but the public will remind them. I’m not sure if we’ve gotten meaner, or if social media just lets the public put its collective meanness on display more, but the public wants its bloodletting in the face of any kind of misstep by the entitled. Anyone, well-known or not, had better remember that…and act as if the klieg lights are always upon them–because they are. A sad affair all around.”

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