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Should Conrad Hilton be Grounded?
By: Jeannine Wheeler
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You pay your agencies millions every year to hone your messaging, you invest heavily in infrastructure, and you properly train your personnel. But the one thing you can’t always control is your own family members, for some reason — especially when they travel. Witness the latest corporate case of air rage: Conrad Hughes Hilton III and “peasantgate.” What’s a PR to do?

Seems the 20-year-old scion of Hilton Hotels & Resorts hotelier Conrad Hilton allegedly abused British Airways personnel on a flight from London to Los Angeles this past July. Hilton surrendered to the FBI this week on charges that he assaulted a flight crew to the point that it interfered with their ability to do their job, according to a U.S. District Court criminal complaint. He is currently free on $100,000 bail.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Hilton (the little brother of Paris Hilton and the son of Richard Hilton, chairman of Hilton & Hyland Real Estate) allegedly threatened to fight with members of the flight crew and referred to people on the plane as “peasants.”

He allegedly grabbed a flight attendant’s shirt and said: “I could get you all fired in five minutes. I know your boss. My father will pay this out, he has done it before. Dad paid $300,000 last time.”

Robert Shapiro, the Hilton family's lawyer, reportedly told TMZ that “just before the flight, Hilton had taken a sleeping pill whose side effects can include aggressive outbursts,” according to NBC News.

That’s Nuts!
This follows on the back of another runaway hospitality scion, 40-year-old Cho Hyun-ah, daughter of Korean Air chairman Cho Yang-ho. Hyun-ah forced her New York to South Korea flight back to the gate, then kicked the head steward off the flight. The reason: She reportedly had been served macadamia nuts in a bag, rather than on a plate.

Her father was not amused. Following an international hue and cry, Hyun-ah resigned as head of the airline’s in-flight services, but retained her title as vice president.

However, her father took it much further, stripping his eldest daughter of her remaining official titles within Hankin Group, which owns hotel, shipping, and logistics businesses, as well as Korean Air.

He also apologized on live television for his daughter’s “foolish” behavior, and said he “failed to raise her properly.”

Although the relationship between the airline and the South Korean public is a complicated one and goes beyond the incident of the chairman’s daughter, it was refreshing to hear such a deeply felt and personal apology from a highly placed corporate executive. Not only that, the apology was backed up by disciplinary action.

Whether from the errant actions of family members, staff, or corporate executives themselves, a real apology can go a long way in the PR sweepstakes, catering to an American public that can be quite forgiving, especially when they hear an apology they believe is sincere.


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About the Author
Jeannine Wheeler is a PR Director who has worked in three countries, including Russia, the US and the UK. She is currently Sr. Vice President of Pure Energy PR, a full-service boutique communications firm with a focus on the energy, healthcare, technology, construction, real estate & land development, tourism & hospitality and food & beverage industries. Jeannine is in the firm's Austin, Texas office.
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