After several months of campaigning with airlines for the government to lift pandemic restrictions on air travel, South Korea has relaxed rules requiring COVID-19 testing and quarantine for arriving passengers. Following this long-awaited lift, Korean Air has announced that it will add more than 30 weekly flights to Europe and the United States, starting next month.
Fly in full force
The planned number of flights to popular destinations such as Amsterdam, Frankfurt, London, San Francisco and Vancouver is expected to increase to 190 weekly flights, a considerable increase from the current 159 weekly flights. This will add to the flag carrier’s plans to re-enter the Airbus A380 at JFK airport in New York.
Besides additional flights to Europe and the United States, Korean Air is also evaluating the possibility of resuming more flight operations to Southeast Asian countries. Currently, the airline flies from Incheon to Bangkok, Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Jarkata, Johor Bahru, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Phnom Penh and Singapore.
The airline will resume the Incheon-Cebu route, with twice-weekly flight operations scheduled from Thursday. Operating as KE631, the airline will use its Airbus A330-300 for this route. And as with other Southeast Asian regional routes, there remain Brunei, Chiang Mai, Clark, Da Lat, Da Nang, Denpasar, Kalibo, Kota Kinabalu, Nha Trang, Vientiane and Yangon.
It is unclear when Korean Air plans to resume flight operations to these destinations. Nevertheless, the airline is confident in the rapid recovery of business-type passengers and will closely monitor and react flexibly to the regional market.
Korean Air’s revenue from passengers in the first quarter rose 128% year-on-year to KRW 360 billion ($280 million), and the airline expects a continued increase throughout this year. Photo: Vincenzo Pace | Single flight.
Balancing the Fleet
While it is one thing to resume and accelerate flight schedules, it is quite another to ensure there is enough operational fleet to meet the desired capacity. In the midst of the pandemic, Korean Air has followed the bandwagon of using its passenger planes as cargo planes by having the seats removed.
This yielded an interesting result, as the Skyteam member airline was able to recoup lost passenger travel as cargo demand surged beyond imaginable limits. How unimaginable? The airline’s cargo operations managed to generate a massive revenue of KRW 2.2 trillion ($1.7 billion) in the first quarter of this year.
Additionally, Korean Air expects a recovery in global passenger demand to boost global air cargo capacity, despite the ongoing war in Ukraine and major lockdowns in China. However, the airline should concisely manage passenger and cargo capacity. It plans to gradually convert six of its 16 cargo planes into passenger planes by hanging up the seats.
Across the country
Korean Air is not the only Korean carrier to prepare for the summer season by reopening international routes and refurbishing cargo planes. Neighborhood rival Asiana Airlines also plans to resume its Incheon-Paris and Incheon-Rome routes next month, followed by the potential resumption of the Gimpo-Haneda route.
Low-cost carrier T’way has similar plans to further reopen its route network, with flight operations to Bangkok, Da Nang and Ho Chih Minh eventually resuming. And if the airline wasn’t already giving Korean Air a decent run for its money, T’way is also launching new routes to competitive hotspots such as Guam, Japan and Singapore.
T’way is adding several flights to Tokyo, Osaka, Fukuoka, Guam and Saipan. Photo: T’way.
Another low-cost carrier competing with Korean Air is Jeju Air, which is expected to resume flights to Bangkok and Singapore, while also increasing flight frequencies to Cebu and Manila.
At the end of the line
With flight frequencies increasing to Europe and the United States and the eventual recovery to cities in Southeast Asia, Korean Air looks set for a fuller recovery this year, despite initial slow restrictions in South Korea. However, the flagship carrier is also expected to raise its fuel surcharge to a new high next month on international flights due to soaring oil prices. Potentially, the decision to raise fares could hurt international travel demand and hamper Korean Air’s recovery progress, especially as rivals reopen and launch similar routes.
Source: The Korean Herald
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