Airlines are boosting flights on popular sectors and increasing routes for the summer peak season despite the global economic slump. Last year, 42.7 million air travelers took international flights in Korea, while 21 million used domestic routes, marking a record high. And this year the number is expected to increase even further.
◆ New Routes
Korean Air started direct flights to Nairobi, Kenya last week, the first Northeast Asian carrier to do so. It plans to offer three flights a week -- Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays -- aboard the 226-seater A330.
The airline expects the number of passengers to increase since Nairobi is the gateway to east Africa and the resource-rich continent.
Korean Air will also start offering four weekly flights to Rangoon, Burma in September. At present, it takes more than 10 hours to fly from Korea to Burma since passengers must transfer through Bangkok, but the direct flights will cut the time to six.
Asiana Airlines plans to boost the number of flights to the U.S. as it is seeing growing demand due to a visa waiver program for Korean tourists. It will offer daily flights from Incheon to Honolulu and Seattle, increasing from the current two and five flights a week.
Asiana has also boosted its flights to popular vacation spots with the start of the peak season. It recently launched a service from Busan to Saipan and boosted the number of weekly flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok and Singapore to 24, 13 and 10.
◆ Budget Carriers
Budget carriers are even more actively expanding their services. Jeju Air started operating flights from Incheon to Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in April and recently from Incheon to Chengdu, China. It secured flights to eight cities in China, Japan, Thailand and Vietnam, as well as 13 international routes.
"It's essential for budget carriers to expand international flights to cut costs through economies of scale," a Jeju Air staffer said.
Air Busan plans to offer two flights a week from Busan to Macao and is considering charter flights connecting the southern port city to popular Chinese destinations Xian, Huangshan and Zhangjiajie. Jin Air launched flights from Jeju to Taipei in June of last year and will offer flights from Incheon to Yantai, China next month.
Other regional airlines are also aggressive in expanding their services. Dragon Air, an affiliate of Hong Kong's Cathay Pacific, as well as Taiwan's TransAsia Airways and Japan's Peach Airlines started flights linking Jeju Island with Hong Kong and Kaoshiung and Incheon with Osaka. Air Asia Japan, a joint venture between Japan's ANA and Air Asia, and another joint venture between Japan Air Lines and Australia's Qantas, Jestar Japan, are preparing to offer flights to Korea later this year.