Airline Industry Devastated by Travel Bans

  • By Kim Kang-han

    February 25, 2020 12:55

    Passenger airlines have been devastated by a growing number of entry bans for travelers from Korea as coronavirus infections spike here.

    As of Tuesday, some 18 countries around the country have banned or restricted travelers from Korea including Bahrain, Hong Kong, Israel, Macau, Qatar and the U.K.

    The Mongolian government on Monday asked Korean Air and Asiana Airlines to halt flights between the two countries. Singapore Airlines will stop flights to Incheon next month. Until early this month, 1,400 people took the Incheon-Singapore route every day, but that has fallen almost 40 percent to less than 900 people.

    One airline insider said, "Until last month, Koreans tried to avoid traveling to Singapore after new coronavirus cases were reported there, but now, Singaporeans are shunning travel to Korea."

    Philippine Airlines decided to stop flights between Incheon and Manila starting next month, while Air Macau has already halted flights to and from Korea until the end of this month. Thai Airways will stop flights from Bangkok to Incheon and Busan next month, while Vietnam Airlines will halt flights between Incheon and Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City, Da Nang and Na Trang.

    Air New Zealand will halt flights to Korea from March 8 to late June. Japan Airlines will cut down on flights connecting Gimpo and Haneda from two to one a day and Busan-Narita flights from three to two. A major travel agency in Hong Kong said Monday that all trips to Korea departing before March 31 have been canceled after the territory banned visitors from Korea.

    Check-in counters are deserted at Incheon International Airport on Monday. /Newsis

    Industry watchers warn that more countries and airlines will limit access to Koreans. "A total of 41 countries have completely banned Chinese from entering, so if infections keep soaring here, many more will also ban Koreans."

    Airlines here are nervously watching if the U.S. raises its travel advisory to Korea. At Korean Air, sales from flights to the U.S. account for 29 percent of total revenues, while Southeast Asia accounts for 21 percent, Europe 19 percent, China 12 percent and Japan nine percent.

    If flights to the U.S. are halted, around 30 percent of revenues will be wiped out. Due to spreading jitters, the number of Koreans traveling to the U.S. has already declined by around 40 percent since January compared to the same month last year.

    "We're barely managing to survive thanks to our flights to the U.S. and Europe, even though flights to China, Japan and Southeast Asia have been hit hard," a Korean Air staffer said. "We're closely watching the decisions of U.S. health authorities."

    The U.S. State Department raised its travel advisory for Korea by a notch to "strengthened caution" on Saturday but could raise it further any time, recommending Americans avoid visiting Korea unless absolutely necessary.

    Hurr Hee-young at Korea Aviation University said, "Flights in operation right now have already suffered from declining passenger numbers, but now airlines have to consider the prospect of zero business. This is an unprecedented crisis that is wreaking havoc on the Korean aviation industry."

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