March 09, 2020 13:38
Korean Air has suspended most flights to Japan except the Incheon-Narita route as well as all flights to Australia.
Korea's largest flag carrier on March 6 announced the suspension of all routes to Japan except seven Incheon-Narita flights per week from Monday until March 28. It also canceled its four weekly Incheon-Sydney flights until March 14. The flag carrier is going to decide whether to extend the suspension depending on future developments.
Asiana Airlines also decided to suspend all routes to Japan from Monday and had already suspended all Australia flights on March 6. This brought down the operating rate of international flights by the two flag carriers to a vanishing 10 percent of the rate before the coronavirus outbreak.
Korean Air's international flights dwindled by a staggering 83.2 percent since the outbreak of the coronavirus. The number of its weekly international flights dropped 72 percent from 918 to 257 as of March 6 even before the cancellation of flights to Japan and Australia. If they are included, the operating rate of its international flights stands at just 17 percent.
This is also the case with Asiana, where international flights have decreased from 72 to 34. The troubled carrier declined to give detailed figures.
Budget carriers have been hit even harder because most of their international flights concentrate on nearby countries.
EastarJet and Air Busan suspended all flights to Japan beginning Monday and now operate no international flights. Air Seoul suspended the Incheon-Takamatsu route on March 2 due to the dwindling demand, thereby closing down its international business.
Jin Air and T'way Air are also suspending all of their five and six routes to Japan, while Jeju Air is suspending eight of its 10 except Narita and Osaka.
Customer service centers are deluged with phone calls asking for cancellations and refunds. An airline staffer said, "Even if they wait for more than an hour, customers will find it difficult to get through." In some cases, it takes more than a month to get a refund due to a rush of requests.
Customers can get a 100 percent refund if airlines suspend flights.
According to the Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport, 2.71 million passengers used Korean flag carriers for international flights last month, down a whopping 46.8 percent on-year and about 350,000 fewer than the number of passengers (3.05 million) for domestic flights during the same period.
The International Air Transport Association said last week that the spread of coronavirus could cost global airlines US$113 billion in sales.
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