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Flight to Jeju cheaper than a cup of coffee

Airlines are slashing prices as tourism to the island plummets

Feb 13,2020
Three bucks may be all you need to get yourself from Seoul to Jeju Island.

Local budget airline T’way Air on Tuesday afternoon started offering one-way flights from Gimpo International Airport to Jeju International Airport and vice versa for as low as 3,000 won ($2.50), as the continuing spread of the Wuhan coronavirus drives customers away from air travel.

Counting taxes and airport usage fees, the ticket price goes up to 12,500 won, but it’s still the cheapest for anytime of the year. Even for plane tickets over the weekend, which are typically in higher demand than weekdays, the air carrier is offering one-way tickets with price tags as low as 7,900 won. That’s less than 19,500 won, no matter what, to get a traveler from Seoul to Jeju.

The blowback from the ongoing outbreak has prompted local airlines to introduce mass discounts on flights to Jeju, as many locals remain fearful of catching the highly contagious virus, which is believed to have originated in Wuhan, China, the center of the country’s epidemic. Jeju Island is a popular tourism destination for Chinese visitors.

Air Seoul, another local budget airline, announced Wednesday it is offering a special discount price for flights to and from Jeju Island for a limited time.

For a four-hour window on Wednesday, Air Seoul was offering round trip flights between Gimpo and Jeju for 25,000 won between Wednesday and March 28.

While the cheaper price for plane tickets may come as good news for tourists, the mass discounts indicate that Korea’s air carriers are financially reeling from the outbreak. The vast majority of infections reported outside China have been in East and Southeast Asia.

Due to a sudden cut in revenue from flight operations, some airlines are also asking their employees to take unpaid leaves of absence in the coming months.

Asiana Airlines announced to its employees Wednesday that it is accepting voluntary leaves from its cabin crew members for the second half of February and is considering doing the same for the month of March.

The Wuhan coronavirus outbreak has forced Asiana Airlines to suspend some flight operations to China and limit the number of flights to certain Chinese cities. Asiana is the country’s second-largest airline.

Flights to and from China accounted for 19 percent of the airline’s third-quarter sales - the highest proportion among all Korean air carriers.

Korean Air, Korea’s largest airline, is also accepting similar requests from its employees for March. For those with more than 21 days accrued for leave, Korean Air is also offering to provide a full month of leave for up to 300 employees.

Budget carriers Air Seoul and T’way Air have made similar offers to their employees.

The situation seems to be worse for Jeju Air, which announced Wednesday that the company has entered “emergency management.” The airline said its executives will cut 30 percent of their salaries while expanding unpaid leave benefits, normally available only to cabin crew members, to all employees.

The virus outbreak is also hurting Jeju Island’s tourism income as well.

According to the Jeju Tourism Organization, the number of visitors to Jeju Island between Feb. 7 and Feb. 9 reached 58,660, down a whopping 42.4 percent from 101,832 visitors during the same period last year.

The number of foreign visitors also plummeted to around 25 percent of the figures posted for last year, as the government temporarily suspended a visa-free program for Chinese visitors due to the virus outbreak.

Since 2002, the country has run a policy that gave foreign visitors access to stay at the southern resort island for up to a full month without a visa. The program came to a temporary halt last week for Chinese visitors, as the government feared it could contribute to the virus spreading further.

After the program’s suspension, booking rates for hotels and tour packages in Jeju Island plummeted. The number of city bus tour users and golf resort visitors significantly declined.

Despite the fears and subsequent blow to the local economy, there had been zero confirmed cases of the coronavirus on Jeju Island as of Wednesday.

BY KO JUN-TAE [ko.juntae@joongang.co.kr]


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