On a wing and a steady fareThe travel industry took a big hit after the attack on the World Trade Center in New York, and many tourism businesses have struggled to survive. Some airlines resorted to cutting fares, while others spoke of fare increases because of new security measures.
Korean Air and Asiana Airlines were also affected, but as the new year begins, both are flying towards normalcy and are reasonably optimistic. The year 2002 is full of tourism events in Korea － Visit Korea Year 2001 has been extended to 2002, soccer's World Cup comes to Korea in June and the Asian Games come to Busan in October.
This winter's recovery by the domestic airlines was due in part to the high travel season. The JoongAng Ilbo English Edition talked to Korean Air, Asiana and several other airlines to bring you a winter airline update. We asked about the effects of the terror incidents, long-term plans and winter specials.
The route that suffered the most, according to Asiana officials, was Incheon-Los Angeles. There used to be 14 flights a week, but at one point they were reduced to three. Now there are 10 flights per week.
"The Sept. 11 event was not due to flight defects or based in Korea, so we did not reduce any other flights or discount prices," said one spokesman. "Compared to foreign companies, we were not hit too hard."
Instead of price incentives, the airline ran radio spots featuring Son Suk, an actress-turned-politician-turned-actress, who urged, "Now is the time to travel."
Winter Deals: Discounts on tourist attractions on Jeju Island － the Seogwipo Romantic Cruise, Sea World and Shinyoung Cinema Museum. This is not only a winter special, but a promotion that ends Oct. 4.
Planes had to fly with reduced passenger capacity, but they flew.
Business class fared the best: "People who fly on business have to keep flying to do business," one spokesman said. The number of people traveling in economy seats to Southeast Asia fell the most, along with passengers bound for New York.
Now the airline is adding flights. Korean Air recently reinstated flights from Korea to Guam after a four-year pause, and on Friday it will begin daily flights to Saipan. On Sunday, it will also resume an Incheon-Saudi Arabia-Egypt route that was suspended because of the war in Afghanistan. In December, the airline flew at 77 percent capacity, compared to 78 percent capacity in December of 2000. "We're almost back to normal," the spokesman said.
When things were not normal, flight attendants went so far as to precut steak into slices, eliminating the need for knives. Even now, and for the foreseeable future, dinner knives are plastic, not metal. In addition, the airline requests that passengers arrive three hours before their flights, versus the old norm of two hours in advance.
Winter Deals: Frequent flier members who stay at the Hyatt hotel in Guam earn double mileage points and an upgrade on flights back to Seoul when seats are available.
The Korean market and, in particular, westbound routes － Korea to Europe and Europe to Africa and South America － have not been greatly hurt. If anything, the company reports, the opposite is true: The volume of 2001 winter business generated by travel agents in Korea increased by 20 percent compared to the winter of 2000.
"More Korean companies are looking for greater business opportunities in Europe, especially now that both Japan and the United States appear to be in recession," a spokeswoman said.
The Middle Eastern and North American regions suffered the most. Overall capacity on flights to the Middle East has been cut 27 percent, and capacity on routes to North America has been cut 25 percent.
"Our biggest issue was to restore the confidence of the public in the air transportation system," said the spokeswoman. Calling fare cuts a "suicide war," the airline held as steady as possible on ticket prices.
Winter Deals: Double bonus miles are offered on round-trips for Seoul-Europe routes via Paris until Jan. 31.
Last month, the airline resumed Paris-to-New York flights on the Concorde. A package is available departing from Incheon to Paris, then the Concorde to New York and Korean Air to Incheon.
The airline reports that 2001 winter travel volume was similar to 2000, but the passenger mix has changed. "We had a lot of group tours from Korea to Canada, but now we have individual travelers," a spokeswoman said. "We're not in survival mode, like some U.S.-based airlines, so it's business as usual."
Winter Deals: A special tour package to see the northern lights. The total time in transit － Incheon to Vancouver to Edmonton to Yellow Knife － takes 19 hours, but the sights are out of this world.
There was no decline in the frequency of Seoul-Hong Kong flights, but planes did fly with fewer passengers in October. Since then, the numbers picked up to between 68 and 87 percent in December.
Winter Deals: Earn double bonus miles on flights until Jan. 31.
by Joe Yong-hee