Home for Lunar New Year holidays? Not this year

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Home for Lunar New Year holidays? Not this year


Although the Lunar New Year holiday officially starts next week, those who took an early leave from work started flocking to Incheon International Airport yesterday to spend the holiday abroad. Travelers wait in long lines for their turn to check in to their flights. [NEWSIS]

Although the Lunar New Year holiday officially starts next Wednesday, many workers are taking a leave starting today, prompting an earlier holiday mood.

Traditionally, Koreans spend the Lunar New Year back home with their families, causing major traffic jams on most of the expressways from Seoul. But this year, it looks like the airport lounge is going to be the place that’s jammed.

Many Koreans are opting to travel abroad instead of going back home - often rural areas - partly because of growing concerns over the spread of foot-and-mouth disease (FMD). Moreover, as the official holiday falls on Wednesday to Friday, those who do not work on the weekends can have up to nine days off from work by taking a leave on Monday and Tuesday, which is also contributing to an increase in overseas travelers.

“I called my parents-in-law who live in Jeonju that my husband and I will visit them for the Lunar New Year holiday, but they told us not to, saying that we might transmit FMD,” said Kim Mi-young of Seoul, who is planning to travel to Singapore on Feb. 2. “I can have a relaxing holiday and visit my in-laws in March,” Kim said.

Incheon International Airport, along with regional airports Gimpo, Gimhae and Jeju, was reported to be full of people since yesterday morning. Between 90,000 to 100,000 people are expected to pack into Incheon airport each day this weekend, according to Kim Soo-young, the airport’s deputy head. “The number of airport users will double compared to early this month, when 40,000 to 50,000 users came through daily,” Kim said.

And, airline tickets have become harder to get during the holidays.

Although the country’s two top airline companies, Korean Air and Asiana, added 70 more flights to hot spots including Southeast Asian countries - approximately 14,000 seats - they are still short on supplies.

“I get so many phone calls every day from friends and relatives if there’s any way they could get a flight ticket. I’m so tired of explaining the situation, I don’t even pick up the phone now,” said an employee of an airline company.

Both overcoat storage and valet parking services at Incheon International Airport are also hurrying to increase workers and space. As most of the travelers’ destinations are in warmer regions, many travelers store winter coats at the airport. “Between 500 to 600 overcoats come in and out every day, but the number is expected to increase to 800 and 900 from this weekend,” said Jang Yoon-hee of Asiana Airlines. The storage fee ranges from 2,000 won ($1.80) to 2,500 won, with three service desks at the airport.

Incheon airport’s valet parking service center also added 30 more workers for the holiday.

By Chang Chung-hoon, Yim Seung-hye [enational@joongang.co.kr]

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설 연휴가 주말을 끼고 최장 9일까지 이어지면서 전국 공항이 해외로 떠나는 여행객들로 북새통을 이루고 있다. 평소 4만~5만 명이던 인천공항의 이용객은 이날 6만여 명으로 늘릴 전망이다. 29일부터는 하루 9만 명 이상이 몰린다. 항공 당국은 설 연휴를 전후한 일주일여 동안 인천공항을 비롯한 전국 공항에서 60만 명 이상이 해외로 빠져 나갈 것으로 집계했다. …

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