Airline tickets tumble amid virus outbreak

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Airline tickets tumble amid virus outbreak

Airlines usually see their ticket sales start to rise in June with the onset of summer vacation season. But this month, carriers are having a tough time attracting passengers due to fear over Middle East Respiratory syndrome (MERS) and are having to cut a number of popular flights as a result.

The nation’s two national flag carriers, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, said Monday that an average of 3,000 tickets to Korea have been canceled per day since late May.

The number of passengers for Jeju Air, the nation’s No. 1 low-cost carrier (LCC), also dropped 6 percent month-on-month.

Due to the decreasing demand, Korean Air, which operates five flights to Hong Kong daily, said one of its flights will not be running from June 22 to July 16.

Asiana Airlines said it decided not to operate two of its five daily flights to Hong Kong starting next month. The two companies have been strengthening their MERS prevention efforts, fumigating all planes once a week since June 4, but haven’t been able to stop foreign passengers canceling tickets as the disease continues to spread nationwide.

In an attempt to attract passengers, airlines have offered a series of promotions in cooperation with local travel agencies in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong, with some even offering tickets at a 50 percent discount. Ticket sales have remained far below expectations, according to the airlines.

More seriously, most Chinese airlines have also decided to reduce the number of flights to Korea. The Chinese are the biggest source of tourist revenue for Korea, with 6.1 million Chinese visiting the country last year, but it looks like more and more Chinese passengers are canceling their travel plans.

Air China said it has stopped operating three of its 24 weekly flights connecting Incheon and Beijing from Saturday and the measure will continue until the end of August.

China Eastern, which previously operated five flights per week connecting Incheon and Kunming, cancelled three of its flights and will fly only once a week from July 1 to the end of August. Other Chinese LLCs including China Southern Airlines are also considering reducing their number of flights.

Industry insiders said such moves by airlines would even impact ticket sales in the summer vacation season. Between July and August, the average airplane ticket price generally increases by 20 to 30 percent as the number of passengers increases by 25 percent.

In order to meet demand, most airlines increase their number of flights by 10 percent, but such measures might not be necessary this year. Airlines are worrying that this might also negatively impact performance in the second and third quarter.

According to stock analysts, the demand for airline tickets in Korea decreased by 30 percent during the SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, outbreak in 2003.

“The biggest worry is that the MERS disaster will extend over a long period of time because there are no practical measures to resolve the current situation,” said a spokesman of Asiana Airlines.



BY KWON SANG-SOO[kwon.sangsoo@joongang.co.kr]

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