Korean Air unveils new routes

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Korean Air unveils new routes

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Korean Air, the nation’s largest airline, will launch direct flights to the Mediterranean city of Barcelona, Spain, and add more flights to the American West Coast while cutting down on less popular routes to ramp up profitability in the increasingly competitive airline market.

The new flights to Barcelona will operate three times a week starting next April. The company said it will be the first direct flight to the Spanish city from a Northeast Asian country.

Barcelona is Spain’s second-largest regional economy and is renowned for its pristine beaches as well as architectural marvels by modernist Antoni Gaudi such as La Sagrada Familia and Park Guell.

“We expect there will also be a growing number of business travelers headed to Barcelona, since the city has developed its automaking and pharmaceutical industries,” a company spokesperson said.

According to a Korea Trade-Investment Promotion Agency report on Spain, the country is the second-largest producer of cars in Europe after Germany. Japanese carmaker Nissan has a manufacturing facility in Barcelona.

Korean Air is also increasing the number of flights to cities on the American West Coast, including San Francisco, Seattle and Los Angeles. While there is currently one daily flight to San Francisco during the day, the airline will add an extra nighttime flight next year to meet the route’s high demand. The night flight will start operating five times a week in April and then be serviced daily starting from September.

“Apart from customers directly flying between Incheon and San Francisco, some customers from the city stop by Incheon to transfer to flights bound for China or Southeast Asia,” Korean Air said in a statement Wednesday. “Increased options could enhance their convenience.”

While routes to the United States have been doing well, the airline’s flights to Saudi Arabia have not been as popular. By the end of February, Korean Air plans to suspend flights from Incheon to Riyadh, the capital of Saudi Arabia, and the port city of Jeddah.

The Saudi Arabian route was launched in 2012 with ambitions to connect Seoul to the oil-abundant country. At the time, Korean Air President Ji Chang-hoon said, “The direct flight will become a messenger to spread Korean culture in the Middle East and aid economic cooperation between the two countries.”

Demand failed to reach expectations, and travel to the country has been on the decline recently, incurring losses for Korean Air. Low oil prices have burdened the Saudi Arabian economy, leading to shrinking orders for construction and oil refining projects in the country.

To minimize inconvenience, Korean Air said it will expand connecting flights departing from Dubai in the United Arab Emirates to other Middle Eastern countries in cooperation with Middle East-based airlines. Korean Air operates flights bound for Dubai seven times a week.

Flights bound for Siem Reap, the northwestern Cambodian city famed for its Angkor Wat temple complex, will also be suspended in early February due to lack of demand. “The city’s lack of tourism infrastructure has led to annual losses on the route,” the company said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Korean Air continues to work on developing a route to Tehran. After economic sanctions on Iran were lifted earlier this year, expectations were high for potential business opportunities. However, as dollar-based transactions are still not permitted and the country lacks infrastructure for foreign companies, Korean firms are finding it difficult to expand business there.

“It doesn’t mean we are giving up on launching the service, but we will take it slow and watch market conditions,” a Korean Air spokesperson said.


BY KIM JEE-HEE [kim.jeehee@joongang.co.kr]

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