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Korean airlines suspend 60% of flights to China

A departure counter at Jeju International Airport is seen empty. (Yonhap)
A departure counter at Jeju International Airport is seen empty. (Yonhap)

Fears of the new coronavirus have prompted South Korean air carriers to suspend more than 60 percent of their flights to China as of Thursday, according to industry sources.

A total of 58 of the 94 China-bound routes operated by eight Korean carriers have been suspended due to the coronavirus scare. 

The airlines have also reduced the number of flights on 25 routes to China, meaning 88 percent of all routes between the two countries have been affected by the outbreak. 

The country’s flagship full-service carrier Korean Air said it has either halted flights or reduced the number of flights on all 30 of its China routes until March 28, with the exception of the Gimpo-Beijing and Gimpo-Shanghai routes, considering the “need to keep personnel exchanges on those routes to a minimum.” 

Another full-service carrier, Asiana Airlines, said it has decided to suspend six of its 26 China routes. The number of flights on 15 of its other China routes will be reduced until March 28, it added. 

Low-cost carriers such as Air Seoul, Jin Air, Eastar Jet and T’way have also suspended or scaled back flights on many of their China routes, even cutting back services to Hong Kong and Macao. 

According to industry data, China routes accounted for 19 percent of Asiana Airlines’ sales in the third quarter of last year. The corresponding figures were 13 percent for Korean Air, 15 percent for Jeju Air, 9 percent for Jin Air and 4 percent for T’way. 

Industry insiders said suspending flights to China, Hong Kong and Macao is better than flying planes almost empty, considering the heightened public concern. 

But people in the industry have also voiced concerns over the possibility that the Chinese government could cancel the traffic rights for routes that have been drastically cut back. 

“It is a different situation from when Koreans boycotted trips to Japan and airlines had to cut down the number of Japanese routes in the past summer. We cannot suspend the Chinese routes (permanently), but it is also not clear for airlines when to resume operation,” an industry insider said. 

By Kim Da-sol (