Korea-Japan diplomatic rift hits air travel
August 29 2019 12:27 AM
Alex Macheras
Alex Macheras

By Alex Macheras

Korean Air Lines will suspend seven routes to Japan under measures as bilateral frictions slash passenger numbers. The fall in demand follows a worsening in the diplomatic and economic row between the two countries. 
Last month, Japan tightened controls of exports of hi-tech materials to South Korea, in apparent retaliation for a South Korean court ruling over forced labour. The disputes have prompted a widespread boycott of Japanese products and services — hitting air travel in the region. 
Korean Air is also considering reducing the number of flights between the two countries or operating flights by smaller aircraft from mid-August, a spokesman confirmed.
Koreans were the second-biggest travellers to Japan only after China, accounting for 24.2% of visits last year, according to data from Japan National Tourism Organisation. The number had tripled over the past five years, data showed. However, the number of Korean tourists to Japan dropped between January and May, even before the diplomatic row had started. “If the anti-Japan sentiment continues and affects our reservation rates, then we cannot rule out the possibility of rearranging our Japan routes,” said a spokesman at Jin Air, a budget affiliate airline of Korean Air.
Three routes from Seoul’s Incheon International Airport will be grounded temporarily, and flights to Komatsu and Kagoshima will also be suspended. Furthermore, there will be no service to Asahikawa from September 29 to October 26.
Korean Air Lines has been considering axing unprofitable routes between the two countries since mid-August because of rising supply and slowing demand faced even before the row, a company spokeswoman said. South Korean budget airlines T’way Air and Easter Jet will temporarily halt some of its Japan routes from September. In fact, the price competition for Japan routes among domestic low-cost carriers have become too intense lately, making some routes unprofitable — even before the rift. 
Asiana Airlines, South Korea’s second-largest airline, has suspended travel between Busan and Okinawa from Friday to late October. On the low-cost side, the country’s biggest budget carrier Jeju Air do not hold plans to discontinue any routes to Japan, but are “closely watching the situation.”

*The author is an aviation analyst. Twitter handle: @AlexInAir

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