Korean Air is ready for the post-COVID travel surge


Korean Air is actively restoring its international passenger network, which has been suspended due to the pandemic.

As of June 8, the Korean Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, and Transport lifted all international flight restrictions and mandatory quarantine requirements. Korean Air will accordingly resume more international flights than previously planned.

The airline will increase the flight frequencies on major international routes and resume flight operations to popular travel destinations in line with the recovery of passenger demand. To support increased operations, grounded aircraft will be taken out of storage and passenger aircraft converted into freighters will be reconfigured.

In addition, Korean Air will not only restore inflight services to pre-COVID levels but will also begin new services. The airline is also putting measures in place to prepare its personnel, such as training for returning workforce and recruiting new employees.

■ Increasing flight frequencies and resuming routes from July, to restore 50% of pre-pandemic international passenger capacity by September

Korean Air is increasing its international passenger capacity to prepare for the peak travel season in July and August. Passenger capacity in June is still one-third of pre-COVID levels.

The airline plans to restore passenger capacity (available seat kilometers) to 50% of pre-pandemic levels by September, three months earlier than previously planned.

As for the Americas routes, the airline is currently operating 14 flights a week (twice daily) on the Incheon-Los Angeles route, and plans to increase the frequency on its Incheon-New York route from seven to 12 flights a week in July and 14 (two daily) in August. In July, flight frequencies will also increase from five to seven times a week on Incheon-Washington D.C and Incheon-Honolulu routes, and from six to seven times on the Incheon-Vancouver route, joining routes to Atlanta and San Francisco where daily flights are in operation.

Weekly frequencies on the Boston and Dallas routes will also increase from three to four times a week, and from four to five times on the Chicago route. The Las Vegas route will be restored in July with services offered three times a week. In August, the number of weekly flights on the Incheon-Seattle route will increase from four to five.

Weekly flight frequencies on Europe routes will also increase in July: five to seven times on the Incheon-Paris route, and three to five times on the Incheon-Frankfurt and Incheon-Amsterdam routes. Routes to Milan and Vienna, which have been suspended since March 2020, will resume in July with a three times a week service, and routes to Barcelona and Rome will also resume operations three times a week from September.

Flights in the Southeast Asia region are also quickly being restored. From July, frequencies on routes to Bangkok, Singapore, Manila and Ho Chi Minh City will increase to 14 flights a week (twice daily), and to seven weekly flights on routes to Hanoi and Jakarta. Da Nang and Bali routes will also resume with daily operations from July.

As for Japan, the airline will resume the Sapporo route in July starting with flights twice a week and then increasing to daily flights in August. Services to Okinawa will also resume in August with three weekly flights. International routes out of Gimpo will resume starting with two weekly flights on the Gimpo-Haneda route from June 29, and will gradually expand to Osaka depending on demand.

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In July, flights on the Incheon-Hong Kong route will increase from four to seven times a week; from three to four weekly flights on the Incheon-Taipei route; and from four to seven weekly flights on the Incheon-Ulaanbaatar route. Flights to China are still largely restricted due to the closed borders, but the airline will increase flights to China according to international flight operation plans agreed upon by the two nations.

To meet the increasing passenger demand, Korean Air will operate the A380 daily on the New York route and three times a week on the Hong Kong route from July, and daily on the Narita route from September.

■ Reconfiguring converted passenger aircraft and strengthening maintenance for safe operations

Korean Air’s passenger aircraft that were converted into freighters during the pandemic is being reconfigured and returned to passenger operations. The airline will reconfigure three of its 10 converted Boeing 777s to operate as passenger aircraft starting from July. The seats removed from the converted A330 will also be reinstalled so it can begin transporting passengers from July. Some passenger aircraft used for cargo-only flights without cabin modification will also be deployed back on passenger routes.

Considering that it takes about 10 days to reconfigure a converted passenger aircraft for passenger services including reinstalling the seats, the airline will closely monitor both passenger and cargo demand and proceed with conversion work accordingly.

The airline will also carry out destorage maintenance on approximately 20 grounded aircraft in long-term storage to prepare them for operations when needed.

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During the pandemic, Korean Air conducted periodical and thorough inspections of its parked aircraft including the exterior, tires, landing gears, electronic equipment, and engines every seven, 14 and 30 days. For stored aircraft to be deployed for flight operations, 400 hours of comprehensive inspection must be completed, which takes six technicians working for about seven days.

■ Upgrading inflight experience by offering a variety of new services

Korean Air is restoring its inflight services to pre-COVID levels. During the pandemic, the airline used disposable products and simplified inflight food and beverage services to prevent the spread of the COVID. However, as COVID is now under control, the airline has been gradually restoring inflight food and beverage services as well as inflight items such as headphones and blankets since May, and plans to fully restore services in July.

Moreover, the airline has increased inflight meal options. Seasonal Korean dishes will be offered in addition to the airline’s signature Korean dish, bibimbap. From March, new dishes such as spicy pork lettuce wraps and braised mackerel have been introduced and from July, other new dishes such as bulgogi rice with acorn jelly in cold broth and spicy noodles will also become available.

A greater selection of snacks, desserts, alcohol and beverages will also be offered. Sherbet, fruit puree jelly and detox juices will be added in first class, more desserts like cheese and fruit in prestige class, and appetizers in economy class.

■ Supporting employees returning from leave, creating strong foundation for safe operations

Korean Air has been taking measures to help employees returning to work after a long leave to smoothly adjust through setting up lounges, making necessary information such as policies and regulations readily available from mobile devices and conducting regular training sessions on safety and services. These policies will both help employees adjust to work and create a strong foundation for safe operations.

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In the flight operations division, pilots are supported to maintain their skills through special take-off and landing drills using simulators in addition to safety education and routine flight training. In addition, communication is encouraged through meetings, and to ensure the highest level of safety, highly experienced flight attendants are deployed on flights to airports with special requirements.

For flight attendants who were gone on leave for more than 3 months, Korean Air provides additional first, prestige and economy class service training to help prepare them for their actual flights. Also, managers carefully monitor returning flight attendants, and provide general and safety education about newly introduced aircraft.

In the passenger business, to ensure safety and maintain quality services, Korean Air provides a week of online and offline training sessions for employees returning after a long leave. The maintenance department works to secure safe operations by conducting maintenance safety training for returning employees and bolstering on-site communications.

In preparation for a surge in passenger demand, Korean Air is actively securing its workforce to maintain safe operations and service excellence. The airline has begun hiring pilots and is considering hiring more flight attendants depending on the recovery situation.

Korean Air plans to minimize inconvenience to passengers amid surging air travel demand by increasing capacity and restoring routes while carrying out thorough inspections for safe operations.