Korean Air, the largest airline and flag carrier of South Korea, is set to further reduce its frequency of flights to a number of destinations in Japan. The move is subject to government approval and if given a go-ahead, will first take effect from September 16, 2019. This follows an earlier announcement of the suspension of flights to/from Busan/Sapporo effective September 3, 2019.
The suspension of flights demonstrates the ever-increasing interplay between high politics and economics being witnessed in the world. In a press release dated 21 August, 2019, the airline cited "decreased demand for Japanese routes due to Korea-Japan tensions" as the reason for the move.
In recent times, relations between the two countries have been marked by a trade dispute. This was occasioned by a Japanese directive dated July 1 to impose export barriers to goods essential in the manufacture of semiconductors and display screens by South Korea. As a result, South Korean semiconductor exports have reportedly fallen 30%, causing an anti-Japan sentiment by the general public, which has included the cancellation of trips to Japan. According to Hanatour Co., a leading tour operator in South Korea, travel reservations to Japan fell 36% in July and 80% in August. Consequently, air transport demand from South Korea to Japan has been on the decline.
Routes suspended in Korean Air's recent announcement include the Busan-Osaka route (effective September 16), Jeju-Narita/Osaka (effective November 1); and the temporary suspension of the Incheon-Komatsu, Incheon-Kagoshima, and Incheon-Asahikawa routes on various dates between September 29 and November 16.
Additionally, some routes on the airline's Japanese network will see reduced frequency in a move that will come into effect on various dates between September 29 and November 16. The 28 flights a week on the Incheon-Osaka/Fukuoka routes will be decreased to 21, Incheon-Okinawa will see a decrease from 7 to 4 flights weekly, while the Busan-Narita/Fukuoka routes will decrease from 14 flights a week to 7.
Conversely, Korean Air will align its focus for the upcoming winter season to other routes in the Southeast Asian and Oceanian regions. In the works are a new daily service to Clark, Philippines (effective October 27) and an increase in the number of weekly flights from Incheon to Chiang Mai, Bali, and Brisbane. New direct services from Incheon to destinations in China (Zhangjiajie, Hangzhou, Nanjing) will also be launched, and operations from Incheon to Beijing upped to 17 weekly from the current 14.
It is worth noting that Korean Air is not the only South Korean operator to change tact where Japan is concerned. Earlier this month, Asiana Airlines, the second-largest airline in South Korea, announced the suspension of 3 weekly flights between Busan and Okinawa (effective August 23), while Jeju Air, South Korea's largest LCC, announced a 35.7% reduction of flights on 9 routes between South Korea and Japan effective August 25, subject to review in October. Another LCC, T'Way Air, had in late July announced a suspension of 14 of its 23 routes to Japan owing to reduced demand.