Good news for readers who travel between the UK and South Korea.
This week it was announced that Virgin Atlantic would be allowed to operate between London Heathrow and Seoul’s Incheon International airport.
However there are conditions attached and the route cannot be launched in the near future.
I say that because complex aeropolitics are involved – for the submission to the Competition and Markets Authority by Korean Air (KAL) – see this PDF for more information.
In short they specify that the service cannot start until the merger between KAL and its local rival Asiana are concluded, and this could take some time.
Asiana currently flies to London Heathrow and its schedules also call for a Frankfurt service to continue into the summer.
Virgin Atlantic’s service must start within 12 months of the merger, or by the summer 2024 season, whichever is later.
KAL is to provide Virgin Atlantic with slots at both Incheon airport and London Heathrow (these are the ones used by Asiana).
British Airways had operated this route previously but ceased operations when the pandemic arrived.
It was believed, however, that London-Seoul was an underperforming route for BA, the main reason being because of alliance membership. KAL is a Skyteam member while Asiana is linked to Star and BA to Oneworld.
Incheon is a large aviation hub in Northeast Asia and feeds travellers on to both main and secondary destinations within the region and as far afield as Australasia.
Therefore BA could not offer onward connections at competitive prices without harming its own direct services within the Asia-Pacific region.
Virgin Atlantic ought to face no such problem. As of today (March 2) the carrier is a Skyteam member, and will be codesharing with KAL both to and beyond Seoul.
It has also cancelled services to Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney. (Yes readers might wonder at Sydney but both KAL and Asiana were known for keen fares between London and Sydney.)
Indeed Asiana plays a similar role for KLM in Europe. For example, just as travellers can reach UK regions by changing planes in Schiphol rather than a London airport, the same applies to Incheon.
I mean from the UK a Japan-bound passenger can currently fly to Tokyo only. But via Seoul a traveller can access many regional points in Japan.
I agree that since the Russian overflying ban flight schedules between Europe and Northeast Asia take a couple of hours longer.
But despite this handicap flights to the region from Europe restarted last year.
In a media statement Virgin Atlantic said it welcomed the opportunity to serve Seoul and we “will confirm our next steps in a relation to a route start-up in due course”.