Korean Air began the thrice-weekly Gatwick flights on Sunday (April 29). The airline’s vice president, long-haul network passenger marketing, Sang-Beom Lee, says the current oil price and start-up costs meant it may have to downgrade its ambitions: “Our original plan was to make it profitable in two years, but it will be very difficult to make that,” he says.
Lee admitted that Gatwick had been chosen only because good slots had not been available at Heathrow, where it operates a daily Boeing 747 service.
The new flight has a daytime departure from Gatwick, with an 05.25 arrival allowing for early morning connections at Seoul’s Incheon hub to Asia and particularly to Australasia. Its late night arrival at Gatwick (22.55) does not permit onward flights, however Lee said this was not an issue.<
“Unlike other European destinations, London is the final destination for business travellers and tourists. Korean, Japanese and Chinese passengers think London is London,” he says.
Korean Air is the latest Asian carrier to open services to Gatwick, which has made an effort to attract carriers from the region. Korean follows Vietnam Airlines’ launch in December, while Air China begins flying there from Beijing on May 2.
Lee said the success of the new service was dependent on attracting higher-yield business travellers who traditionally prefer Heathrow. Korean Air says its Seoul-Gatwick sales have been “better than expected” but said sales in the other direction have been “quite poor”, particularly as it gives the option to fly the leg from Heathrow to Seoul on a common-rated fare.
Gatwick’s flights are on a 261-seat Boeing 777-200 twin jet which includes 28 business class and eight first class seats. Korean plans to deploy a larger 777-300 on the Heathrow route by the start of winter timetables at the latest, as the airline admits high fuel prices means the four engine 747 operation is unprofitable. It has ruled out putting one of its five Airbus A380s on the Heathrow service.