COVID Prompts Asiana Airlines Backtrack On Flights To Nowhere

Because of a spike in the number of people in Korea testing positive for COVID-19, Asiana Airlines has backtracked on its idea of offering international flights to nowhere. Earlier today, Korea’s second-largest airline said it was canceling its international flights to nowhere due to the coronavirus’s resurgence.

Asiana Korean Airlines
Asiana planned to fly over japan before returning to Seoul. Photo: Getty Images

Aimed at reinvigorating Korea’s aviation industry, Asiana Airlines was planning to give customers an international flight experience by flying over Japan before returning to Seoul–Incheon International Airport (ICN). Asiana Airlines decided to roll out the idea of international flights to nowhere after Korean Finance Minister Hong Nam-ki gave the country’s airline permission to fly to international destinations, so long as it did not land.

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Korea is experiencing the third-wave

While keeping aircraft flying is always preferable to having them stored, Asiana hoped it would bring in revenue and keep people employed. Another benefit of the international flights to nowhere is that it was expected to help the airports duty-free shops that have been struggling since the outbreak of the pandemic.

When COVID-19 first reared its ugly head earlier this year, South Korea immediately tightened restrictions to stem the spread of the virus and was applauded by the rest of the world as it got the number of infections under control.

Now faced with a third-wave of the deadly virus, South Korea is considering upping the current restrictions as the number of people testing positive continues to climb. Back in early November, South Korea was registering between 100 and 200 cases per day, now as we move towards Christmas, that number has spiked to as many as 800 to 1,000 daily cases.

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Asiana Airlines managed one flight to nowhere using an A380 but only had 169 passengers. Photo: Asiana

However, South Korea is now preparing to take its toughest and strongest measures to curb the virus’s resurgence. In a meeting held on Monday, President Moon Jae-in asked the public to try and stay home and refrain from meeting with other people as the country prepares to face what might be its biggest test yet.

Now faced with the possibility of South Korea restrictions being raised to level 3, Asiana Airlines has decided to cancel the flights to nowhere. In a statement seen by the Korea Joongang Daily newspaper, Asiana said,

“We have decided to halt the operations of [the planned international] flights as a pre-emptive measure due to the spread of the COVID-19, and will review the reoperation depending on how the situation develops.”

Before canceling its international flights to nowhere, Asiana Airlines did manage a single no-landing flight over Japan on December 12. While hardly a success with a lowly 35% occupancy rate, the reason for so few passengers could be put down to the resurgence of the virus.

South Korean low-cost airline and subsidiary of Asiana Airlines, Air Seoul withdrew its plan to operate international no-landing flights on December 11. When speaking about the decision with the Korea Joongang Daily  Air Seoul spokesperson Park Bo-kyung said:

“We’ve canceled the flights due to the resurgence of COVID-19, but we still have one planned flight on January 1 remaining. 

“These flights are being operated for airlines to generate at least a little bit of profit. Airlines need enough passengers to be able to cover the fixed cost, but more people seem to be feeling reluctant to go on a plane with the Level 3 social distancing being reviewed.”

What is level 3?

If South Korea were to move to level 3 it would essentially mean a lockdown with all schools switching to remote learning and all but essential workers being told to stay home. Not only would this prove to be disastrous for Asia’s fourth-largest economy, but it would also be yet another nail in the airline industry’s coffin.

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Asiana Airlines will reconsider flights to nowhere if Korea avoids level 3. Photo: Getty Images

It looks very much like South Korea is heading for level 3 as the numbers continue to rise, and it is probably prudent for Asiana Airlines and Air Seoul to cancel the flights to nowhere.

Do you think more airlines should be offering flights to nowhere, or is it a bad idea given the current climate we are in? Please let us know your thoughts in the comments.