Current Climate Forces Korean Air To Delay Zagreb Return

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Korean Air has again postponed the resumption of its service to Zagreb, Croatia, this time until September 2020. Tickets are on sale, but will Korean ever actually return to Zagreb?

Korean Air Boeing 777
The service from Seoul to Zagreb was meant to resume on 1st April. Photo: Getty Images

Korean Air in Zagreb

Korean Air first began operating direct flights from Seoul to Zagreb in September 2018. The route launch followed almost a decade of charter flights between Korea and Croatia.

As Korean reported at the time, the Zagreb-Seoul route was launched as a year-round one. The airline planned to circumvent seasonality on the route by linking Zagreb with Zurich during the winter months. The flying pattern was Seoul-Zagreb-Zurich-Seoul.

However, this was not commercially viable, and so the route was converted to a seasonal one just one year after its launch. Korean Air never obtained rights to sell tickets between Zagreb and Zurich. Also, given that passengers had to disembark in both Zagreb and Zurich with two hours of waiting time, the route effectively ceased being non-stop.

Services to both Zagreb and Zurich were suspended in the winter schedule of 2019/20. For Zagreb Airport, this was one of the numerous route cuts last year. The last Seoul-Zagreb flight operated on 29th November.

Korean Air utilized its 787, A330 and 777 aircraft to Zagreb in the past year. Photo: Getty Images

Tickets on sale from September

Korean Air first suspended Seoul-Zagreb flights from late November 2019 until 1st April 2020. But because of the current aviation crisis, the route resumption was first further postponed until June. This has now been delayed again until September.

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Korean Air now has only 24 return flights to Croatia on sale. The service will resume three times weekly, as it has always been, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. After the flights return in September, Korean Air will operate them until 24th October.

Perhaps the delay of the planned resumption follows the recent news that EU borders might stay closed until September. Still, all of Korean Air’s competitors in Zagreb are planning to resume their services much sooner: Emirates is selling tickets to Zagreb from 2nd July, Qatar Airways from 1st June, and Turkish Airlines from 1st May.

Port Harcourt, Turkish Airlines, Airbus A330
Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, and Emirates all compete against Korean Air in Zagreb. Photo: Getty Images

Will Korean Air return to Zagreb at all?

It is unclear whether Korean Air will be returning to Zagreb at all. It is not sensible to expect that the present major slump in demand for air travel will be reversed by September. Furthermore, given how limited Korean’s flight schedule to Zagreb is, with only three weekly frequencies and less than two months of operations, the scope for flexible travel is significantly reduced.

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Korean Air could perhaps combine its Zagreb flights with those to one of its newest destinations, Budapest. This would not be a unique combination: Qatar Airways used to operate Doha-Budapest-Zagreb flights in 2012.

There is presently far more capacity scheduled in Zagreb, especially for airlines serving the East Asia market, than demand can fill. Emirates will operate a daily 777 flight, and Qatar Airways operates a mix of narrow-body aircraft twice daily. Lufthansa serves Zagreb in partnership with Croatia Airlines over a dozen times daily.

Air France, Qatar and Turkish Airlines all offer one-stop connections for round trips from Seoul to Zagreb at almost half the price of Korean Air’s return ticket. In this environment, Korean Air will struggle to fill a Zagreb-bound 787 three times weekly.

Do you think Korean Air will eventually suspend flights to Zagreb permanently? Let us know what you think in the comments below.

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