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Korean Air cuts back on routes to Middle East

Korean Air is pulling back on its destinations in the Middle East, instead opting to focus on in-demand routes to the western United States, the company said Wednesday.

The airline said that it would temporarily cut flights with low demand. These include the Incheon-Riyadh-Jeddah route from Korea to Saudi Arabia, which will be indefinitely suspended starting February. Korean Air said in a statement that Saudi Arabia’s recent economic hit from low oil prices and decreasing plant projects had reduced demand.
(Korean Air)
(Korean Air)

The airline said it would seek to minimize inconvenience for passengers by actively seeking out connecting flights with Middle Eastern airlines out of Dubai.

The decision sparked speculation regarding Korean Air’s previous decision to begin operating direct flights to Iran. In March this year, Korean Air beat back rival carrier Asiana Airlines to win the rights to operate direct flights to Tehran. But Korean Air has not yet begun operations, and there have been reports that Korean Air is planning to give up the rights altogether.

A spokesman for Korean Air denied the reports, saying that the airline would be pursuing the Iran route but with caution, “because of the financial and market environment” there. 

Asiana Airlines, which had been looking to win rights to a Tehran route next year, was also wary. “It’s true that the economic situation in Iran is difficult, but we are still watching with great interest,” said an Asiana spokesman.

Overall passenger traffic to the Middle East has been seen slowing, with Abu Dhabi International Airport reporting just 1.9 million passengers coming through in October, marking about a 1 percent decrease from last year. The decline is more significant when considering that the number of aircraft movements had actually increased by 1.3 percent in that same interval. 

The Middle East’s major airline, Emirates, had also announced early this month that it had seen profits for the first half of 2016 slashed 64 percent by a “strong US dollar and challenging operating environment.”

In addition to the Saudi Arabian flight, Korean Air will also be suspending its flights to Siem Reap in Cambodia starting February. Meanwhile, it will be shifting its resources toward more high-profit routes to the western United States, increasing flights to San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle. 

By Won Ho-jung (