South Korean airlines said Friday they will reduce more routes and ask employees to take unpaid leave as the spread of the novel coronavirus is impacting travel.
With no clear end in sight for the COVID-19 outbreak, local airlines began to suspend or reduce their flights early this month to adjust to weak demand on domestic and international routes.
Korean Air Lines Co., the country's biggest airline, said it plans to gradually begin halting services on seven additional routes to Asian cities, including the Busan-Taipei route, in late February, while cutting the number of flights on the Incheon-Guam route and 14 other destinations worldwide.
"The flight suspension and reduction periods may be extended beyond March unless the coronavirus is contained," a company spokesman said.
Faced with lower demand for China and other international routes, Korean Air had already suspended 20 of its 30 scheduled flights to China, while reducing the number of flights on eight routes and maintaining services on two routes.
On Wednesday, Asiana Airlines Inc. asked all 10,500 employees to take turns going on 10 days of unpaid leave so the company can cut costs.
Starting this month, Asiana halted six routes to China, reduced flights on 15 routes and kept five routes intact. The company reduced the number of flights on five routes from Incheon to other Asian cities like Bangkok and Hanoi starting Monday.
It plans to suspend services on the Incheon-Taichung, Taiwan, route from this coming Wednesday to March 15 and the Incheon-Chiang Mai route from March 3-15.
Korean Air's net losses deepened to 624.87 billion won ($529 million) in 2019 from 185.65 billion won a year earlier. Asiana's net losses widened to 837.79 billion won from 195.86 billion won during the same period.
Among low-cost carriers, Jeju Air Co. entered an emergency management system last week to cut costs and stay afloat.
Jeju Air has gradually suspended seven of 19 routes to mainland China since Jan. 29. It currently offers eight routes to Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan.
Jeju Air swung to a net loss of 34.1 billion won last year froma net profit of 70.88 billion won in 2018.
Jin Air Co. and Air Busan Co. suspended most of their flights to China early this year. Jin Air, which already halted the Incheon-Macao route from Friday through the end of February, said it plans to keep the Jeju-Xian and Jeju-Shanghai routes on hold until the end of March.
Air Busan said it will maintain the suspension of its Chinese routes until the end of March, an extension from its originally scheduled end-February.
South Korea has two full-service carriers -- Korean Air and Asiana Airlines -- and seven low-cost carriers -- Jeju Air, Jin Air, Air Busan, Air Seoul, Eastar Jet, T'way and Fly Gangwon. (Yonhap)