South Korea's Vice Transport Minister Hwang Seong-kyu (R) shakes hands with Saipan's governor Ralph Torres after signing a "travel bubble" agreement in Seoul on June 30, 2021. (Yonhap)
South Korean airlines will resume flights to Saipan later this month as scheduled despite a recent surge in COVID-19 cases.
The Seoul government recently signed a quarantine-free travel bubble agreement with Saipan to allow group tours of fully vaccinated Koreans to such holiday destinations.
The government is in talks with Guam and Singapore to sign travel bubble deals in preparation for an increase in outbound travel demand as early as late this year.
Among local carriers, Jeju Air Co. resumed flights to Saipan on June 8 in a preemptive measure to absorb post-coronavirus travel demand.
Asiana Airlines Inc. and T'way Air Co. plan to take off for Saipan from July 24 and July 29, respectively, according to the companies.
National flag carrier Korean Air Lines Co. did not operate the route to Saipan.
Korean Air and Asiana -- the country's two full-service carriers -- said they are considering reopening routes to Guam, Singapore, Hawaii and Taiwan later this year, while low-cost carriers, like Air Seoul Inc. and Air Busan Co., also said they plan to resume flights to spots such as Guam and Saipan within this year.
Group tours to tourist spots such as Guam and Singapore are now possible without bilateral travel bubble agreements, but passengers should undergo local quarantine requirements.
U.S. territories like Guam and Saipan have allowed exemptions from a two-week quarantine for incoming passengers who have received Pfizer, Moderna and Janssen vaccines. AstraZeneca vaccine recipients were also exempt from the quarantine from June 19.
Unvaccinated people will still be required to take a coronavirus test at the territories' airports and undergo a two-week quarantine at local facilities.
Global air travel demand is expected to recover to the level of 2019 in late 2022, as each country's virus response and quarantine regulations are different. (Yonhap)