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[From the scene] Incheon Airport readies for return of air travelers

Airport officials remove signage indicating a waiting area for buses exclusively for overseas inbound travelers, designed to separate them from others for prevention of potential exposure to COVID-19, in the arrivals hall of Terminal 1 of Incheon Airport on April 1. (Yonhap)
Airport officials remove signage indicating a waiting area for buses exclusively for overseas inbound travelers, designed to separate them from others for prevention of potential exposure to COVID-19, in the arrivals hall of Terminal 1 of Incheon Airport on April 1. (Yonhap)




As South Koreans push to break free of the pandemic’s long grip, Incheon Airport, the country’s main international gateway, is gearing up for the long-awaited return of air travelers.

Although not quite to pre-pandemic levels yet, passengers were seen forming lines in front of certain airline counters on Wednesday, including South Korean flag carrier Asiana Airlines. However, many were unattended, with no flights scheduled.

On Wednesday, usually one of the quietest days of the week at the airport, 280 international passenger flights departed from and arrived at the airport according to the schedule board.

The figure stood at approximately 117 per day on average in March, compared with some 1,017 flights in the same period in 2019.

According to the latest data from the airport, the average daily number of passengers using the airport between April 1 and 3 surpassed 20,000 for the first time since March in 2020.


(The Korea Herald)
(The Korea Herald)

“As documentation for traveling to some countries have been streamlined, the airport started to get its second wind,” said a ground crew member of Asiana Airlines who declined to be named.

As air travel is just beginning a transition back to normal, confusion persists.

At the Asiana counter, some travelers were inquiring with staff about how to get their vaccination certificate in English through a mobile application, or asked staff to check whether they missed any documents to enter their destination country.

South Korea has only recently lifted a seven-day mandatory quarantine rule for fully vaccinated travelers arriving from most countries.

Song Myeong-hwa is a Korean flying to Paris. She planned to stay there for six days for an exhibition with a group of other artists on a cultural exchange project.

“I’m a little concerned about being infected there. COVID-19 is treated as the flu in Europe,” she said. “We can’t let it all go (because of the pandemic). We’ve got to do what we have to do.”

On April 1, airport officials removed virus-related equipment and signage, which had been needed for the enforcement of the government’s virus containment measures.

The quarantine information center of local governments installed in the arrivals hall of Terminal 1 and Terminal 2 as well as waiting areas for overseas inbound travelers have also been removed.

Travelers from overseas who were required to use their own car or a quarantine taxi can now use public transportation.

But not everything was back to business as usual just yet.

Because of the long interval between limousine city buses, Song said she had to take the subway to the airport.

“Since April 1, very few bus operators have dispatched more buses. Most of them run only two buses -- one in the morning, one in the evening,” a worker at a bus ticketing station said. 

(The Korea Herald)
(The Korea Herald)


A BTS fan in her 50s surnamed Lee was heading to Las Vegas. She had two carriers and a backpack decorated with badges featuring pictures of Jimin and the group’s phrase “#BTS I purple you.”

“I got a third vaccine shot just to attend the BTS concert in Vegas and stayed home, going nowhere, to avoid exposure and infection from the virus before this trip,” she said, adding that she had paid extra to buy secondhand tickets for all four shows to be held there.

She arrived at the airport five hours earlier than her flight, which was set to leave at 5 p.m., to undergo COVID-19 testing, as the US requires travelers to provide proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test taken within 24 hours of departure.

A construction material technician, Dillo, 38, was going home for the first time in 2 1/2 years to see his wife and children in Uzbekistan.

“My boss allowed me to have a vacation for one month because we don’t have much work to do these days,” he said. Dillo was with a friend from Indonesia who was also heading home.

Around lunchtime, restaurants and cafes on the third floor of the terminal were quiet -- if not shut down altogether after bearing the brunt of an empty airport due to the pandemic.

Kim Hyo-bin, a worker at a Chinese restaurant, said she started to see passengers return as customers this month.

“It was mainly ground workers who had meals here for the past two years because there were no travelers,” she said.

The restaurant recently decided to hire one more server as customers are expected to grow.

Currently, it has five employees. The head count was 15 before the pandemic, she said.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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