Updated: Apr 4, 2020
There are no airlines in the world that are not suffering because of coronavirus situation. One of them is Korean Air, south Korean national carrier, famous in the world by safety and customer service both on board and ground. Thanks to Korean TV shows, we can see those blue birds in Zagreb. Right now they stopped their operations, but, will they come back?
Back to 2018.- start of regular operations
Korean Air started its regular flights to Croatian capital back in September 2018. with A330-200, wide body with relatively small capacity, just 218 seats in total. They were running regular charter flights to Zagreb for years before starting regular flights, mostly with B777 (-200 and -300 version), but also with B747-400.
From winter schedule 2018./2019. Korean Air merged two of their destinations so the route from Zagreb to Seoul was not direct anymore, aircraft departed from Incheon, arrived at Zagreb and then continued to Zurich. Flight from Zurich back to Seoul was direct. From the start of the winter timetable until the 1st of January 2019. they used B777-200 aircraft, but capacity was way too much for new destination and route which was not competitive at all (via Zurich). The result was approx. 30 passengers on board from Zagreb, actually, one word- fail. They even increased capacity by deploying B787-9, but at least this aircraft is fuel efficient so the revenue of the route was better because of that.
Summer season 2019. - increasing capacity to ZAG
From the start of the summer season 2019., the route was direct again (ICN-ZAG-ICN) with A330-200, and nothing changed until the start of September. Korean Air announced the Zagreb route will be upgraded from A330-200 to B787-9 (from 218 to 269 seats), and frequency was increased with additional 4th rotation each Friday (from the end of August until end of September).
Winter 2019. - KE suspended service ICN-ZAG-ZRH-ICN
Winter season 2019. started and route from Zagreb switched again via Zurich on the way back to Seoul. Aircraft was changed again from B787-9 to A330-200 obviously because of low demand. Suddenly, KE announced the Zagreb route will be suspended from the end of November 2019. until the end of March 2020. Okay, we knew that KE will come back soon since the booking was open from late March and seasonal service was confirmed. But, then happened something that we didn't expect at all. Coronavirus is now a global problem and one of the most affected countries at the start was Korea (second, after China). Korean Air was forced to stop all regular flights to Europe (active just route to London and Paris right now) and Zagreb service was postponed from 31st of March to 28th of April. Meanwhile, KE canceled flights until 02nd of May on this route, but booking is right now unavailable until 02nd of July! Flights are not canceled (probably will be) yet, but passengers can book the ticket from the start of July. Zagreb is not the only city closed for booking until the mentioned date, same goes for BCN, MAD, PRG, FRA, ZRH, BUD, etc.
Korean Air is actually in bad shape
As we can see by press releases from the company HQ and other sources, all stakeholders are concerned about company survival. And yeah, if they would need to cut costs in order to survive this crisis, Zagreb will be one of the stations which will close first, there's no doubt about it. But, how is that possible? The number of Korean visitors in Croatia is huge?
Number of visitors from Korea in period from 2007. until 2019.
Number of Koreans in Croatia is big and probably not the correct one since Koreans during their stay in this region, are crossing the border at least twice - to visit Slovenia and Bosnia and Herzegovina, but the number is still big enough to have a sustainable direct route between Croatian and Korean capitals. So, where is the problem? First, the price for sure. Korean Air is always more expensive than other airlines, and Koreans, like everyone else in this world, will fly with one or two stops to the final destination and keep some money in their pocket. Return ticket with Qatar, Emirates, Turkish or LOT is often half of the price of KE. That's crazy. If you want to survive in this market you should check your competitors. Of course, Croatians are going to Asia, but, firstly, Korea is definitely not a top destination on our market, and second, going somewhere in Asia with KE via ICN would be more expensive than using Qatar, Emirates, Turkish, etc. So, pricing is done.
Second, Koreans travel year-round and they are not interested in sunbathing and swimming at the beach. That's not their style. But, however, the Croatian tourism board is doing marketing campaign in Korea and representing us as a summer destination. Completely wrong. Last winter probably only groups which you could see on Zagreb's streets were Koreans since they are travelling as well in that "dead period" of the year.
Third, flying via Zurich? Really? During the winter, it was faster (and cheaper btw) to fly to Korea with Qatar, Turkish, even LOT from Zagreb than flying with Korean Air via Zurich. Not giving a proper chance to Zagreb route is such a shame.
Fourth. We are not sure about route management in KE, but, opening a new station, Budapest, like, really? So in this small area you have direct flights to Budapest, Vienna and Zagreb? That's way too much.
In conclusion, Zagreb will probably be the first victim in the KE network, and obviously coronavirus situation is not the only reason. We can be happy if KE comes back this summer season ( I would not be surprised if they cancel all flights for this summer soon), and even more if they continue to fly to Croatia next summer.