UK – South Korea: traffic doubles up in a decade; British Airways the latest carrier to fly Gangnam Style

youtube’s most viewed movie ever, “Gangnam Style” performed by a K-pop artist, Psy, helped turn Seoul into a hip travel destination for Brits, according to British Airways’ CEO, Keith Williams. Gangnam means “south of the river” in Korean and is the epitome for the lush lifestyle of Seoul’s affluent classes.

Last week has seen some significant developments for passengers willing to travel non-stop between the UK and South Korea. Following the April launch of its thrice-weekly service from Seoul Incheon to London Gatwick, Korean Air announced that it was temporarily withdrawing from the route until late April 2013 due to lower demand during the winter season. Coincidentally, within a few days of this announcement British Airways resumed services from London Heathrow to the South Korean airport, which it previously served 14 years ago.

2011: 300k+ passengers for the first time

Between 2001 and 2011 the UK-South Korea passenger market almost doubled from under 157,000 to over 311,000. Notably, it was only mildly affected by the economic slowdown of recent years, as traffic decreases of less than 2% were noted in both 2008 and 2009, after which the market returned onto the growth track in 2010 (+5.1%).

2001-2011 UK - South Korea traffic Annual passengers (thousands)

Source: UK CAA.

In 2011, 5.6% more passengers travelled between the UK and South Korea, surpassing the 300,000 mark for the first time ever. In the first nine months of 2012, over 284,000 undertook the same journey.

London Gatwick traffic more seasonal

Korean Air’s launch of services to second London airport, London Gatwick, earlier this year, came as a much welcomed surprise, but the carrier will now suspend the service for the winter season due to weak demand. As explained in the statement by the airline, large part of traffic on the Gatwick service was made up by arriving Korean tourists who then travel across Europe and depart from another airport.

UK-South Korea load factors Monthly load factors LGW vs LHR

Source: LF estimate is based on UK CAA (traffic data) and Innovata (capacity data).

Examination of CAA UK traffic data for the period from April to September 2012 shows the benefits of operating to London’s main airport. While data published by the agency is not detailed enough to state precise load factors by airline (Asiana Airlines and Korean Air each serve the route daily), the indicators are on average considerably better for London Heathrow.

British Airways breaks the Korean duopoly

The return of British Airways to the market might have affected Korean Air’s decision to suspend its London Gatwick service, although London Heathrow’s home carrier will effectively provide less than a third of the total capacity in the market during W13. This share is even smaller in the summer season, when Korean Air reintroduces its service to Gatwick.

UK – South Korea Capacity Share
Airline Jan 13 Aug 13
Asiana Airlines 34.3% 30.1%
British Airways 29.4% 25.8%
Korean Air 36.3% 44.1%
Source: Innovata w/c 14 January and 12 August 2013


  1. Baldese says:

    I hope this provides competition that encourages Asiana to utilise aircraft that are equipped with their new seating product on the Heathrow route on a daily basis, rather than the current adhoc arrangement (sometimes it’s there, sometimes it’s the current product, sometimes it’s their ancient product).

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