US-South Korea is fast growing thanks to Air Premia, but Korean Air is still first

US-South Korea is fast growing thanks to Air Premia

The US has non-stop flights to 10 Asian countries (excluding the Middle East) in the first half of 2024 (January-June). According to Cirium schedules information, the continent accounts for more than one in five of the country’s long-haul international seat capacity (22%).

Comparing data to the first half of 2019 shows that US-Asia seats remain down by about 15%, contributing to the continent’s share being four percentage points lower than the before pandemic.

Inevitably, this is almost fully because of China and Hong Kong’s painfully slow recoveries. In contrast, US-South Korean capacity has grown by 35%, contributing to that country becoming the second most-served Asian nation.

Asian countries with US flights 1H2024

Korean Air is the leading carrier

Six South Korean and four US airlines have non-stop flights. This includes Jeju Air, T’way, and Jin Air, which only operate to/from the US territories of Guam/Saipan. In total, South Korean airlines provide 80% of US capacity. (Air Busan and Air Seoul exited the market in 2022.)

If only the US mainland and Hawaii are considered, Korean Air has virtually half of the market. It has 12 routes from ICN to Atlanta, Boston, Chicago ORD, Dallas DFW, Guam, Honolulu, JFK, Las Vegas, Los Angeles, Seattle, San Francisco and Washington IAD.

If Korean Air’s merger with Asiana goes ahead and assuming no changes, forced or otherwise, it would have 61% of all non-stop capacity on a 13-strong route network.

Shannon AIrport

Airlines from the US to South Korea 1h 2024

Air Premia arrived in 2022; its fourth route is coming

The biggest development was the arrival of Air Premia in 2022 and the subsequent growth. While it calls itself a hybrid operator, it is effectively a LCC. It has five Boeing 787-9s, its only equipment, each with 309 seats.

Its first US route was ICN-Los Angeles on 29 October 2022 (5-weekly, which has since risen to a maximum of daily), followed by Newark on 22 May 2023 (4) and Honolulu on 31 December 2023 (4). San Francisco will begin on 17 May 2024 (4-weekly). It will compete directly with United (12), Korean Air (10) and Asiana (6).

ICN-Los Angeles is the leading market

There are 17 non-stop airport pairs in the 1H of 2024: 16 are from ICN and one from Pusan (to Guam). Some 16 airports in the US and its territories are served.

Examining Cirium data from the past two decades shows that only two destinations have ceased having South Korean passenger flights: Anchorage and Houston IAH. The latter had Korean Air until October 2017.

In the past few years, Guam-ICN was the largest market. However, due to the big reduction in capacity and the arrival of Air Premia in Los Angeles, Los Angeles-ICN is again first. Capacity has risen by almost a quarter versus 2019. It is served by Asiana (2-daily in June), Korean Air (2-daily) and Air Premia (daily). Other operators served the route on a fifth freedom basis to/from their hubs: Thai Airways until 2015 and Singapore until 2017.

Top 10 US - South Korea routes 1H 2024

Athens International Airport