With all my rants against airlines, you would think I would never fly again. Unfortunately, when you’re a World Adventurer, you have very little choice but to be dependent on these mindnumbingly frustrating airlines to get you where you want to go. Otherwise, you would find yourself sailing on a slow boat to China. Tonight my wife booked tickets for my family to travel from Seoul to Shanghai, China over the Chuseok (Mid-Autumn Festival) holiday. The price is over $800 per ticket! I repeat, $800. It’s a 2.5 hour flight. 868 kilometers separate Seoul and Shanghai. That’s 539 miles. That’s half the distance between Seattle and San Francisco. When was the last time you paid $800 to fly anywhere in North America? If you live in Europe, when is the last time you paid $800 to fly anywhere in Europe? You haven’t. Asian air travel is ridiculously expensive. We would have liked to visit Japan, which is very close to Korea, but we might as well have traveled to Australia or Thailand. It’s virtually cheaper than crossing the East Sea to Japan. If you think the high ticket price just because we will travel during a holiday weekend, consider that tickets to fly the week before, during off-peak season, cost just $75 less. About $725.
Why is it so expensive to fly internationally in Asia? Domestic flights are a bit more affordable, but international fares are absolutely aggregious. Two words–landing rights. Asian governments offer national carriers preferential treatment and allow them to dominate their major airports. Korea does it, but it is not alone in this respect–most Asian governments do likewise. Incheon International Airport, which serves Seoul, is dominated by Korea’s two major airlines, Asiana Airlines and Korean Airlines. Foreign airlines such as China Eastern and JAL fly in and out of Seoul, but they collectively control less than one quarter of the gates at Incheon Airport. Asiana and Korean control entire hubs. In addition, some major foreign carriers such as Delta Airlines must co-share with the Korean majors because they can’t secure landing rights for their aircraft. Asian airlines take advantage of this competitive advantage by charging outrageous rates for their airline tickets. Certainly, the quality of their service and the staff is top notch. Asian airlines are well known for offering the best service in the world. (Who doesn’t want to be served by a beautiful Korean air hostess in mid-flight?) Honestly, like many Americans, I would much rather sacrifice this award-winning service for a modestly-priced ticket. I prefer discount airline tickets. That’s why I’m rooting for Jeju Air to succeed and expand internationally to other East Asia destinations. I don’t need to fly from Seoul to Shanghai non-stop on a Boeing 777 in 2.5 hours for $800. I’d rather fly on a Jeju Air Bombadier jet to Jeju Island, transfer, and arrive in Shanghai in five hours and pay $350-$400. I can use the money I save to buy an overpriced Starbucks cappuccino while in transit.
In times like these, I wish I still worked for Intel and still had corporate jet privileges. There’s nothing like driving to a county airport, flashing your company badge, bypassing any security checkpoints, boarding a small corporate jet, eating freebie snacks, and jetting off close to your destination. When I left Intel, it was scaling back corporate jet privileges for employees and cutting some flights (who knows, maybe the corporate jet program has been discontinued because of high fuel prices and Intel’s recent struggles–I wouldn’t be surprised). It sure was nice to have the privilege, if even for just a brief time.