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South Korean airlines contend with virus-related travel restrictions

[SEOUL] As restrictions widen on travellers from South Korea, the most coronavirus-hit country outside China, airlines are cancelling flights, cutting costs and seeking government support.

As many as 55 countries require quarantine on arrival or ban entry for travellers from South Korea, the country's foreign ministry said on Wednesday.

The transport ministry met aviation executives on Tuesday to discuss support measures, after budget airlines requested emergency funds and cuts in airport charges and taxes.

Below summarises the virus impact on South Korean airlines.

KOREAN AIR LINES

South Korea's biggest carrier by revenue, Korean Air Lines, has cut global capacity by about 80 per cent - affecting routes including the United States, Italy and Britain - and is offering paid leave for cabin crew members.

Korean Air, which had a cabin crew member test positive for the coronavirus, said last week it would measure the temperature of all passengers for flights to the United States - which has said it will screen travellers from South Korea - and turn away passengers whose temperature exceeds 37.5 degrees Celsius.

ASIANA AIRLINES

An Asiana Airlines Inc flight to Hanoi was forced to return to Incheon on Saturday, as Vietnamese authorities prevented it from landing in the capital.

Korean airlines subsequently cancelled flights to Vietnam, where authorities are allowing flights from South Korea to use only the Van Don International Airport and Phu Cat Airport until June, the South Korean embassy in Hanoi said on Wednesday.

Vietnamese carriers including Vietnam Airlines JSC and Vietjet Aviation JSC are set to suspend flights to South Korea this week over coronavirus concerns.

BUDGET AIRLINES

Budget airlines, already grappling with competition in the crowded market, have been hit hard by the virus, due primarily to their heavy reliance on short-haul routes. Most of the no-frills carriers are accepting applications from employees for unpaid leave.

Asiana Airlines' budget affiliate Seoul Air is only operating one domestic and one international route in March. Another budget affiliate, Air Busan Co, is only operating four routes, pulling its capacity down by about 85 per cent.

South Korea's biggest budget carrier by revenue, Jeju Air Co, has suspended about 60 per cent of its routes. On Monday, it said it would buy 51 per cent of competitor Eastar Jet Co for 54.5 billion won (S$63.7 million), about 22 per cent less than previously announced.

REUTERS