As diplomatic relations between South Korea and Japan have turned sour recently over export regulations, travel demand between South Korea and Japan has seen a downturn. This has led to several Korean-based carriers to reduce their capacity on flights to/from Japan, which is the second largest travel market for visitors to Japan after China.

The weakening demand for travel from South Korea to Japan comes as Koreans have started to boycott Japanese goods following trade restrictions on industrial materials from South Korea to Japan. Japan’s decision to impose the restrictions was a response to a Korean Supreme Court ruling ordering compensation for Koreans forced into labor by Japanese companies during World War II.

Korean Air and Asiana

Korean Air announced it will suspend its Busan-Sapporo route starting September 3, while deploying smaller jets on its flights from Seoul to Japanese destinations such as Sapporo, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Nagoya within the month.

Asiana also is reducing its capacity by deploying smaller aircraft on its flights from Incheon to Fukuoka, Osaka and Okinawa. During the first two weeks of September, the airline will replace the Airbus A330s used on the route with a 290 capacity to smaller A321 (174 seats) and Boeing 767 aircraft (250 seats).

Low Cost Carriers

South Korean low cost carriers which have benefited greatly from the travel demand between Korea and Japan in the past are now taking a hit due to the decline in travelers on the routes.

Among the reported reductions are from T’way which announced it suspended its Muan to Oita service on July 24, and will suspend its Busan-Oita (August 12), Daegu-Kumamoto and Busan-Oita (September).

Jin Air – Korean Air’s low cost subsidiary – will reduce its weekly flights between Seoul-Incheon and Fukuoka from four to three in October.

Eastar Jet announced it will follow along with Korean Air with the suspension of its Busan-Sapporo flights starting September 1.

Japan is an important market for the South Korean low cost airlines with each of the airlines having at least 5 destinations in Japan. Jeju Air – the largest budget airline in the country - operates flights to 9 destinations in Japan. Air Seoul has the largest slate of Japanese destinations with 11 of a total 21 on its network.

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