Of the 291 passengers on-board the doomed Asiana Airlines flight 214 that burst into flames upon landing in San Francisco on July 6, almost half of them were Chinese, including the three young students who were killed. Such a heavy ratio of Chinese passengers is nothing new for South Korean airlines. The country's two major airlines, Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, aggressively seek Chinese costumers who are keen to grab a connecting, international flight in South Korea in order to take advantage of the airlines' relatively inexpensive plane tickets, frequent flights and better amenities.
“Usually, the connecting flight ticket at South Korea would be at least 30 percent less than a direct ticket from China to the U.S, which is one huge temptation,” Rei Yao, a Chinese travel insider for South Korea, told CCTV, China’s official television network. “The other is the convenience. Since Chinese passengers need to fly through South Korea to the U.S., it would only take an extra two to three hours for Chinese passengers.” Per recent figures, a one-way flight from Shanghai directly to San Francisco would cost at least 8,810 yuan, which is about $1,435.95. However, it would cost 3,000 less yuan, about $500, to the same destination, with a layover in Seoul. Both Korean Air and Asiana Airlines have Chinese versions of their websites, indicating they are actively pursuing more business from Chinese consumers.
In addition to cheaper tickets, Seoul's Incheon International Airport has more destination connections and can offer Chinese passengers more flexibility in flying options, especially those coming from the second or third-tier cities, according to an interview with Professor Peng Yubing, an economic expert from the Civil Aviation University of Chinam, to Xinhua Net.
“The domestic airline market in South Korea is very small,” Rei said. “The furthest place that Koreans would need to fly to is Jeju Province [an isolated island south-west of the mainland of South Korea]. Since the domestic market is saturated, it makes sense for the airlines to expand to an international market.”
Fueling competition, South Korea’s aviation industry is working in tandem with the government to make it easier for Chinese citizens to connect through the country, according to Rei. A recent law launched on May 1 of this year lets Chinese visitors holding U.S. visas have up to 30 visa-free days in South Korea if they connect through an airport in the country.
As more foreign countries offer visas to Chinese tourists with ordinary passports, it has also led to an increasingly sharp rise in Chinese citizens traveling internationally. By 2011, Chinese tourists could visit 74 countries without applying for a visa, including Maldives, Mexico, Seychelles, Ireland and Egypt.