Korean Air vice president of marketing for the Americas John Jackson spoke with The Transnationalsenior editor Jay Boehmer about the carrier's U.S. growth plans, ongoing talks to deepen an antitrust-immune relationship with SkyTeam partner Delta Air Lines and planned Airbus A380 service launches to New York in August and Los Angeles in October. He said that the entire upper deck of the massive aircraft would be configured with 94 business class seats, "almost double any aircraft we have right now" and reflects "our bullishness towards this market." Excerpts follow.
Looking at where the demand from the United States is going on your network, are most passengers ending their trip in Korea or are they flying through to other Asian destinations?
The easy answer is it's 50-50. That's not exact, but it's pretty close. It ebbs and flows, and, in the midst of the [global economic] crisis, Korea was particularly hard hit, so it went up to 65 or 70 percent going beyond. For us, we look at 50-50 being healthy. Looking forward, I expect that to change as well. One of the reasons we're adding capacity is because we see opportunity for business travelers going to China--a huge market for us--to Vietnam or to Singapore, where we've got new flights. Obviously, as we put more capacity in and attract more people going to those other places, it will shift to the beyond markets.
You're adding frequencies from some cities and also upgauging to the A380 in New York and Los Angeles. How much capacity is Korean Airlines adding from the United States this year?
It will be very low double digit in terms of capacity increase. Right now, it's planned for about 10 or 11 percent. It goes back to our position of being America's largest Asian airline, and our strong selling point is we have more flights from more cities in America to Asia than any other airline. More than anything, business travelers demand frequency and network.
How does the appetite for premium services compare with pre-recession levels?
Last year, we got back to where we were in 2008, and so we see this as a year of true growth, continuing an upward trend that we started half a decade ago. It's definitely coming back, never as quickly as you would like it.
We've seen a few China-based airlines join SkyTeam. How does that impact Korean?
There's always internal competition, whether it's just plain partners or alliances or whatever. From my perspective, from the Americas region perspective, it's really good for us. What China Eastern brings to the table, what China Southern brings to the table, even what China Airlines into Taiwan brings to the table, for us it's more capacity, it's more connections and better connecting schedules. I'm not going to say they're not competing with us from Korea to those destinations, because they are, but from my perspective it brings a lot.
Delta said it sees more opportunities to exploit the antitrust immunity it has with Korean. What kind of opportunity do you see there?
You look at opportunities working with very large companies and what they're looking for in terms of global reach. Certainly, carriers that have that immunity are better able to serve those companies. It's a more efficient process, and it works out best for everybody. We're having talks with Delta. It's nothing I can really talk about, but we certainly realize the synergies.