The Busiest Air Route In The World

Last week reader Pat left the following question on the “Ask Lucky” page of the blog:

Is there a particular reason there are flights practically every 5 minutes between Seoul and Jeju?

I don’t have an answer, but it sure as hell is a fascinating route. Shockingly enough it’s the world’s busiest air route in terms of the number of passengers that fly it. Over 10 million people flew between Seoul and Jeju last year, a route which is just 280 miles in distance.

Seoul-Jeju-Route

Per korea.net:

The air route is serviced by seven Korean airlines, according to statistics from the Korea Airports Corporation (KAC). Korean Air and Asiana operate the most flights, transporting 2.65 and 2.27 million passengers respectively in 2012, while low-cost airlines T’way, Jeju Air, Jin Air, and Eastar Jet collectively accounted for 7.36 million, and Air Busan claiming a much smaller share at 2.16 million. In total, these airlines offered 69,622 flights between Gimpo and Jeju in 2012, according to the KAC.

Take a look at the Asiana and Korean Air timetable for an upcoming Friday (and keep in mind there are a handful of other airlines flying the route, not listed below):

Seoul-Jeju-Route-1
Seoul-Jeju-Route-2
Seoul-Jeju-Route-3
Seoul-Jeju-Route-4

That’s just one day worth of flights on two of the seven carriers operating the route. By my math that’s 41 flights between Asiana and Korean Air alone, 12 of which are operated by 747s. Mind-blowing.

For reference, per Wikipedia, here are the ten busiest air routes in the world:

  1. Seoul to Jeju
  2. Tokyo to Sapporo
  3. Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro
  4. Bejing to Shanghai
  5. Sydney to Melbourne
  6. Tokyo to Osaka
  7. Tokyo to Fukuoka
  8. Hong Kong to Taipei
  9. Tokyo to Okinawa
  10. Johannesburg to Cape Town

I totally expect that four of the top ten routes are for intra-Japan flights and that eight of the ten are for intra-Asia flights, but the Seoul to Jeju flight has to be the most surprising, at least to me. Especially since it’s the busiest route by a margin of nearly two million passengers per year.

Has anyone been to Jeju, and if so, is it as interesting as the number of people flying there suggests?

Comments

  1. It is a quite nice (and extremely popular) local tourist destination. I imagine the number is also this high because it’s not served by HSR, like many of these other flights (minus say, HKG-TPE).

  2. The closest thing to a tropical island in the region within a short distance of many major cities routing via Seoul. A combination of business/honeymoon/casino-loving visitors make this a year-round destination!

  3. I imagine it has something to do with the fact that it is a tourist area and the flights probably function much like Las Vegas or Orlando. Being an island, there is limited connectivity thus aggregating the flights through Seoul. The others I imagine are busy because they are conduits for people.

  4. Was a great way to spend 3 nights on a month long trip to Korea/Japan. Easily the most accessible island/beach destination for Korean (and Japanese) tourists looking for a quick and easy getaway (as opposed to Thailand or Hawaii for their longer trips)

  5. Because it’s an island, rail and car are not options. On most other short-haul routes worldwide, land travel accounts for a large percentage of travelers.

  6. It’s overhyped! Went last year with Family and stayed at the Shilla Hotel.

    I much prefer Haeundae Beach in Busan.

  7. NYC to South Florida and Los Angeles to Bay Area should be on your list. They just have multiple airports so maybe they don’t count.

  8. I’ve been to Jeju twice. It’s like the Hawaii of Asia (although IMHO not nearly as nice as Hawaii). It’s an extremely popular destination for the Chinese. And there is a very popular hiking route there called the Jeju Olle Trail which I attempted but did not complete.

  9. The TPE-HKG route was born out of necessity as Taiwan’s political status meant there could be no direct flights to China. As HKG was considered neutral ground, people flying to China would have to transit through there before continuing on to their final destinations. Even today, with direct cross-strait flights, they are still tightly regulated (I’m sure TPE/TSA-PVG/SHA would overtake TPE-HKG as the busiest route out of Taiwan if the airlines were allowed unlimited rights), so TPE-HKG still sees a decent number of travelers. It also serves as a stepping stone on westward travel towards Europe/Middle East/India from Taiwan as there are just not as many air connections in that direction vs. towards the US.

  10. Jeju is pretty sweet — it is practically Hawaii but infinitely more accessible for Koreans. Lush hills, volcanic craters, black sand beaches, and people in Jeju seem quite a bit more relaxed than elsewhere in Korea. Drivers aren’t quite as insane and you don’t feel like as much of a moving target as a pedestrian. I flew Jeju Air there and back from Gimpo for less than 100,000 KRW each way and stayed in love motels. Makes for a very affordable getaway from mainland Korea.

    There was a proposal in 2009 to extend the KTX rail system to Jeju, but I haven’t heard anything about anything actually happening: http://m.jejuweekly.com/articleView.html?idxno=486

    I think it makes sense but could face some engineering challenges for the tunnels and for some reason there has been very little ferry service between mainland Korea and Jeju. (There are a few ferries that serve Jeju, but the route between Jeju and Busan comes and goes.)

  11. Very interesting. So would Jeju be an interesting place to spend a few days on a US-Asia trip or is it primarily catered toward domestic/Chinese tourists?

  12. Good to know that Johannesburg to Cape Town is an intra-Asia flight! Well, that or Sao Paulo to Rio de Janeiro. ‘Cause Sydney to Melbourne sure isn’t. 🙂

  13. A wonderful and magical place, Jeju is culturally different from Mainland Korea. It is worth the trip.

  14. Sorry, my comment should have said less than 100,000 KRW round trip.

    @Ivan: Although it is primarily catered toward Korean and other Asian tourists, I would say it’s worth visiting for a couple days.

  15. @ Hua — thank you! My friend may be moving back to Korea so hopefully I will visit Jeju with him 🙂

  16. I’m surprised Tokyo-Osaka is even in the top 10 given the spectacular train service between the two.

  17. I have been to Jeju few times but all for transfer. It was under the time when direct flight between Taiwan and China were still not allowed. Jeju provides the cheapest and best transfer point at the time; far shorter fly time than transfer in HKG if you fly to Shanghai specifically.

    Nowadays, I think Jeju serves few purpose to make it busiest destination. A key reason I can think of is,

    China now has LARGE demand on overseas travel to nearby countries. Given as a cheap route to fly to Korea, you can already see most of the low end / cheap tourist group take the option. Still by today, most of the Chinese go travel in a group.

    In addition, Jeju itself is trying to build up become a tourist island (despite pretty boring place to be, in my opinion), with even legal Casino on the island.

  18. (1) Until recently, car ownership was much rarer in Seoul than in the US, so Koreans wanting any sort of vacation would need to travel by bus, train or plane. If you’re already going to pay to travel, why not go somewhere nice? (2) related, South Korea doesn’t have an interstate system like the US’s. So it’s quick to fly to Jeju, but it can take forever to drive from Seoul to Busan. Traffic’s especially nightmarish when everyone’s leaving Seoul at the same moment on Friday afternoon. (3) I know some Koreans who live in Jeju and commute to Seoul several times per week. It’s such a fast flight, Jeju’s a sort of suburb of Seoul. (4) It’s a small country with a strong sense of national pride, and Jeju is the best of Korea.

  19. Was at jeju last sept during my stopover jfk-icn-cgk. It was really nice island and only cost 12k korean miles for rt in c. I rented hertz to drive around the island (hertz franchise is owned by company called next)

  20. And what’s more, both Korean and Asiana serve Jeju from Seoul-Incheon as well, adding even more flights per day between the two cities.

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