Carriers face backlash for paid service
Domestic low-cost carriers’ (LCCs) moves to add charges to services that used to be free is drawing a backlash from consumers, as they reduce free services while maintaining ticket prices, according to industry analysts, Monday.
Carriers said the move is a way to improve their profitability and expand the variety of in-flight services they offer, but consumers complained of resulting inconveniences as they end up paying almost the same amount as full-service carriers charge when they include several necessary services.
According to Air Busan, the Busan-based carrier will stop providing free in-flight meals for its international flights from April 1.
Apart from night flights inbound to Korea, Air Busan has been offering light meals such as sandwiches and burritos for international flights longer than 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Instead of free meals, Air Busan will increase the number of meals available for customers to buy from seven to 10.
“Along with the paid-for meals, we are considering putting charges on baggage service and emergency exit row seats,” an Air Busan official said. “By doing so, the company is seeking to raise the share of paid additional services in the total sales from 5.5 percent to 6.5 percent this year.”
This is in a stark contrast to the carrier’s promotion in 2008 when it began its operation. In a 2015 inter- view, the carrier’s CEO Han Tae-keun highlighted its free meal service as one of the company’s advantages over its rivals, saying “free meals lower consumer burden by 5 percent to 10 percent.”
Air Busan’s movement is the latest of domestic LCCs’ strategies of putting prices on services they used to offer for free.
Korea’s first LCC Jeju Air has been putting charges on in-flight meals since 2013 and expanding paid services, such as baggage, seat designation and ticketing through the call center. Following Jeju Air, T’way Air, Eastar Jet and other LCCs also started to put extra charges on such services. When Air Busan scraps the free meal, five out of six LCCs except for Jin Air will be providing paid meals only.
Consumers argue that the LCCs’ move is tantamount to a ticket price hike.
“Isn’t it a common expectation that the ticket price should go down when they provide fewer services for free?” said Park Eun-young, 33, a Seoul-based office worker who took her winter holiday using an LCC flight. “As long as the LCC ticket price is the same, consumers will only think of the expansion of paid services as a trick to hide ticket price hikes.”
“Many consumers think domestic LCC tickets are not that cheap compared to domestic full-service carriers or foreign LCCs,” an aviation industry official said asking not to be named. “When compared to a Seoul-Jeju route, foreign LCCs price their tickets at around 50 percent of that of full service carriers. Domestic LCCs are just 10,000 won to 20,000 won cheaper.”
“Though LCCs’ expansion of paid services are interpreted as their tactic to improve profitability, consumers will recognized them fair only when the ticket price is adjusted accordingly,” he said.
Han Tae-keun Air Busan CEO
Lee Seok-joo Jeju Air CEO