For Atlanta airport General Manager Miguel Southwell, Korean Air Lines’ longevity in Atlanta is as much a cause of the region’s success in recruiting Korean business as it is a beneficiary.
“Without Korean Air, we simply would not have 60 Korean companies in the region,” Mr. Southwell said during a dinner at theGeorgia Aquarium celebrating the airline’s 20th anniversary of flights between Atlanta and Seoul. Recognizing the link between flights and investment, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport has launched an ambitious initiative to lure new nonstop international routes, Mr. Southwell said.
Korean Air has seen its Atlanta offering expand significantly in the past few years. Not only did its Skyteam partner, Delta Air Lines Inc., suspend its own flight to Seoul in 2009, but Georgia and Alabama have also experienced an investment explosion from South Korea since sister auto makers Kia and Hyundai put plants in West Point, Ga., and Montgomery, Ala., respectively. Even before that, Georgia was home to one of the largest ethnic Korean communities in the country, many of them concentrated northeast of Atlanta in Gwinnett County.
On Dec. 13, 1994, Korean Air began serving Atlanta twice weekly with a stop in Chicago. That was just six years after Seoul had hosted the summer Olympics and two years before Atlanta was set to host its own Games in 1996.
“Since then, our two cities and their economies have grown together,” said Seung-bum Lee, Korean Air’s senior vice president for the Americas. “All of us at Korean Air are proud to have played our part in making this happen and feel a strong connection to the great city of Atlanta.”
Starting last year, Korean Air became the first (and remains the only) airline to serve Atlanta with the Airbus A380, the world’s largest passenger aircraft, which Hartsfield-Jackson had to accommodate with a special gate in Concourse E. Now flying daily, more than 250,000 people are shuttled between Atlanta and Seoul on the route annually. Separate Brookings Institutionstudies have found that Seoul is Atlanta’s top aviation partner city and as well as the No. 1 sending international students to Atlanta.
Along with its home airport, Incheon International Airport, Korean Air is also known for its customer service, a fact Korean Consul General Seong-jin Kim pointed out during brief remarks at the reception.
“It is known as one of the safest airlines in the world. The in-flight service of Korean Air Lines is and always will be the best. I can guarantee it,” Mr. Kim said.
Korean Air also operates eight cargo flights per week to Atlanta.
The Korean flag carrier was an integral part of Incheon airport’s push last year to persuade Americans to travel through Seoul to other destinations, especially China, where Korean Air reaches 45 cities.