After a nearly 30-year monopoly, Korean Air will no longer be the sole Korean carrier flying between Seoul Incheon and Ulaanbaatar, the capital of Mongolia.
In 1991 Korea and Mongolia signed an aeronautical agreement. The agreement allowed for only one carrier from each country to serve Ulaanbaatar from Seoul. While the move certainly protected MIAT, the state-owned Mongolian carrier, and Korean Air, it came at the expense of Asiana.
Last month, Korea and Mongolia renewed their agreement. As part of the agreement, two Korean carriers can operate up to nine flights per week (between them) with up to 2,500 seats. That’s almost 50% more than the current limit of six flights per week capped at 1,656 seats. Now Korean authorities will decide whether Asiana or a new generation of budget carriers will be awarded an additional slot to Ulaanbaatar.
In the running are Asiana as well as low-cost Jeju Air, T’way Air and Eastar Jet. Asiana makes the case that Korean will keep six of the nine slots, meaning there are only three available. Those slots, it argues, should go to a carrier that will operate wide body service to maximize passenger traffic. Jeju Air, T’way Air and Eastar Jet operate fleets of exclusively 737s.
While distance and price rarely correlate, many citizens on both sides of the border complain that prices are too high and seats are too limited on this route. During peak travel periods, prices often top $800 r/t on the 1,226 mile flight.
The new slot will be awarded late this month.
I’m particularly interested in this story because I hope to visit Mongolia this year. I was planning on flying via Beijing on Air China in one direction and from Ulaanbaatar to Frankfurt on MIAT’s 767-300, but that’s all in planning stages at this time.
More importantly, if you are looking into a ticket between Seoul and Ulaanbaatar you might want to hold off temporarily. There may soon be downward pressure on pricing.