Now Boarding: Seoul, South Korea.
Executives, airport officials and Korea enthusiasts on Monday celebrated the first nonstop flight from Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport to Seoul’s Incheon International Airport, marking the second trans-Pacific route from Minnesota’s largest airport.
Delta Air Lines’ launch of the daily flight gives Twin Cities travelers more direct access to Asia and helps the Atlanta-based carrier deepen its position at the large Korean hub.
MSP passengers now have the daily option of using Seoul or Tokyo’s Haneda Airport as a gateway to Asia through Delta’s services. The airline has allocated one of its newly refurbished Boeing 777-200 airplanes for the MSP-Seoul nonstop flight, which includes its new premium seating. The main cabin has a nine-abreast configuration and the widest economy seats in the airline’s fleet.
Delta and Korean Air have a joint venture partnership that means tickets sold for the flight are shared by the two.
Minnesota-based Best Buy Co., Cargill Inc. and 3M Co. all have significant business operations or relationships in South Korea, said Jong-kook Lee, consul general in South Korea’s Chicago consulate.
Late last year, Korea-based CJ CheilJedang, or CJCJ as it is known, invested $1.8 billion in Minnesota when it acquired an 80 percent stake in Marshall- and Bloomington-based Schwan’s Co. The deal gave CJ, the largest food producer in South Korea, control of Schwan’s businesses that serve restaurants, groceries and other retailers.
In addition to the business community, Lee said Minnesota has a high percentage of Korean War veterans and more families than any other state with children adopted from Korea.
The MSP business community has wanted more nonstop flights to Asia, and this is the first of possibly two new routes to the region. Bill Lentsch, executive vice president of flying operations at Delta, told the audience Monday that the airline is still angling for a MSP-Shanghai nonstop flight that could begin next year.
China has highly regulated air travel that restricts the number of slots available to U.S. airlines because the two nations do not have an open skies agreement. As a result, Delta can gain greater access to China through its joint venture with Korean Air.
Passengers can connect to more than 30 destinations within China from Seoul, but Delta wants an even more direct flight.
Last year, Delta asked the Transportation Department for permission to fly MSP to Shanghai after American Airlines announced plans to end its nonstop service between Chicago and Beijing and Chicago and Shanghai. If American abdicates the slots, Delta wants one of them for MSP.
But in February, the department granted American Airlines an extension through the end of June to restart service to China. The federal agency deferred action on petitions for the slot from both Delta and United Airlines.
Lentsch said he hopes the airline hears back from the Transportation Department in the first half of this year so it can begin service between MSP and Shanghai by next summer on its new Airbus A350 plane. He’s confident that its Minnesota hub airport can support daily nonstop to Tokyo, Seoul and Shanghai.
“It’s more than just the business community here that will support these routes. This hub is incredibly efficient operationally,” he said. “It’s got great amenities and people love to fly through Minneapolis.”