Delta Launching Portland To Seoul Incheon Route

Filed Under: Delta

Delta has just loaded a cool new long haul route into the schedule.

Delta’s new Portland to Seoul flight

As of September 9, 2021, Delta will launch 3x weekly year-round flights between Portland (PDX) and Seoul Incheon (ICN). The new service will operate with the following schedule:

DL278 Portland to Seoul departing 12:35PM arriving 5:05PM (+1 day)
DL277 Seoul to Portland departing 7:30PM arriving 2:25PM

Delta’s new Portland to Seoul Incheon route

The route covers a distance of 5,326 miles. The westbound flight is blocked at 12hr30min and operates on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays, while the eastbound flight is blocked at 10hr55min and operates on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays.

Delta will use an Airbus A330-200 for the route, featuring 234 seats, including 34 business class seats and 200 economy class seats. In business class you can expect reverse herringbone seats, and not the new Delta One Suites, which can be found on the A350-900 and A330-900neo.

A330 Delta OneDelta One business class on the Airbus A330-200

My take on Delta’s new transpacific route

I find Delta’s new Portland to Seoul Incheon route to be an interesting addition. Portland is more of a focus city than hub for Delta:

  • Delta currently operates two long haul routes out of Portland, to Amsterdam and Tokyo Haneda
  • Other than that, the airline only flies from Portland to other hubs, including Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles, Minneapolis, New York, and Salt Lake City

In the case of this new Portland to Seoul Incheon flight:

  • Delta has a transpacific joint venture with Korean Air, and nowadays Delta is trying to route most Asia-bound traffic through Seoul; so clearly this isn’t just about the Portland to Seoul market as such, but about the larger Portland to Asia market
  • Delta likely won’t have much domestic connectivity for this flight, since all domestic Delta routes in Portland are to hubs, and all but Salt Lake City have direct flights to Seoul
  • While I doubt Delta would want to give up Tokyo Haneda slots, I’m curious if Delta maintains the Portland to Tokyo route in the long run; no doubt there’s a decent O&D market there, but Delta has very little connectivity from there, since All Nippon Airways partners with United and Japan Airlines partners with American

This is all about Delta’s joint venture with Korean Air

Bottom line

Delta will be launching a new 3x weekly Portland to Seoul Incheon flight as of September 2021. This will be Delta’s third long haul route out of Portland, which is an airport that the airline only otherwise serves domestically from other hubs.

Delta’s Asia strategy is all about the Korean Air transpacific joint venture, so in that sense this route is logical. I think the big question is whether the Portland to Tokyo route survives.

What do you make of Delta’s new Portland to Seoul Incheon route?

  1. Actually, Delta served PDX to Seoul Gimpo many years ago (1997ish) using an MD-11. In fact, I’ve flown on the route and remember a big ad billboard advertising the new (at the time) Incheon airport!

  2. “Delta’s presence in Portland dates back to Northwest Airlines since the airline had a hub there pre-merger.”

    It was Delta that had a mini-hub in Portland during the 1980s-1990s.

  3. The chances for PDX-TYO were already slim when the NRT hub was dismantled. With AS joining oneworld and JL/ZipAir’s interest in PDX, the writing was on the wall. DL very well knows that PDX-HND is not going to survive on O&D alone. This is DL’s only way to not cede the PDX long haul market to oneworld.

    Now that the PDX-TYO chapter seems to be about to close, let the countdown begin for MSP-HND! :P. Let me take a guess: expect an announcement for SLC-ICN sometime in the near future, and then MSP-HND will be gone…

  4. Delta had a minihub in Portland in the 1980s through the late 1990s. They flew from Portland to Tokyo, Seoul, Nagoya, Taipei/ Bangkok, and Fukuoka briefly. At one point I think the flight flew PDX-Seoul/Taipei/Bangkok, but then they separated Seoul and Taipei/ Bangkok. In 1998 on my first trip to Japan I flew Delta SDF-ATL-PDX-NRT. On my return I took Delta’s inaugural NRT-ATL nonstop flight. Lots of festivities at the gate in NRT for that one. By 2001 the Portland hub was gone, and eventually Northwest re-started PDX-NRT.

  5. I feel like they might remove the Tokyo service?

    They must have gotten contracts for this future maybe for cargo, because delta rarely ever starts non hub routes transpacific. Sometimes they do Amsterdam or Paris seasonally from like Tampa or Indy but that’s about it.

    This route must be about cargo, because the Asian markets will take longer to come back than Europe.

  6. “Delta’s presence in Portland dates back to Northwest Airlines, since the airline had a hub there pre-merger.”

    Yeah, no. NW did not operate any hub at PDX. It was Delta that built a gateway to Asia at PDX in the early 1990s with flights to NRT, NGO, SEL. From SEL, DL then flew on to TPE and BKK. I think HKG was also added as an extension. The whole point of this gateway, which emerged in the late 1980s/early 1990s was that DL did not have the aircraft that could fly ATL-Asia non stop at the time. The Asia Financial Crisis in 1997 resulted in the PDX hub to Asia for DL being slowly dismantled. NW traditionally had a strong presence in Seattle.

  7. DL eventually cut TPE and BKK and replaced with Fukuoka and Osaka in the later hub days, and these flights didn’t operate daily. DL’s TPAC service out of PDX started on L1011s and was replaced with MD11s.

    NW did operate PDX-AMS and I think that was about it on longhaul.

  8. I’ve been predicting this for a while, makes a LOT of sense.

    PDX-HND doesn’t offer any connections. The O&D is real (corporate contracts), but, the bus can’t be filled up with just that.

    PDX-ICN opens up lots of asia, and allows people like me to not have to do PDX-SEA/YVR-ICN-XXX.

    So, major win for Portland based travelers.

    THAT said, Portland has turned into a total dump, both downtown and all up and down I-5 corridor. Businesses boarded up STILL. Homeless tent cities all over. Covered in graffiti.
    Just a total mess now.

    So, people like me, who pay for J on PDX-AMS, PDX-NRT/HND, PDX-LHR…. not seeing a lot of reason to keep living in Portland. Lots of better cities in the US now to consider. With lower taxes, and more welcoming to business too.

    Good for Delta, hope they can fill it up in the front. But doubt it’s going to be people like me who are leaving Portland for greener pastures.

  9. @KS: I think you don’t know much about MSP as a Delta hub. MSP has around 40MM passengers per year while PDX has 19MM. Minnesota is home of 17 Fortune 500 companies while Oregon has 2. The flight from Tokyo to MSP is always full and it not only serves for many business people from the Midwest to get into Asia but brings lots of tourists from Japan that come to MN to shop (you have no idea how many Japanese people come to Mall of America) and play golf. Also, MSOP has a non stop flight to ICN and before the pandemic Delta had requested a non stop flight between MSP and PVG.

  10. After the NRT hub was wound down and DL won the right to move the PDX-NRT flight to HND, the flight would have operated as an international point to point route (no hub on either end). The chances of that type of flight working were slim but Delta was not about to cede PDX to Asia or any potential HND rights to anyone.
    I would bet that there is still a need for a certain amount of Tokyo capacity at PDX but it is likely not 7 days/week. I would also bet that Delta will operate PDX-HND and PDX-ICN on a nearly daily basis but rotating the days each operates. Right now, there are still frequency waivers for HND flights and those will likely remain in place for most of the remainder of 2021 and potentially until the spring/summer 2022 slot season starts. I would not be surprised if Delta applies to move part of its PDX-HND and part of its MSP-HND frequencies to JFK to start HND service from there, adding another gateway but spreading their HND service over one more gateway. Although the pandemic started just before the slew of new HND routes from the US were supposed to start, UA has operated EWR-NRT but not HND during the pandemic. No US carrier has JFK-HND authority.

    May or may not play out – but that is my guess.

  11. Hi Ben, a question for you about PDX – it seems to be the only “major” airport on the west coast that doesn’t serve as a big hub for either Delta, United, or American. Alaska has a hub in Portland, but it’s secondary to Seattle. DL, AA, and UA all fly from Portland to their hubs (for the most part). While O&D traffic out of PDX isn’t substantial, what do you think the chances are that an airline like Delta or American significantly expands in Portland? It’s happening in Seattle. Will PDX always be somewhat of a secondary airport? I believe the largest plane to service Portland in recent years has been the A333. Delta has used a B767 and A333/2 but there hasn’t been anything bigger. Not even a 787. (British Airways was going to launch a route last year with a 788 that got canceled.) The gates at PDX are pretty small… perhaps that’s limiting the expansion? I feel like PDX has the potential to have more routes to more destinations in Europe or Asia. It would be interesting to know your thoughts.

  12. I’m sure all the Korean’s will be rushing to visit the most disgusting city in America. Maybe this route is supposed to cater to the Seoul Antifa branch?

  13. @Santastico: If there was so much demand between MSP and TYO, then DL wouldn’t have threatened to pull the plug on MSP-NRT so many times. Importantly, MSP was moved from NRT to HND and DL openly said that the service would be dropped if they didn’t secure the authorities for HND service.

    Prior to leaving NRT, MSP was one of only two cities that DL had non-stop flights to HND and hence they were full and the route was safe. It was clear that MSP-HND was again in danger when covid struck. MSP and PDX to HND are the only two mainline routes that didn’t resume, and the reason is obvious. DL already serves all the relevant midwest cities with demand from HND amply through DTW. They can fly MSP/PDX-HND with reduced frequencies if they want, but UA/HA/AA will come knocking soon.

  14. I wouldn’t be surprised to see DL or Korean back off a few flights from SEA. Between them and Asiana there are up to 3 flights a day out of SEA. It seems like a lot of capacity. Maybe switching some of it to PDX could get a slight premium.

  15. @KS: “Prior to leaving NRT, MSP was one of only two cities that DL had non-stop flights to HND and hence they were full and the route was safe.” When did Delta have a MSP-HND flight prior to dropping NRT? It was always one daily flight to NRT (from the old days of NWA) and then HND replaced NRT. MSP does not have a big Japanese population so when all its Fortune 500 companies are not allowing employees to fly due to the pandemic it is expected that there is no demand for the flight. MSP-Tokyo has always had a huge demand since from there you can connect to many other Asian cities.

  16. @Santastico: DL moved MSP-NRT to HND back in 2016, well before they dropped NRT. At that time, LAX and MSP were the only US cities served from HND by DL (till 2020). As a matter of fact, ever since SEA, ATL and DTW have been moved over to HND, MSP (and? PDX!) has never flown. MSP-TYO is evidently one of the weakest links…

    You just said it yourself: “MSP-Tokyo has always had a huge demand since from there you can connect to many other Asian cities.”. You can no longer connect to many other Asian cities on DL since they dropped the NRT hub, which is why MSP-ICN was launched in 2019.

  17. This could be a good opportunity for award flights. With prior Delta One flash sales I often found many routings would go through PDX, presumably because of excess capacity. The last time I flew AMS-PDX (picked up from a flash sale), the D1 cabin was over 50% non rev.

  18. “all but Salt Lake City have direct flights to Seoul”
    I think it’s ATL, not SLC.

    About PDX-HND,
    Guys, please understand that any route relating to HND is for Japan domestic market, don’t think about connecting to another country.
    Portland has the most condensed Japanese group in US so it’s normal to keep this route for rich Japanese.

    Same reason applies to ATL-ICN, DL and KE have their own flight (OZ as well!) rather than codeshare due to large population of Korean in Atlanta, not due to DL’s hub.

  19. @Zach, the PDX market is different from the others mentioned in that it has much smaller corporate headquarters base and a lot less diversity/immigrant population. So you don’t have nearly the same base of business travelers or leisure travelers. That said, Nike and Intel do drive some business traffic, in particular to AMS, Tokyo, SIN, PVG, and other parts of Asia. BA was supposed to start service to LHR last Summer, but COVID had other plans. I don’t think that PDX can realistically support more than 2 daily flights to European hubs, and 2 daily flights to Asian hubs. As someone who flies internationally out of PDX frequently, I’m happy with the service that it has and would prefer smaller incremental growth over a ‘big bang’ that risks hurting today’s service levels.

  20. @Creditian, ATL-ICN is for US military. Ditto for DFW-ICN. 20,000 US troops and their families on DMZ with a ton of military bases in South. Trying getting a seat on any of those flights during troop rotation. Grunts in the back. Contractors upfront.

  21. I used to live in Atlanta. ATL metro area has way more Koreans than any other Asian groups including Chinese and Indian.
    ATL has both KE and OZ. Are they US carriers??
    Don’t think about anything from American’s point of view. It’s dumb.

  22. Delta – bringing direct service to the armpits of America, Portland & Detroit, to the good people of Korea.

  23. This gamble could turn out to be a good one. It’s not like Delta is flooding the market with capacity. It’s flying between Portland and Seoul 3 times a week on its smallest widebody aircraft. Since Delta lacks a joint venture partner that provides onward connections in Tokyo, it fills that void via its joint venture at Incheon with Korean Air. It doesn’t make economic sense to fly to every potential Asian city from Portland (or any other U.S. city for that matter), so connections are important, even with today’s more capable aircraft. The conventional wisdom suggests that the Korean Air/Asiana merger will probably freeze United out of routing connecting passengers via Incheon, so Delta’s move also makes sense from that perspective. It’s not like Portland is a small town. It’s a good-sized city with a significant Asian-American community. There’s also nothing stopping Delta from scheduling flights to Denver, Albuquerque, Phoenix, Tucson, etc. to provide feed to the Portland to Seoul flight. Only time will tell if the flight is worth the risk, but there’s no reward without risk.

  24. @Radio: DL needs to make their SEA hub work first before they can start launching more domestic flights in PDX. Anything else is going to simply cannibalize their already struggling SEA operations.. Time will tell, but I have no doubt that this PDX-ICN is simply a replacement for their PDX-HND flight.

  25. One interesting thing is for Japanese living outside Tokyo, PDX-ICN could be more preferable than PDX-HND. KE has an extensive flight network to Japan (at least before COVID) and connecting from there could be cheaper and/or easier than booking a separate ticket or taking Shinkansen.

  26. @KS,
    I’m not suggesting that Delta implement a massive build-up at Portland, just a few additional flights to provide feed. I seriously doubt Delta’s Portland to Haneda flights will be cut or reduced (pandemic notwithstanding). U.S. carriers can’t move their HND authorities around the way Japanese carriers can (a point Delta unsuccessfully made in DOT filings a few years ago).

  27. Hate it that PDX and SEA have so much better connections these days than SFO and SJC. Bay Area needs more aviation competition.

  28. PDX is the 4th largest Asian market on the west coast and Delta is the only airline serving it, unlike LAX, SFO, or SEA which all have multiple US and/or foreign competitors. Delta’s average fares from PDX to East Asia are strong. There is little reason they would walk away from it.
    Delta made clear several years ago that its strategy shifted from using Tokyo as its largest local market (destination) in Asia as well as its hub to using Seoul as its hub in partnership with Korean and Tokyo as its destination. Delta now has the largest number of slots at Haneda of any foreign carrier.
    Despite being a much more competitive market, Delta’s SEA hub got very good average fares pre-covid based on DOT data. PVG was a higher revenue local market for both DL and UA (much smaller for AA) than Japan or Korea – but US carriers can’t have joint ventures with Chinese airlines and PVG is too far south to serve as a hub for East Asia.
    Delta’s strategy for PDX and SEA is just a smaller version of its dual hub strategy in the Northeast between JFK and BOS. JFK like SEA is much more of a connecting hub while BOS and PDX are much more focused on the local market – although BOS is a hub and PDX is not. Delta will have an international presence to both Europe and Asia from both SEA and PDX although PDX may not be large enough to have year-round daily service to two destinations in both Asia and Europe.
    It is possible for US carriers to move HND route awards but there is a two-year requirement to operate a flight as awarded before requesting it. Given the covid suspensions for most international flights, it isn’t clear when Delta could begin that process even if it wants to.
    New York is the largest market where only one carrier (United) provides all US carrier own metal service to Asia so it is hard to believe that Delta is not thinking of some way to tap into the nonstop Asia market since Delta carries the most local passengers to/from NYC.

  29. @Tim Dunn @Ryan why do you both say PDX isn’t large enough to support more than two daily flights to Europe and Asia? Just because of the lack of demand? Or another reason?

  30. because it didn’t even in the best of times – which will not return for a good while into the future.

    And Delta does a good job of protecting its markets and gets a fare premium for it. Given that there are carriers that have eyed PDX to Japan, Delta is not going to do anything to allow them to succeed.

    It is also worth noting that Delta and Korean dominate Seoul to a much greater degree than any other US airline does with its joint venture partner in any other city in Asia. With PDX-ICN, Delta is combining its strength in two markets, one of which is a best-in-class hub in the region, with a relatively small city for an international flight that doesn’t have a lot of feed but isn’t a total standalone route – not unlike CVG/RDU to CDG.

  31. DL’s dominance over PDX long haul market was the result of a combination of legacy and opportunity. Neither Star nor Oneworld had a dominance in the PNW and no Star/OW carrier had an advantage over DL in serving PDX, especially with the dominant player AS staying unaligned and flirting with both SkyTeam & oneworld carriers. A confused flyer based in PDX was mostly used to flying AS domestic and DL intl, especially given the history of the AS/DL partnership.

    But that is no more the case now. DL’s advantage just vanished overnight with AS’s commitment to oneworld, and handing over the advantage to JL and BA. And Covid just reset the whole dynamics… AS FFs can earn on KE, but it is not KE that is flying to PDX, but DL. DL launching PDX-ICN is their way of trying to retain their presence in the PDX TPAC market. DL will fly PDX-ICN/AMS to prevent OW from chipping away their business there; but as far as PDX flyers are concerned, they will slowly realize that they way are better off sticking to oneworld. It is only a matter of time before BA and JL/ZipAir enter PDX and eat into DL’s pie…

    DL’s only advantage is the HND slots. But I doubt that there is demand to sustain daily flights profitably on such a p2p route, especially when connections are already moving over to ICN. JL will have the advantage of feed at both ends…

  32. I flew LAX-PDX-ICN-HKG on DL as a youngster in 1997 to attend the Handover. I remember looking down from the suite at The JW Marriott in Pacific Place, to The Royal Yacht Brittania where Prince Charles was, before diplomatic formalities handing over Hong Kong from the Crown, back to China.

  33. Unlike AA, AS does not have a joint venture or revenue sharing agreement with any oneworld carrier. and that is true for cooperation in SEA and PDX.
    Joining oneworld gives AS a preferential position with oneworld carriers for marketing (predominantly frequent flyer and lounge programs) but it has no impact on joint pricing, capacity planning and revenue sharing – because none of those were allowed prior to AS entering oneworld and are not allowed now either. AS can sell seats from PDX to connect with foreign carriers at SEA or LAX or SFO on the same basis as it could pre-oneworld.
    No oneworld carrier has any plans to fly PDX longhaul international flights since BA dropped its plans for PDX-LHR.

    Delta and NW before fly PDX to Europe and Asia because they have developed a market which no other carrier or alliance has managed to break into.

    Adding ICN under a joint venture is an evolution of how it has served PDX to Europe for years.

  34. BA and JAL/ZipAir entering PDX is not a question of if, but when. DL just has their flights loaded well out in the future, and we all know that means nothing. AS does not need to have revenue coordination with any carrier. Till now AS had not expressed any interest in selling long haul flights. Now they have started selling QF and AA long hauls under their own code. AS has emphasized that their prime reason for joining oneworld is to capture that international business traffic. As that continues to develop with BA and JL, they will have way better prorate agreements with the OW carriers leading them to prioritize their own coded flights/OW partner itineraries over other carriers, on top of smooth earn/burn opportunities.

    As for Delta and NW developing a market which no other carrier or alliance has managed to break into – it helped that no alliance ever had a significant enough presence in the PNW to have an advantage over DL/NW. Such niches don’t exist forever. As DL’s advantage in PDX continues to dwindle, any attempts to defend both SEA and PDX will only bleed SEA even more. Especially in the next few years…

  35. @Tim,
    When I wrote, “U.S. carriers can’t move their HND authorities around the way Japanese carriers can.” I was very literal in my meaning. As I understand it, Japanese carriers can move their U.S. to Haneda route authorities around at will. U.S. carriers can’t do that without applying to the DOT. Delta made a very cogent argument to allow U.S. carriers the same flexibility as their Japanese counterparts, to no avail. If I remember correctly, Japan Airlines switched a Haneda – Honolulu route to New York with a minimum of fuss a few years ago.

    There’s nothing stopping Alaska from establishing a joint venture with Japan Airlines. It might even have more success with that application than it did with Hawaiian.

  36. My Bet = Cargo, Cargo, Cargo. How much is moving to/from the Silicon Forest (Hillsboro to Beaverton) back and forth to the massive number of silicon facilities in Korea (Korea #2 semiconductor country in the world after the US)

  37. There is absolultely no evidence that DL’s share of the PDX international market has diminished. WIshful thinking, perhaps. But no substantive data.
    btw, other than brief flirtations with a presence in SFO, AA and DL don’t offer any international service on their own metal – and SFO is a much longer market.

    It is also worth noting that AA and UA LARGELY do not operate international service from non-hub cities but Delta has multiple non-hub longhaul international flights.

    Joint ventures are based on a mutual contribution to a partnership. AS doesn’t fly longhaul international flights; there is no reason for a foreign carrier to choose to share revenue with a domestic carrier that can only provide domestic feed to international flights. The same is true for B6 up until now. AS and B6 have chosen to feed MULTIPLE international carriers and even being in oneworld has not caused AS to end its non-oneworld partnerships.
    And it is not at all certain that the US DOJ would grant antitrust immunity to a partnership that does not involve coordination of fares and schedules on the transoceanic segments as well as on both ends of the arrangement. It has never been done before – and most significantly, AS hasn’t asked for it as much as some people might think it could happen.

  38. Back in the day, PDX was a pretty major hub for, serving the NW, Asia, DL’s hubs and some other large cities. Then immigration at PDX decided it would be fun to harass Asian passengers and Asian outbound traffic dropped off a cliff, never to recover. Then DL closed their hub and crew base at PDX. As a PDX DL traveler I was frustrated and switched to AS. Fun fact… the reason that PDX seems to have more gates than it needs… that was driven by DL’s expansion. Their contraction after gobbling up NW’s not insignificant presence really lowered utilization at the airport.

    And back in the day I flew that PDX/Seoul/Taipai/Bangkok flight once round trip. Even though I did it in F (upgrade from business) it was a nightmare. All PAX had to deplane at both stops for security. I can’t even imagine what it was like in economy.

  39. @Tim,
    I write very literally. Without getting too far into the weeds on this, I wrote that there’s “nothing stopping” Alaska from forming a joint venture with JAL. That doesn’t mean it has to form one. A joint venture can be defined however the parties involved want to define it. Of course, any joint venture between Alaska and JAL will have to go through the DOT/DOJ process. I understand oneworld is more open to its member carriers joining with carriers outside its ranks than the others. l understand Sky Team is less restrictive than Star, but more than oneworld. to that point, American codeshares with Korean Air between DFW and ICN.

  40. @Ryan – Not sure why you think PDX can only serve 2 European destinations daily? Prior to Covid we had daily flights to KEF, FRA, AMS, LHR and were about to get a second daily flight to LHR with BA. Every time I took the Amsterdam flight it was packed, regardless of the time of year. Someday in the not too distant future Covid will be history along with the piles of trash and boarded up windows, and we can get back to being a city that people will actually want to visit again.

  41. The times of the flight are not good. It would be difficult to change planes. They should have considered flight times so that you can arrive early in the morning Korea time.

  42. Fun fact. We called the Tokyo flight the Sea Urchin run because rumor had it the flight was in large part due to what restaurants were willing to pay for fresh Sea Urchins harvested at the coast if they could get them delivered fresh overnight.

  43. I wonder what’s United’s take on this. It seems that DL and AA are taking the pandemic as an opportunity to aggressively “reimagine” their long haul international routes, while United is cautious even on resuming domestic services.

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