Korean Air Ending Los Angeles To Sao Paulo Route

Filed Under: Korean Air

I love a good fifth freedom route, which is a route operated by an airline between two countries out of which they’re not based. These are typically operated as “tag on” flights. A few examples are Cathay Pacific’s New York to Vancouver flight, Singapore Airlines’ New York to Frankfurt flight, SriLankan’s Hong Kong to Bangkok flight, etc. These flights are a fun way to get some foreign flair when traveling between two markets.

Another one of my favorite fifth freedom flights out of the US is Korean Air’s Los Angeles to Sao Paulo flight, which I took back in 2014. Korean Air has a fantastic first class soft product, so it was a lovely way to fly between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo.


It was also a great use of Korean Air SkyPass miles (which can be transferred from Chase Ultimate Rewards), as a first class ticket in the market costs just 70,000 miles.


Unfortunately in 2015 the flight already got downgraded, from a Boeing 777 to an Airbus A330, which represented a significant downgrade, both in capacity and in terms of the onboard product. While the Korean Air 777 has first class seats in a 1-2-1 configuration…


the Korean Air A330 has first class seats in a 2-2-2 configuration, which is more like business class than first class.


Well, unfortunately we won’t even get that soon anymore. Korean Air will discontinue their flight between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo as of September 23, 2016. That leaves American as the only airline flying between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, using a Boeing 787. According to an article in Korean, it seems like Korean Air is hoping to codeshare on this flight, to minimize the impact on passengers.


If they do that, then they’ll want to adjust the schedules a bit, because American’s flight from Los Angeles to Sao Paulo departs at 9:15PM, while Korean’s last flight from Seoul to Los Angeles lands at 3:10PM. That would leave passengers with a six hour layover, which (obviously) isn’t ideal. The schedule would be equally inconvenient in the other direction.

Bottom line

It’s a shame to see this route discontinued, as it was a great way to redeem miles to Sao Paulo. However, I’m really not surprised by this announcement, given that the airline was apparently losing millions of dollars on the route. If Korean Air does in fact codeshare with American between Los Angeles and Sao Paulo, I’m curious if they’ll do anything to align schedules a bit, because right now the layovers would be extremely inconvenient.

  1. One more flight cancelled in Brazil, since the start of the crises we are loosing international flights on a weekly basis

  2. I see the mention of codeshare in the English translation of the piece you linked to but I doubt KE and AA would codeshare on LAX-GRU seeing as AA is oneworld and KE is Skyteam. I’d bet that KE will just rebook onto AA the pax who already have tickets.

  3. Demand for Brazil is in the toilet, and appears it’s going to stay there for quite some time. Korean Air is a business first and foremost, and I doubt they were thinking of the impact on mileage redeemers when they made this decision.

    They did the right thing and tried a downgauge first (many carriers have just whacked their Brazil flights altogether) but there’s no way this one was going to hang on.

  4. @Ben – Korean Air and American already code share on other routes, Alliance affiliation has no bearing on an airline’s willingness to code share.

  5. How is the Korean Air lounge at Tom Bradley? I saw the entrance while visiting the Qantas F Lounge last month, but don’t recall if you reviewed it already.

  6. This flight was more expensive than AA one, which is still always packed. Specially after they changed to a B788.

    The thing is that the Brazil – US have had a really high offer for quite some time. With this political/economical crisis only the strong profit ones will last.

  7. Oh no. My wife and I are currently booked on a Korean rewards redemption for GRU–>LAX in January 2017. I suppose we will just be refunded the points. ?? This really throws a wrench in a long complex trip we had planned all on points

  8. Same here on an award. I have an award in December that I’ had coupled with a paid flight from LAX onward. I wonder how this will pan out.

  9. So what if the route is canceled.
    Who wants to go to Brazil anyway.
    I always cross out any dumps that require visa for entry.

  10. Think there is any chance Korean will rebook us on the AA flight? I have two first class GRU–>LAX tickets booked using points.

  11. Well, I called Korean and was advised that I need to wait until next week until the schedule change is “finalized” and at that point in time they will refund the miles.

    I know this is an award ticket, but if their resolution turns out to be “good luck finding an award seat home on December 27th!” that’s pretty lame. Are they under any obligation to offer an alternative?

  12. @Grant – the Korean Air lounge at TBIT is just ok. It was PACKED when we were there (had a 4 hour connection between SAN-LAX and LAX-GRU back in April). One interesting thing they have at this lounge is indoor terrace seating, overlooking the main portion of Tom Bradley. The snacks were just average, and drinks on offer were minimal.

    @Sam – so true about the visa b/s. We’ll never go back to Brazil for many reasons, not the least of which being the more than $200 per person we paid AND the SIX WEEK WAIT for the Brazilian government to issue our visas. Ridiculous.

  13. Another blow to Brazil.

    Depending on the FFP, you may get compensated through alternate ticket compensation on a different carrier. I recall reading that United Mileage Plus provided paid Emirates tickets to a few select travelers when Ethiopian briefly cancelled their Addis Abbaba – Seychelles flights a few years ago. I believe travelers were re-routed to Dubai, then paid segments were provided onward to the Seychelles.

  14. @Grant, The Korean Air lounge at TBT leaves much to be desired IMO. It is a Priority Pass lounge. The food and beverages are about on par with a domestic AAdmirals Club or SkyClub. On the positive side, seating is stylish and comfortable, and there is an outside terrace that overlooks the TBT atrium.

    If you have access to the Qantas first or business-class TBT lounges, definitely go there. The food is clearly better in the first-class Qantas lounge, but the ambiance in the business-class lounge, including the fire pit, is better in the business-class lounge.

    Once the new AA Flagship lounge opens in T4, it could be a good alternative as well since it is easy to get there through the TBT connector without going through security.

  15. @Ben, Interesting that you included a picture of the Korean Air Bibimbap. It won some awards a few years ago, and Korean Air is very proud of it. However, bibimbap, a basic Korean dish, is bibimbap. The business class version, which you show, is identical to the version served in coach, except for the presentation and a few ponchon. In first or business class other options are better.

  16. I’m not surprised that Korean Air dis discontinuing its GRU service.
    However, there are some Korean sources saying that Korean Air might re-start the GRU service from South Korea via Spain (Madrid or Barcelona). There has been talks between Korean Ministry of Transportation and its Spanish and Portuguese counterparts. Some sources say the talks between Korean MoT and its Spanish counterpart was primarily focused on granting Korean Air a fifth-freedom route from Spain to Brazil.
    I also think there is a possibility of Korean Air starting Seoul to Lisbon route and then continuing it onward to Sao Paulo. Given that TAP Portugal has a monopoly on Portugal – Brazil routes, I think Korean Air might have a fair chance in the market. (Recent talks gave airlines of both nations a right to operate non-stop flights between two countries as frequently as airline desires). But all these will take place after Brazil’s economy recovers.

    On top of that, Korean Air is considering starting route to Tehran and Delhi (currently, Korean Air’s only destination in India is Mumbai)

  17. @TF potential good news–I got a call back from Korean and they said they are still working on a resolution, but the most likely outcome is that they will book us on the AA flight

  18. @Rick, cool. Thanks for the update. That’s good to hear; I’ll check in with them next week. Keep us posted!

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