Korean Air Plans To Retire Their First A380 In 2018 (Update: Incorrect Info)

Filed Under: Korean Air

Update: A Korean Air spokesperson has reached out to indicate that the information from AirLive is incorrect, and that the airline doesn’t have plans to retire any A380s in the near future.

While Emirates loves their A380s, other than that the A380 has been struggling. None of the other operators of the plane have been able to scale their network with A380s enough to make them “work,” which is why we’re seeing Singapore Airlines return their first five A380s, and we’re also seeing Malaysia Airlines eventually retire their A380s (though they have a bit more life left in them).

It looks like yet another airline is parking their A380s. AirLive is quoting Korean Air’s CEO as saying that the airline intends to retire their first A380 in 2018. Korean Air plans to store the first A380 in Roswell, New Mexico, until a new owner is found (in other words, it may be there forever).

The airline would rather focus on twin engine jets, and is reportedly considering the A350, though I’d be surprised if they place an order. Apparently Korean Air is having trouble filling even half the plane at times, in which case the A380 is a total waste. Korean Air has 10 A380s in their fleet, and we don’t yet know how many they plan on retiring.

Unfortunately this news doesn’t come as much of a surprise, and I’ve never understood Korean Air’s strategy when it comes to the plane. Korean Air has the lowest density A380s of any airline operating the aircraft, as their A380s have just 407 seats, including 301 economy seats, 94 business class seats, and 12 first class seats. Meanwhile other airlines have 500+ seats on the plane, and Emirates even has two cabin A380s with 615 seats.

Korean Air’s A380 economy is exceptional, with 33+ inches of pitch. However, what makes no sense is that they have the lowest density A380s while also having among the most underwhelming first & business class hard products of any airline operating the plane.

First class consists of 12 seats in an open layout.

Meanwhile business class is in a 2-2-2 layout.

If you’re going to have such a spacious layout, you’d think you’d at least want to establish a product advantage, but they haven’t even done that. The only thing that stands out is the onboard bar at the back of business class.

Of course this is all a moot point, when the problem is that they can’t even fill half of the seats. Korean Air is also one of only two airlines to order both the A380 and the 747-8, which seems like a puzzling decision as well.

I’ll be curious to see how this Korean Air A380 situation unfolds. There’s no doubt they’re under a lot of pressure, due to competition from Chinese and Gulf carriers, which are pushing their prices and load factors down.

Are you surprised to see Korean Air planning on parking some A380s?

  1. I’m not that surprised. KE apparently has been reliably filling up A380 on only two routes – LAX, JFK. Then KE have 10 aircrafts and always fly 2*LAX, 1*JFK (KE81/82 daytime flights) and CDG. Then A380 has been tried on all kinds of routes – 2nd JFK (KE85/86 night flights), FRA, ATL, and even SYD during winter without much success. Now that KE would have to reconfigure these aircrafts to continue flying those premium routes (LAX JFK are the most premium-heavy routes for KE), they probably decided that they would rather retire the airplane and use 748 with new seats on those routes.
    Also noticeable is KE’s shift to premium-light configuration. KE has been going high-J during late 00s and early 10s (77W/56J and 380/94J) thinking they could fill the seats. Then they are suddenly going low-J now, with 24J 787 and so on. (77W is going 48J) Looks like they are having some problem filling business class given Korean companies are getting more stingy on travel policies.

  2. Korean Air is very stingy on their frequent flier policies. Their first elite tier is granted after flying 50k miles whose main perks are access to a priority check-in line, priority baggage, and 4 lounge visits every 2 years. Bringing a guest counts as a lounge visit. Thanks I guess? Their premium elite tier is after an absurd 500k miles which adds access to the first class check-in line, unlimited lounge access with free guest, and off-peak reward redemption rates. After that is the million miles club which I guess adds access to a special hotline and a gift.

    Also their seat upgrade policy sucks. The only way you will get an upgrade in seat class is if the flight is overbooked. You can have 700k flown miles with Skypass premium elite status on a flight where economy class is almost full with zero filled seats in business/first class and they wouldn’t upgrade you.

  3. I’m not sure SQ is returning their first A380 because they “can’t make it work for them” but rather due to a series of compounding factors. Those birds are the first of the line thus heavier than newer ones and have had heavy mods after Airbus discovered cracks in the wings making them yet again less competitive than newer ones. Then I believe the leasing contracts were up which seemed like a good place to get rid of some birds and simultaneously taking delivery of new ones.

    In any case, the A380 was build for a world that came burning down by the time it flew for the first time and that was dead by the time the dust settled. Fuel prices, greater competition by ME3 for existing airlines, better ETOPS performance of twin jets, introduction of ETOPS requirements for 4-pod planes (after the A380 certification) companies shifting towards Y policies reducing the need for huge J/F cabins, etc.

    That said, there are probably routes where the A380 makes a lot of sense.

  4. Emirates might really love their A380s, but when assessing the truth of that statement one should remember that it has a massive percentage of its book value tied to the value of its A380 assets and has a massive incentive to talk that aircraft up. If the value of second hand A380s falls, no company — possibly including Airbus — will suffer as much financially. This is already happening, but if and when the project gets cancelled, that will put Emirates and its lenders who hold the aircraft as collateral in serious financial straits.

  5. Hi, it might be worth contacting Korean Air for comment. In response to the story, their public relations department told me there are no plans to retire the A380 and added that the CEO did not mention anything about retiring the A380 and looking into the A350.

  6. they should just densify some of them and use it as a CASM-killing volume mover for regional trunk routes like HKG and BKK.

    For better or worse, the customer preferences for GMP-SHA/HND over ICN-PVG/NRT meant that 2 of the easiest regional trunks had to be taken out of the equation regarding the 380. The stupid Beijing-ordered boycotting of Korean tourism over THAAD isn’t helping either.

    maybe just follow ANA’s playbook and gamble it on HNL.

  7. Emmett, Qantas operates 747-400ER’s not 747-8’s. British Airways also operates the A380 along with 747-400’s.

  8. Most of the product advantages mentioned tend to be used by bloggers, and not actual paying pax. Onboard bars are probably the one area where the amenity actually works, but at the risk of disturbing other pax due to noise.
    I actually like the fact that the Koreans A 380 has so much “unused” space. It makes it nice to walk around the plane, and provides for a small change of scenery from the seat.
    Is the 2X2X2 seating perfect? Not really. But then I dont understand the craving for “privacy” on a flight, when its being described in great detail to the world in a few days.

  9. By the way, I am curious on how slot situations are at JFK or LAX – probably the only two routes KE is reliably filling A380s.At first glance LAX slot seems to be easier to obtain given KE once had third daily frequency to LAX (772 or 77W) but KE haven’t tried 3rd daily JFK yet (might be due to lack of demand given KE sometimes drops A380 on one of the two daily flights).
    From what I know CDG is capacity restricted to current level (and once flew 9*772 weekly). Other routes don’t reliably fill in A380 daily.

  10. henry LAX – KE indeed flies 380s to both BKK and HKG. Sometimes TPE gets one (quite a surprise) too. HNL usually gets 748 – probably that’s the biggest the airport can handle currently.

  11. @ Jay : yea … i meant HKG+BKK in a more regional-optimized hard product that is dedicated just for regional runs instead of filling time between the long-haul flagship routes. 12 F Suites and 94 flat bed J’s is waaay too overkill for a 3-4 hour trip between ICN and HKG.

    That said, I still haven’t checked out the KE 380 personally so I’m definitely not wishing them to shrink.

  12. @Jay ANA has plans to operate the A380 to HNL in 2018… Don’t know whether they are doing any works to accommodate it just thought i’d throw that in.

  13. @max @jay HNL put out a bid to reconfigure 1-2 gates to support the A380… but I have a feeling it will not complete on time unfortunately. But yea KR usually flies 2 747-8s to HNL with both arriving at hour of each other. Once in awhile one of the 2 is down-gauged to A330 but its rare.

  14. If you have made an error on the article, as the Airlive link is not representing what you are stating, then you should either remove most of the article and just write the blurb above for the update to the story or remove it entirely. Otherwise it would seem to just be stirring up drama and not provide any actual factual news, in keeping the entire incorrect article which is based upon opinion and not reflecting its title.

  15. KE uses three different aircraft on the daily London rotation according to seasonal or operational demand – 380, 747-8 and 773ER.

    Only the 747 has all-aisle access in business class and the other two have the dreaded third seat in the centre. The biz cabins are drab and soulless and the A380 bar at the rear has very limited seating and, for part of my last return trip, was unstaffed with half the seating occupied by two surly men there not for cocktails but to escape a loud snorer in their part of the cabin. Not a patch on an EK or VS bar for appearance, ambience or service. The front seating area has only 2 or 4 seats, if memory serves, and the limited amenities therein were not replenished once gone on my last rotation.

    None of my several KE A380 rotations have been anything like full in business or first though large tour groups appear to keep economy well used. KE faces direct competition from Asian on the LHR-Seoul direct run and there are other ways to route there. Given the appeal of EK’s all-A380 routings from multiple UK airports to many popular destinations with just one plane change stop in Dubai, you can see why they can lure more pax to the 380 and make its business case work, while the likes of KE struggle.

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