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Virgin Atlantic Could Launch Direct Flights to South Korea to Help SkyTeam Partner Get Merger Past Regulators

Virgin Atlantic Could Launch Direct Flights to South Korea to Help SkyTeam Partner Get Merger Past Regulators

Virgin Atlantic is said to be considering launching direct flights between London Heathrow and the South Korean capital Seoul. The unusual route launch has been rumoured for several weeks and has even been reported by South Korea’s official Yonhap news agency.

On the face of it, a direct service between London and Seoul doesn’t seem to fit into Virgin Atlantic’s route strategy at all, but the service makes partial sense in the context that the airline is set to join the SkyTeam alliance in early 2023.

SkyTeam member Korean Air is currently attempting to get its planned acquisition of rival Korean carrier Asiana past competition authorities, but the lack of direct competition with alternative airlines is starting to become a major sticking point in the merger.

On Monday, the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority raised its own concern about the takeover, saying the merger would risk “higher prices and a reduced quality of service for passengers”.

British Airways pulled its London – Seoul service at the start of the pandemic and currently has no plans to return to South Korea, meaning that Korean Air would dominate the market for both passenger and cargo services.

“Should Korea Air and Asiana Airlines fail to address our concerns, this deal will progress to a more in-depth investigation,” warned the CMA’s Senior Mergers Director Colin Raftery on Monday.

Could Virgin Atlantic come to the rescue? That’s certainly the belief in Seoul where local media report that Korean Air is preparing to present the Richard Branson-created airline as the solution to obvious regulatory concerns.

The airline hasn’t yet publicly commented on the rumours, although the carrier has recently purchased 24 slots from soon-to-be SkyTeam partner KLM at its Heathrow hub which would allow new routes to be launched in the near future.

Korean Air has until November 21 to submit its proposals to the CMA, and an initial decision will be made by November 28. The CMA can either accept Korean Air’s proposed solution to the monopoly concerns or launch a costly and time-consuming in-depth phase 2 investigation.

Sources claim Virgin Atlantic has no current plans to launch flights to Seoul in the near future. The airline did not provide a statement on the matter.

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