I had simply had enough of the unbearably hot and humid Korean summer weather, I was tired of the fact that it was impossible to leave my building without ending up drenched either by rain or by sweat (or a mixture of the two), I just wanted the refreshing wind of autumn to blow upon my face. I knew one place where the weather would always be refreshingly chilly, no matter what season it may be, my native UK. Being the university summer holidays and having some free time I began to search high and low for flights. Unsurprisingly given the fact that it was summer, ticket prices were a little on the expensive side although I managed to find reasonably priced flights for around £370 from Gimpo to Heathrow via Beijing on Air China. These flights ticked all the boxes, I would depart from the convenient Gimpo Airport, I would try a new airline and I would arrive in the early evening meaning I would arrive back in my hometown (3 hours away from LHR) at a sensible time. I thus booked immediately, although my hastiness fought back with just under a month until my flight. For personal reasons, I needed to move the flight forward by two or three weeks. Attempting to do this I contacted Air China through their call centre in China and discovered they wanted me to cough up a hefty sum (300000KRW) in order to do this. Instead I headed straight to their website and filled in the online refund form, over a week later I received my money back minus a 100000KRW admin fee.
I headed back to the search engines where I unsurprisingly discovered that all flights were almightily expensive and decided to get a little creative. I don’t know how I discovered that SCAT’s Xian-Almaty flight was relatively cheap and operated by a vintage Boeing 737-500, but after that moment it was a downward spiral (for my bank account) or a beginning of an adventure (for an avgeek). The next thing I knew I was on Belavia’s website searching for Astana-Minsk-Gatwick flights which were again surprisingly cheap. After booking these two journeys all that was left was to fill in the gaps, Daegu-Beijing on Jeju Air, Beijing-Xian on Air China and Almaty to Astana on a Bek Air Fokker 100. Before I knew it I was booked to fly all the way from Korea to the UK on narrowbody aircraft, something that I had always pondered doing if the opportunity arose. Note that this is not exactly hard to do, for example Seoul-Novosibirsk-Moscow-London or Seoul-Urumqi-Moscow-London just to name a couple of routings.
Daegu-Beijing – Jeju Air – Boeing 737-800 – 718 miles
Beijing-Xi’an – China Southern – Airbus A321-200 – 581 miles
Xi’an-Almaty – SCAT Airlines – Boeing 737-500 – 1804 miles
Almaty-Astana – Bek Air – Fokker 100 – 591 miles
Astana-Minsk – Belavia – Boeing 737-800 – 1817 miles
Minsk-Gatwick – Belavia – Boeing 737-500 – 1198 miles
And there you have it! A journey of 6707 miles over five days.
Korea is a nation which is still slightly sceptical of LCCs having only really entered the previously full service airline dominated Korean skies within the past decade, with some flyers (usually slightly older passengers) put off flying such airlines after hearing safety/service horror stories. Although given some of the incidents experienced by Korean LCCs such as the well publicized time a Jin Air jet was forced to return to Cebu with an ‘open’ cabin door or when a T’way 737 suffered a tail strike whilst going around at Incheon, perhaps their fears are not entirely unjustifiable.
The high levels of service many Koreans expect combined with the fact LCCs must work harder to earn the custom of hesitant passengers when compared to well established giants Asiana and Korean Air means that Korean LCCs tend to be a little different when compared to many other LCCs around the world. For example, these airlines tend to offer 15/20kg of checked-in baggage on flights and some airlines offer seat reservations for free. Onboard, advertising is often kept to a minimum and when it can be seen, it is usually only advertisements for that airline. On domestic flights, an identical service to that offered by Asiana and Korean Air is made in the form of a round of free drinks and on international flights either a BOB menu is offered, or in the case of Air Busan, Air Seoul and Jin Air, a light meal is given to passengers.
Living in Seoul, my choice to fly on flights from Daegu, located 237 kilometres SE of Korea’s capital city may seem a little strange. However flights from the two Seoul airports to Beijing were around £50 more expensive than those from Daegu and would mean a ‘real’ overnight stay in Beijing. With this flight I would arrive in Beijing at 0110 which would allow me to camp out in the terminal before heading off on an early morning flight to Xi’an. There are seven daily flights from Daegu to Beijing, four operated by Air China and three operated by Jeju however with all flights operated by Boeing 737-800s, there is little aircraft type variety on this route. As I’m sure you’ve already worked out, I opted to fly with Jeju Air thanks to their low fares on the route. This would be my fourth flight with Jeju Air, with the other flights being short domestic hops between Busan, Gimpo and Jeju.
For the most part, Jeju Air’s website is simple and easy to use. Of course, being an LCC, the price quoted on first glance is then added to one clicked due to taxes and other fees, likely bringing disappointment to many a passenger. Optional extras such as an extra bag, inflight meal and seat reservations (ranging from 2000 in the rear half of the cabin to 12000-20000 further up front) are all available although I passed on these. Before I knew it, I had booked, paid and received a confirmation email and message to my KakaoTalk account confirming this.
GETTING TO DAEGU
There is a cornucopia of options to get from Korea’s capital to its fourth largest city Daegu, thus the only difficulty one faces in getting there is choosing by which method they should make the journey. Costing only 17000 won, the three-and-a-half-hour journey by express bus is the best option for those on a budget however considering how East Daegu train station is only a couple of subway stops and a short bus journey away from the airport I opted to take the train. The high speed KTX services usually depart every ten minutes and make the 237 kilometre journey in an hour and fifty minutes or so, however they come with a significant price tag. The modern and comfortable ITX-Saemaul offer a similar travel time to the express buses although cost twice as much. Mugunghwa train services, named after the national flower of Korea are the slowest and cheapest long distance rail services in Korea. Stopping at every city, town and village they pass through at a speed allowing for the enjoyment of the scenery they are a good option for those wanting to see Korea on a budget. Yet, despite their low cost, they offer the most comfortable ride with large padded seats, a buffet car and private noraebang (singing) rooms. Costing only 21000 won, I opted to take one of these services from Seoul to East Daegu station. I would leave Seoul at 1550 and arrive in Daegu four hours and six minutes later at 1956 which I presumed would allow me enough time to transfer to the airport.
Thanks to my long to-do list before I left Seoul, I had woefully neglected any travel preparation and when the morning of my departure day came around I spent the morning going from shop to shop trying to gather everything I would need not only for my journey but also for my time back in the UK as well as the usual gifts for family members etc.
The departure board at Seoul Station
Fortunately, Seoul Station is only a stop away from my former apartment which meant I would not have to spent too long in the blisteringly hot summer heat. That day, I had received an emergency heat wave text message warning from the Korean government. Having grown up in the cool climate of the UK, I long for the cool winds of autumn to finally arrive. After a quick hop on the Gyeongui Line, I disembarked at Korea’s largest station and made my way up to the mainline station area. Given it was the busy summer travel period of early August, the station was relatively busy although not overtly crowded thanks to the fact that it was a mere and lowly Wednesday afternoon. After purchasing some drinks to keep me going for the long journey (not wanting to splash out unnecessarily on expensive on train drinks) I headed down to the platform. Twenty minutes before our departure time at 1530, a powerful looking electric locomotive pulled in carrying behind it seven or eight carriages all bound for East Daegu Station. Unlike the new KTX or ITX trains, from the outside, the train seemed to be grubby, worn and a little battered. As previously mentioned, these trains do offer a comfortable ride, assuming your definition of comfortable means a large comfortable seat with plenty of legroom. However if you’re looking for a stylish and modern means of transportation then these trains are not for you. Whilst the trains are usually spotlessly clean on the inside, they have been shuttling people around Korea for at least two decades and thus look a little old fashioned and lack power sockets and wifi that many other train services in Korea feature. That said, these trains do feature a staffed buffet car, noraebang (singing rooms) and a private compartment with a massage chair.
The locomotive that would haul me to the far south
Old fashioned but comfortable and clean
The singing rooms and massage chair compartments
After climbing aboard, I soon found my seat aboard the largely empty train, the train stayed this way with only a few other passengers joining me for the ride to Daegu. The demographics of this train service were largely representative of the demographics of Korea with many elderly and middle aged passengers but few younger travellers. At 1545 an automated welcome announcement encouraging us to check our tickets to ensure we were on the correct service played in Korean and American English. Korail seems to work on a trust policy, there are no ticket barriers for their mainline services and whilst conductors regularly patrol the carriages bowing to customers, they rarely check tickets. Exactly as the clock struck 1550, the train clunked forward into life and we pulled out of Seoul Station under the shadow of Namsan with its tall grey tower. The sunny skies I had enjoyed in the morning had transformed into impenetrable skies of thick grey ready to drop a summer train shower down about the megacity. We gradually picked up speed, although once in a while there would be a significant jolt reminiscent of a learner driver trying to get the grip of changing gears. We passed through Youngsan, an area infamous for its large numbers of foreigners in part due to the US Garrison before heading out over the Han River and onwards to our first stop, Yongdeungpo. Here the train filled up significantly to the point where almost all seats appeared to be taken. We then speeded up out of Seoul and into Gyeonggi Province stopping at the historic Samsung City of Suwon.
For those with an interest in history and politics, the train passed stopped through a number of notable places. First up was the historic city of Suwon just outside of Seoul, also notable for being the home of Samsung. A short while later we passed through Osan, home to a large USAF base before stopping at Pyeongtaek, home to a large US Army base. We then steamed southwards to Cheonan, the namesake of the ill-fated ROKS Cheonan, a ROKN Corvette that was sunk by North Korean forces in 2010. After a couple of hours we arrived in Daejeon, Korea’s LARGEST city. Here the train emptied out a little before heading Southwestwards through Korea’s mountainous central region. After Daejeon we seemed to stop at every village and small town that the railway passed through. At each stop passenger filtered off and only a small number of people, if any, joined the train. Our arrival into Gumi, hometown of military dictator Park Chung-hee and his daughter, the disgraced former president, Park Geun-hye signalled our arrival into North Gyeongsang, of which Daegu is the capital city.
The sun had set by the time will reached the fringes of Daegu and a short time later we pulled into Daegu Station. Here an announcement was made advising passengers not to confuse Daegu and East Daegu stations. Most passengers alighted at the presumably more central Daegu station leaving me with an almost empty train for the five minute journey to East Daegu. At 1959, four hours and nine minutes after leaving Seoul we pulled into East Seoul Station. After disembarking I made my way up the escalators, following signs for the metro, the station of which was located outside the main station next to the Shinsegae department store. A quick two minute journey later and I found myself arriving at Ayahggyo, a short bus ride away from the airport. Less than thirty minutes after arriving at the station I was outside the airport terminal building, not too bad considering I missed a bus.
Today the airport seems to be doing quite well with Air Busan, Air China, Asiana, China Eastern, Jeju Air, Korean Air, T’Way and Tigerair Taiwan all serving the airport with international flights to China, Guam, Hong Kong, Japan, the Philippines and Taiwan.
From the outside, Daegu Airport seems relatively small, once inside the low ceilings of the check in and arrival area on the airport’s ground floor make it seem much smaller than it is. Although the spacious waiting area outside the boarding pass check on the second floor has the opposite effect. The ground floor was absolutely packed with flights to Cebu, Danang, Shanghai and Taipei on T’way and to Sanya on Air Busan were all checking in at the same time. Upon my arrival, the Jeju Air check in desks were closed, considering how there was no seating available at the check in area, I decided to join the growing queue of people. At 2100, Jeju Air ground crew began to gather around the check in counters and exactly ten minutes later three check in desks opened. The twenty or so passengers in front of me didn’t seem to have large or oversized luggage however despite this it took a good thirty minutes or so for me to reach the front of the queue. I was checked in by a tired looking, cold ground staff member who allowed me to exceed the baggage limit by 2kg.
The busy check in area
The empty Jeju Air check in desks
With about an hour until boarding, I decided to head straight through to immigration located one floor up from the check in and arrival area. As soon as I arrived here I was greeted by a reasonable queue at the boarding pass and ID check area as staff members were restricting the flow to avoid overcrowding of the security check area. After waiting for around ten minutes I made it to the security area. Given all the waiting, the security check was quick, as was immigration. The officer being perhaps the most friendly immigration officer I’ve encountered in Korea and definitely the best thing about Daegu Airport. As soon as I passed immigration I arrived at the small, cramped, overcrowded departure area where I immediately regretted heading through security. To make matters worse, the number of toilets was severely limited thanks to engineering works resulting in large queues. On the positive side, the airport’s wifi worked well.
The upstairs area prior to departures
At 2220, the six strong Jeju Air crew came through security and proceeded to wait at the gate. At this time only passengers for the Beijing flight remained. Jeju Air ground staff then came around the terminal checking everyone’s boarding pass one by one, in order to ween out the people with restricted items in their hold luggage. This appeared to be no easy task thanks to their lack of Chinese language ability which made it difficult for many of the passengers to comprehend their demands. At 2250, the crew for our flight headed off to the aircraft and six minutes later boarding for our flight was called. At 2305 by boarding pass was scanned and I made my way down onto the waiting aircraft.
My aircraft for the flight would be thirteen-and-a-half-year-old Boeing 737-8Q8 HL8287. The aircraft had made its first flight from Renton in January 2004 and was flown across the Pacific later that month to fly with Australian LCC Virgin Blue where it was christened Blue Billie. When the airline transformed into Virgin Australia in 2011, the aircraft continued to fly with the airline for a further two years. In June 2013 the aircraft was flown from Malaysia up to Korea to begin its new life in the white and orange colours of Jeju Air. In the week prior to my flight my aircraft had flown 66 flights flying around 30000 miles visiting Bangkok, Busan, Cheongju, Daegu, Guam, Gwangju, Jeju, Seoul Gimpo and Tokyo Narita.
After receiving a greeting at the door first in English and then in Korean, I travelled a short way down the aircraft to my aisle seat in 12D. Despite the aircraft’s age and busy schedule, the cabin was spotless with no visible signs of wear and tear. The seats themselves were comfortable and covered in Jeju Air’s standard grey fabric which features a repeating pattern of a various Jeju and holiday related symbols. Despite the aircraft being fitted with an LCC 738 standard of 189 seats, legroom on HL8287 did not seem to be too bad. The seat back pockets contained a copy of the airline’s duty free catalogue, the Join Enjoy inflight magazine and the Air Café menu as well as the usual safety card and sickbag. All of the literature provided seemed to be in a perfect condition as if they had remained unread.
The comfortable looking seats
By 2315 the final bunch of passengers boarded the aircraft with massive amounts of duty free items which they struggled to find space for. At first due to the language barrier the crew struggled to communicate to these passengers that they could not store these in the aisle however then the Mandarin speaking crew member was called who explained this and stored took them away to store in the galley. The load that evening was around 100% with roughly an equal split between Chinese and Korean passengers, the former seemed to be mostly young tourists in their twenties returning to China whilst much of the latter seemed to be heading to China on business as indicated by their formalwear and a few business cards I caught sight of during the flight. There were also a few Mongolian passengers onboard the flight that evening too. Six crew members were aboard the flight, the captain who appeared to be in his fifties, the first officer likely in his thirties and four cabin crew who all appeared to be in their twenties. All crew members were Korean. After the crew conducted their final checks, there appeared to be some commotion at the front of the cabin as a ground staff member rushed on in an attempt to find a passenger with a prohibited item in their hold luggage. Using the Mandarin speaking crew member to translate, the problem was soon rectified and just before 2320 the main cabin door was closed and the pre-departure announcement was made in Korean and English. After this the safety announcement was made in Korean and Mandarin but not English. Indeed, once the crew realised I spoke Korean, the cabin crew scrapped their English language announcements entirely for the remainder of the flight.
A closer look at the seat pattern
Five minutes after the doors were closed we pushed back, upon coming to a halt our two CFM engines powered into life in a fairly quiet fashion (although this was likely due to my position within the aircraft). A couple of minutes later we pushed forwards and began our short taxi to the active runway, without pause we made a powerful takeoff into the bright night skies above Daegu. Ten minutes after takeoff once many of the passengers had dozed off to sleep the cabin lights were switched violently back on and the seat belt signs were switched off. I have to say, with regards to the lighting, this is probably one of the areas where the advantages of the newer Boeing Sky Interior fitted 737s are clear. The mood lighting on these aircraft allows the cabin to be gently lit allowing for service to be conducted without such sudden luminosity that causes light sleepers to awake. The captain then performed a welcome speech in Korean and English whereby he thanked us for flying Jeju Air, informed us of the weather en-route which was to feature thunderstorms as we neared the Chinese port city of Tianjin and our flight time of 2H50, whilst this is the official flight time of the flight, such a long flight time was a little surprising given that the average flight time for Jeju Air flight 8101 was only just over two hours. I thus expected that either we would have to deviate off the usual taken course due to thunderstorms or that we would have to hold for a while due to traffic in Beijing.
Just after the announcement was made, I felt the aircraft began to turn starboard. I thought this to be a little usual but I assumed it was to line us up with the airway that would take us north to Seoul before turning west. However a few minutes later we then began another barely noticeable turn before flying straight and level for several minutes before turning again. This pattern continued for forty minutes high above the cities of Chungju and Jecheon. Whilst many passengers were blissfully unaware of our movements thanks to the lack of television screens on the aircraft, I was fully aware that we were in a racetrack holding pattern likely for one of two reasons. The first being that we were not yet cleared to enter the busy Chinese skies, the second being that there may be a mechanical fault that would require a diversion. The latter prospect was slightly worrying, not because of a potential problem as I am aware that aircraft divert all the time due to minor technical problems but because it would likely leave my entire travel plans in ruins.
As we held, the inflight service began reassuring me that the holding was simply for air traffic control purposes. This service consisted of a cup of water in a paper Jeju Air branded cup and items from the reasonably priced Jeju Air menu. Most passengers passed on ordering food which was understandable considering that those passengers starting their journey in Daegu likely ate their evening meal before heading to the airport. Jeju Air offers a wide selection of food and drink, with many of their lighter set meals costing no more than 10000KRW however their full hot meals are a little pricy costing up to 20000KRW. For those wanting to pretend they are on Korean Air, bibimbap is sold for 5000KRW. Having had virtually nothing to eat since leaving Seoul, I opted for some jjajangmyeon. Surprisingly I could not order this with my Korean debit card instead I would have to pay with either cash or a credit card. Lacking both I had no option but to pass on the food offerings. Once the service was completed the crew turned off the cabin lights and I attempted to sleep, something which would have been easily possible were it not for the loud conversation of my two seatmates who broke the cabin’s silence. Being an LCC, the aircraft lacks any overhead screens playing either a TV programme, film or the moving map and thus passengers are advised to bring their own entertainment. One can also turn to the magazine which features a range of articles in Korean and English about destinations across the world. Unlike many an in-flight magazine, it doesn’t appear to be completely littered with advertisements.
The Air Café menu
Reasonably priced snacks
But expensive full meals
My only option – a cup of water
After five holding patterns we finally continued on our journey making a beeline for Seoul before turning directly westwards just south of the city passing over the city of Incheon and its airport before heading out over the dark Yellow Sea. We hit a few patches of turbulence as we passed over the ocean at our low cruising altitude of 30000 feet. Just over halfway into our crossing of the Yellow sea as we passed in between the Shandong and Liaodong peninsulas our aircraft entered another single holding loop and descended to 27000 feet although this time I remained oblivious to this and was only able to find this out by checking FR24. We then turned southwest and headed for the Shandong city of Dongying, home to around two million people. After heading west again towards Dezhou we continued our descent before heading almost direct north to Beijing. At this time the cabin crew once again switched on the cabin lights, made the usual descent announcement, came around the cabin making sure all was in position for landing before switching the lights off again. As per usual when arriving into China, a symptom message was made in Korean and Chinese in an effort to prevent the global spread of communicable diseases.
During our descent the cabin lit up several times due to the lighting from the storm that raged on outside the aircraft and the aircraft was thrown about a little as we headed down towards the capital. Once we sank beneath the clouds the ride smoothed out a little and before I knew it we were sinking down past terminal three and the masses of Air China aircraft before making a smooth touchdown on runway 36R in the midst of a heavy rain shower 2H56 after leaving Daegu. This was followed by some medium braking before we exited the runway towards its end. As we taxied off the runway the cabin lights were immediately turned on and the cabin crew performed a welcome announcement. Our short taxi to the international area of terminal two took us past a host of Hainan Airlines’ aircraft, a Ukrainian Boeing 767 an Aeroflot A330 and a Korean Air Boeing 737-800 that had arrived from Busan and a Boeing 777 from Seoul.
The busy departure area beneath us
After we pulled up to gate 213, the engines shut down and the sound of heavy rain filled the cabin as we waited to disembark. At 0130 Beijing time, the front curtain was opened and we began to pile out of the aircraft one by one. Upon reaching the front of the aircraft I thanked the same two crew members that welcomed me onboard. As it would turn out, it would be a long night for the Jeju Air crew, with the return flight to Daegu departing over three hours behind schedule and upon arriving in Korea would divert to Ulsan Airport. As I made my way up the jetway, I noticed an open door leading to the apron. Whilst I’m sure anyone foolish enough to attempt to go through it would be quickly apprehended to see such a thing at one of the world’s busiest airports was a bit alarming. As I stepped into the terminal a full load of passengers waiting for the flight back to Daegu could be seen on the other side of the glass partition. After heading up the escalators it was a reasonably long walk to immigration, upon my arrival a lengthy queue could be seen as a result of the arrival of an Aeroflot A330 and a Ukrainian Boeing 767. I took my place in the orderly line and waited to reach the front which took some time seeing as there was only one desk open for the queue I had joined. This line was rather international, with voices heard from all over Europe and of course Korea. After around 25 minutes I reached the front and after a minute of waiting I entered China. After this I headed down the escalators to baggage claim where my bag could already be seen happily spinning around, ignoring the fact that it was soaking wet from the rain showers outside.
My choice to fly from Daegu Airport was one based on both cost saving and curiosity to try a new airport. In the end, I did end up saving a significant amount although I’m a little uncertain as to whether I would fly from the airport again.
Being located so close to the Daegu’s city centre, the airport was incredibly easy to get to and inside is clean and modern with good wifi. Yet thanks to the evening international rush, the airport was severely overcrowded. With only two immigration counters (later reduced to one) and a single security check point open, KAC’s failure to provide more staff during this peak time resulted in large, unnecessary queues. Although I do realise that such high volumes of passengers would not be passing through the airport at other times of the day and year. If flying from Daegu during a busy period I would advise you to wait landside for as long as possible before heading through security and immigration.
For an LCC, Jeju Air’s service was relatively good. The crew onboard were polite and friendly and conducted their duties in an efficient and orderly fashion. The aircraft appeared to be well kept and was spotlessly clean upon boarding and so I have nothing to complain about here. I would happily fly with Jeju Air again in the future.
Please note, the photos of many reports seem to no longer be working however these photos can be viewed on my blog Forever in Y
Korea DomesticAsiana Boeing 767 Gimpo-JejuAir Busan A320 Busan-JejuJeju Air Boeing 737-800 Busan-JejuJin Air Boeing 777-200ER Jeju-GimpoKorean Air Airbus A330-300 Jeju to BusanKorean Air Boeing 747-400 Gimpo to JejuKorean Air Boeing 787-9 Gimpo-Jeju
Short HaulCityjet Avro RJ85 London City-CorkFar Eastern Air Transport MD-80 Taipei Songshan-MakungJoy Air Xian MA60 Yantai-Dalian-YantaiLucky Air Airbus A320 Lijiang-KunmingSouthern Sky Airlines Antonov 24RV Almaty-Balkhash-AstanaThai Airways Boeing 777-300 Bangkok-PhuketTibet Airlines Airbus A320 Kunming-LijiangUkraine International Airlines Boeing 737-800 Kiev-IstanbulV Air Airbus A320 Taipei-Busan
Medium HaulAir India Boeing 787-8 Incheon-Hong KongChina Eastern Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingChina Southern Boeing 777-200 Urumqi-BeijingKorean Air Boeing 737-800 Incheon-KunmingVietjet Airbus A320 Ho Chi Minh City-Taipei
Long HaulChina Southern Airbus A330-200 Istanbul-UrumqiKLM Cityhopper/KLM Fokker 70 and 747 Combi Humberside-Amsterdam-Seoul IncheonKorean Air A380 Seoul Incheon-Paris CDGOman Air Airbus A330-300 and Boeing 787-8 Heathrow-Muscat-BangkokThai Airways Bangkok-Karachi-MuscatVietnam Airlines Airbus A350 and Boeing 787-9 Heathow-Hanoi-Seoul Incheon
Somewhere between Korea and the UK.