I thought this article in the Korea Times by Jung Sung-ki (Boom in Budget Flights – August 22, 2011) was very interesting.  A lot of my Korean friends take these budget airlines when they fly to Jeju and even abroad.  They are invariably packed and, according to my friends, not that comfortable but the flights to Jeju are only an hour long.  The international flights are somewhat longer and, to my understanding, that much more uncomfortable. 

Despite the discomfort, these airlines are quite popular.  According to the article:

After starting commercial services in 2005, local budget fliers, which normally offer tickets for about 25 to 30 percent lower than traditional fares, accounted for 40.5 percent of the domestic air travel market in the first half of the year.

In addition, Korean LCCs [Low Cost Carriers] saw their market shares in the international flights rise steadily to 3.6 percent in the first six months of the year.

Last month, about 176,887 passengers travelled to foreign destinations with the four domestic LCCs _ Jeju Air, Air Busan, Jin Air, and Eastar Jet. The figure represents a 50-percent increase from a year earlier.

The four carriers and T’way Airlines flew about 1.47 million travelers to local destinations last month. The figure represents a 26.4 percent increase from the same period of last year.

According to this old article (February 18, 2008):

When Hansung Airlines launched its maiden flight in August 2005 on the Jeju-Cheongju route, Korean Air and Asiana didn’t think much about the growth possibilities of the budget market. Three years later they seem to have finally recognized its value.

The 2008 article also noted:

Now Korea’s budget carriers are poised to launch international services. They are expected to compete most on routes between Korea and China.

“I expect that there will be a huge influx of low-cost flight services at various fare ranges launched on routes between Korea and Japan and China, with which Korea has already signed aviation agreements. New budget routes will also likely be opened from Shandong and Hainan to more remote areas throughout China,” an official with the airline industry said. “Korean Air and Asiana have entered the low-cost market as their routes there overlap with budget routes.”

And indeed they have.  Below I have provided some stats and histories of these budget airlines (wikipedia links unless noted otherwise)

T’way Airlines

Originally known as Hansung Airlines, it is the oldest of the budget airlines – having been founded in 2004.  It currently has a fleet of three Boeing 737-800s.  You have got to love its slogan of “It’s your T’way”

Jeju Air

Founded in 2005, it is the second oldest budget airline in Korea.  Wikipedia seems to have some question as to how many airplanes it has but, according to the KT article, the fleet consists of eight Boeing 737-800s.  Jeju Air flies to several locations in Korea as well as Japan, Thailand, Hong Kong, and the Philippines.  Its motto is “Join and Joy”. 

Air Busan

Founded in 2007, Air Busan is a subsidiary of Asiana Airlines. It has a fleet of seven aircraft made up of: three Boeing 737-400, three Boeing 737-500 and one Airbus A321-200.  It flies between Jeju, Seoul and Busan and also has international flights to Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines and Taiwan.  Its motto is “Fly to Busan.” 

Jin Air

Jin Air, formerly known as Air Korea is a subsidiary of Korea Airlines and was founded in 2008.  It has a fleet of five Boeing 737-800s and flies not only in Korea but to Taiwan, Thailand, Japan, Guam, Macau, Philippines and China.  Its motto is “Fly, better fly with Jin Air”. 

Eastar Jet

Founded in 2007, it didn’t actually begin flying until January 2009.   Domestically, it flies between Gunsan, Jeju, Seoul (Kimpo), Incheon and Cheongju and also has international flights to Japan, Malaysia, Thailand and China.  It has a fleet of six airplanes: five Boeing 737-700s and one Boeing 737-800.  Couldn’t find its motto.

SAFETY

Budget airlines are often plagued with nasty rumors of shoddy maintenance, old aircraft and cutting corners when it comes to safety but for the most part the Korean budget airlines have been without any serious accidents.  Jeju Air had one accident in August 2007 (Flightglobal, August 13, 2007)  when one of its Bombardier Dash 8 Q 400s skidded off the runway and injured six passengers.  Jeju Air no longer uses the Dash 8.  

Jeju Air also had an incident just last month in which the pilot failed to switch on the cabin pressure resulting in five passengers being taken to the hospital for treatment (Korea Times, July 10, 2011).