Flight Review: A Weekly, One-Way Only Domestic Flight — Jin Air LJ941; Seoul-Incheon to Jeju (5 February 2021)

Flight Review: Jin Air LJ941 – Seoul-Incheon to Jeju (5 February 2021)

Korea has the world’s busiest air route (Seoul-Gimpo to Jeju) in terms of seat capacity. On any average day, there are more than 120 flights connecting the Korean capital city with the “Hawaii of Korea”. Typical flight duration is about an hour, and flights between the two ends are operated every few minutes by legacy airlines Korean Air and Asiana Airlines, as well as low-cost carriers Jejuair, Jin Air, T’way Air, Air Seoul, and Air Busan. Recently, ATR operator Hi Air started flying between Seoul-Gimpo and Jeju as well.

Both Jeju Airport and Gimpo Airport, which are run by Korea Airports Corporation, have streamlined their ground handling and aircraft movement activities to facilitate an extremely efficient operation, and it is completely possible to get from the taxi stand at the terminal, through check-in and security, to plane and seat within five minutes.

Been there, done that. It is truly a remarkable process.

But the Koreans have normalised this to the point that it feels like taking a bus at an intercity bus terminal (plus with additional screening and baggage checks). Millions of Koreans go through this every month and the level of efficiency is something that is taken as standard.

At RailTravel Station, we like to find unique, special experiences. So ditch the normal and join us in this trip report as we board Jin Air flight LJ941 to Jeju, from Seoul’s other airport — Incheon Airport!

Jin Air LJ941 Pre-flight

While domestic flights out of Seoul are normally operated from the city’s Gimpo Airport, Seoul’s international gateway, Incheon Airport, serves the occasional domestic flight. Incheon Airport’s domestic check-in counters lie unused for most of their existence, so it is quite rare to find a trip report for a domestic flight from Incheon Airport.

Caveat: Korean Air and Asiana Airlines do have flights between Incheon and Daegu / Busan. However, these are classified as “dedicated domestic flights for international transit passengers only”, and you cannot book these flights if you are only travelling between Incheon and Daegu / Busan. You must have a connecting international flight to/from Incheon to be able to board these flights. Such “dedicated domestic flights for international transit passengers only” depart from and arrive at the international section of Daegu and Busan airports.

 

This particular flight, Jin Air LJ941 from Seoul-Incheon to Jeju, is a very interesting one.

Because it operates in one direction only. Commercial bookings on Jin Air’s mobile app and website can only be made for the Seoul-Incheon to Jeju sector and not the other way around.

You see, the plane scheduled on this route operates as such…

Friday:

  • LJ941: Seoul-Incheon —› Jeju

Saturday:

  • LJ171: Jeju —› Xi’an
  • LJ172: Xi’an —› Jeju —› Seoul-Incheon

The reason for this is because, at the time of departure, Jin Air operates a Seoul-Incheon (ICN) to Jeju (CJU) to Xi’an to Jeju to Seoul-Incheon routing once a week. So effectively, LJ941 is operating like a repositioning flight, to get the plane from Seoul-Incheon to Jeju, where it needs to be at to fly out the next day.

This weird routing is the result of a Korean government regulation that Incheon International Airport be the point-of-entry for all international flights so that quarantine protocols can be followed.

Prior to the pandemic, Jin Air only flew between Jeju and Xi’an. With the current COVID-19 situation, passengers from Xi’an are now flown from Xi’an to Jeju to Seoul-Incheon, so commercial bookings for LJ172’s Jeju to Seoul-Incheon sector cannot be sold by Jin Air. There cannot be any mixing of domestic passengers and international passengers (who are not yet cleared by customs, immigration, and undergo quarantine measures) on one flight.

Given the circumstances, it is unlikely for LJ941, the Seoul-Incheon to Jeju sector, to have a high passenger load even though it departs on a Friday. Usually, there is very high demand for the Seoul to Jeju sector on Fridays as Seoulites escape the bustling city for a relaxing Jeju vacation over the weekend.

The more convenient location of Seoul’s Gimpo Airport, which is considerably nearer for many of the capital city’s residents, also does not help with the marketing of this flight. Gimpo Airport also has the benefit of a well-connected road/highway network (National Route 39, National Route 48, Olympic-daero, and the Nambu Beltway), and passengers can also access it via Seoul Subway Line 5, Line 9 (express and all-stop commuter trains), AREX (all-stop commuter trains only), and the Gimpo Goldline. In addition, by 2023, Gimpo Airport’s train station will be served by the Seohae Line, making Gimpo Airport a truly massive intermodal transportation hub.

With the knowledge that the flight is likely to be many empty seats, I booked my spot on flight LJ941 through Jin Air’s mobile application, on 29 January 2021. With the fare at KRW27,900 and taxes at KRW5,000, the total cost of the ticket came up to be KRW32,900 (~ SGD40). This is much cheaper than most Seoul-Gimpo to Jeju fares on Friday evenings, and they are usually about twice this amount!

LJ941/05FEB21 — Scheduled Departure at ICN: 1930L; Scheduled Arrival at CJU: 2040L.

Flights of low cost carrier Jin Air depart from Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, a key point of differentiation from full service carrier Korean Air, which is also a subsidiary of parent corporation Hanjin KAL.

On the day of departure, I decided to take the subway to Incheon Airport. Just like Gimpo Airport, Incheon Airport is accessible from downtown Seoul via the Airport Express subway line. Due to COVID-19, the City Air Terminal at Seoul Station and the AREX Airport Railroad Express Trains are not in operation, so the only option was to take the all-stop commuter trains. RailTravel Station has carried reports on the express trains plying this route, and they can be viewed here and here.

Upon arrival at Incheon International Airport Terminal 1, I proceeded to the domestic check-in counters, which are actually (surprisingly) located on the same level of the arrival hall for international flights. This is at the far end of Terminal 1, at the first floor.

The flight to Jeju was not listed on the main departures board at Incheon Airport Terminal 1.
Inbound passengers who arrive on international flights at Incheon Airport are met with a large group of staffers. The staff at Incheon Airport will help passengers with the paperwork and registration before the passengers are shepherded to their respective quarantine facilities.
Due to the pandemic, the airport terminal was eerily quiet in February 2021. Incheon International Airport, with its four runways, used to be one of the busiest airports in the world. Like many other airports that mainly handle international traffic, it is has seen passenger numbers fall to record lows.
There were two chartered flights from Haiphong to bring back stranded Korean nationals from Vietnam, and there was also a Jejuair flight 7C388, Incheon to Incheon (flight to nowhere), that passengers could book to purchase duty-free items. Koreans, in general, are huge spenders when it comes to duty-free shopping. To prop up the duty-free stores at airport as well as airlines, Korea’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure and Transport authorised such “flights to nowhere”. Although domestic flights normally do not come with duty-free shopping benefits, this “flight to nowhere” briefly enters Japanese airspace and returns to Korea, qualifying it as an international flight; thus each passenger is eligible for a tax exemption on up to US$600 worth of goods. All passengers are required to have passports as it is technically an international flight and the flight is only available to Korean nationals!
The domestic check-in counters at Incheon Airport’s 1st floor are tucked away at the far end of the terminal.

Jin Air Check-in

Hours before the scheduled departure time, I did an online check-in for the flight on Jin Air’s mobile application and selected seat 56A. Jin Air is considered to be a low cost carrier and it has the standard 189 Economy Class seats onboard their Boeing 737-800. However, seat numbering on their planes actually start from row 28, which is quite unusual.

I reached the domestic check-in counter about 40 minutes prior to scheduled departure time. Two check-in counters at the domestic check-in row were open for Jin Air flight LJ941. With only a single flight a week, it seemed like the counters get barely any activity for most of their existence.

Boarding passes for domestic flights in Korea are printed on thermal paper roll. Passengers can scan the QR code at the top of the ticket to board the flight. This also allows for passengers to store the e-boarding pass on their phones and they can use it to board flights as well!

Staff at the check-in counter were stunned to see a non-Korean citizen on this flight. I guess they do not see many foreigners (or people, in general) board this flight. They asked me repeatedly whether I had just arrived on an international flight at Incheon Airport (and thus not completed quarantine), so I had to show them documents that indicated that I had completed my quarantine in Korea and am a long-term resident in the country. After calling her supervisor and getting clearance, the counter staff finally issued the boarding pass.

For domestic flights in Korea, check-in counters typically close twenty minutes prior to scheduled departure time. The gate typically closes only five minutes prior to scheduled departure time! This is incredible efficiency that you do not get in many other countries.
Jin Air LJ941 to Jeju is the sole domestic departure for the day (and likely, the week) at Incheon Airport.

I was pleased to hear that there were only around 40 or so passengers onboard this flight. With this low number of passengers, there could be a good degree of social distancing on board.

After Security

I was one of the last passengers to pass through security and board the plane. It was a breeze to pass through the security check and I headed down the deserted walkway to the gate.

Because there is no need for customs and immigration for domestic flights, the baggage belts for inbound domestic flights are located next to the departure walkway for outbound domestic flights at Incheon Airport. Only a short barrier separates the flow of inbound and outbound domestic passengers here, and it is unlikely that there will be any issues anyway because there are no domestic flights coming in.

There are gates 1-3, 5, and 6-8 in the domestic section of Incheon International Airport. Gate 4 is noticeably missing, and it would not surprise me to know if it was due to superstition over the number ‘4’ (사), which also means ‘death’ in Korean. There is also no gate 44 over at the international section of this airport!

Gate holding room

It was a really quiet evening.

There was an Angel-in-us Coffee outlet in this gate area, which was unsurprisingly closed. Has this outlet even opened before, given the lack of flights from this part of the terminal?

Incheon Airport has marked out every other seat in this holding area in an effort to encourage social distancing. The holding area in this domestic section of Incheon Airport looks exactly like the international section, apart from the fact that it is exactly one level below it.

Jin Air Boarding

The call for boarding was made around 7:10PM, which was twenty minutes before scheduled departure time. Passengers quickly formed a single line at Gate 1 and the entire boarding sequence was completed within five minutes.

The aircraft for LJ941/05FEB21 was HL8245, a Boeing 737-800 that at the time of departure was just shy of 9 years old.

HL8245’s Boeing Manufacturer Serial Number (MSN) is 38827 and the Line Number for this particular plane is 3980. HL8245 is actually owned by Irish headquartered aircraft leasing company AerCap, and this plane was delivered directly to Korean Air from Boeing in 2012 with 12 Business Class seats and 126 Economy Class seats. In July 2020, the lease for the plane was transferred from Korean Air to Jin Air, and the plane was thus reconfigured with 189 Economy Class seats.

Jin Air Seat

I headed to my seat, 56A, which was at the rear end of the cabin. The seats for Jin Air look remarkably similar to that of Korean Air’s Boeing 737-800. It seems like Jin Air did not bother to change the seat upholstery even after the aircraft was transferred over from Korean Air.

HL8245 has the Boeing Sky Interior, which has cove lighting, curving cabin architecture and softer accents which create a more spacious and welcoming entryway. Instead of shelf-type stow compartments bordering the aisle, the Boeing Sky Interior features stow bins that tuck up and out of the way when closed. Carried over from Boeing 787 cabin design, an advanced light-emitting diode (LED) lighting scheme further washes the ceiling with blue light. The result: a roomier cabin environment that enhances passenger experience for the airline.

The last few rows of the plane were not occupied during these flight.

The seats were well-padded and comfortable. While they did not come with seatback inflight entertainment screens, there were two power ports for each set of three seats.

Without many passengers onboard, the cabin felt airy and spacious. But because I did not have a person seating next to me, my experience is probably not a good gauge for seat comfort.

Pushback and Takeoff

Boarding was completed relatively quickly, and it was not long before pushback was initiated. Cabin crew composition was the standard four for the Boeing 737-800, and the inflight safety demonstration was carried out manually. Standard pre-departure announcements were made, and the Captain noted the expected flying time of one hour after takeoff.

Prior to takeoff, Jin Air played their pre-departure music playlist…

It gave me a chuckle. Their music was pretty funky, and probably suits their kind of concept and passenger base — the young, young-at-heart, and the value-seeking.

Without many arrivals and departures at this time of the night, the pilots made a fast taxi to the active runway for takeoff.

Jin Air Inflight

Taking off at 1946L in a southbound direction, I was treated to a good view of Incheon International Airport bathed in yellow light, as well as the Incheon Bridge which connects Yeongjeong Island and the Songdo International Business District.

The Incheon Bridge is Korea’s longest spanning cable-stayed bridge. This bridge provides direct access between Songdo and Incheon International Airport, reducing travel time between them by up to one hour. The section of the bridge crossing the sea, whose concessionaire is Incheon Bridge Corporation, is funded by the private sector.

Just a few minutes after takeoff, the plane levelled off at a low altitude. It was at such a low altitude that I still had 4G internet connection on my phone.

Realising that the charge on my phone was low, I decided to make use of the power socket below the seat. It was nice to see that this low cost carrier had free in-seat power (*ahem* Scoot *ahem*)…

I decided to call the stewardess to ask if I could make an inflight purchase for drinks (Jin Air is an LCC, after all). However, due to guidelines set by the Korean Government, airlines are not allowed to serve drinks onboard domestic flights to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.

In addition to the lack of food and drinks, the normal inflight sale of products such as Jin Air aircraft models and travel kits was not carried out. The stewardess was apologetic about this and informed me that nothing had been uploaded at Incheon Airport for this flight.

Perhaps the fact that this flight is somewhat unique has something to do with it? Oh well, we will never know.

But what I did know was the inflight sales catalogue was really extensive. They have items such as television sets, massage chairs (!!!), red ginseng, air purifiers, air fryers (!!!), rice cookers (this is Korea, after all), face masks, watches, jewellery, hair clips, and sanitary pads! Check out their inflight sales catalogue here!

As there was no inflight service during this flight, the cabin crew were at their takeoff/landing station throughout the flight.

One hour passed really quickly, and it was soon time to land at Jeju Airport.

The approach to Jeju Airport was really bumpy and there was moderate turbulence. There were a lot of “ooh”s and “aaah”s as the pilots made the last few turns to line up with the runway at Jeju Airport.

Disembarkation at Jeju Airport

After touchdown, the cabin crew played music from their playlist again.

Trust me, this SS501 x Jin Air collaboration piece really brings back memories and vibes of 2nd generation Kpop.

 

The plane pulled into gate 15 at Jeju Airport. This is a gate at the international section of Jeju Airport. LJ941 is one of the last arrivals of Friday to Jeju Airport, and because it is positioned to fly an international sector the following morning, it is almost certain that the plane will be parked at the international gates at Jeju Airport.

Although this gate had an aerobridge, passengers had to disembark by stairs onto the tarmac, and board a bus for the airport’s domestic section.

Cleaners boarding the aircraft after all passengers have disembarked from the plane. This plane will fly the Jeju to Xi’an flight and the Xi’an to Jeju to Seoul-Incheon flight the next day.

The bus dropped all passengers at the domestic section of the airport, which was next to the baggage claim area. Passengers on LJ941 had to collect their checked in baggage at baggage belt 2.

As I did not have any checked luggage (Jin Air gives complimentary 15 kilogrammes of luggage allowance), I walked straight out of the restricted area to the public area of Jeju Airport.

Welcome to Jeju, where even the dol hareubangs (“stone grandfathers” that are the symbol of Jeju Island) are wearing masks now!

Jin Air LJ941/05FEB21 was a really interesting flight. It is really rare to be able to fly from Seoul-Incheon on a domestic flight, and it is unfortunate to see that the domestic section of Incheon Airport is so underutilised.

While Incheon Airport will remain a major hub for international traffic in the post-pandemic era, domestic flights out of this airport are likely to be few and far between. It is unknown if and for how long Jin Air will continue this unique and exotic routing, which allows this “repositioning flight” to be made possible. Till then, this might be the only domestic flight from Incheon International Airport which is commercially bookable.

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