Korean Air celebrates 50 years of international flights

The former and current flight attendants of Korean Air pose together before the flight.
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Korean Air celebrates 50 years since its first international flight, retracing the historical milestone with a special flight on 2 October from Incheon (ICN), Korea to Ho Chi Minh (SGN), Vietnam.

Korean Air, founded on 1 March 1 1969, operated its first international flight in the same year, on 2 October, from Seoul, Korea to Ho Chi Minh. And 50 years later, Korean Air has grown into a global airline reaching 124 cities in 44 countries.

Korean Air held an event at Incheon Airport, during the flight, and at Ho Chi Minh Airport, to commemorate the airline’s first international flight and to thank its customers for their unwavering support over the past half a century.

The airline gave out gifts and special cookies designed with a 50th anniversary emblem at the boarding gate.

Onboard the KE683 flight, Korean Air prepared a special video to showcase the Ho Chi Minh route 50 years ago. The video showed old news clips of Korean Air in 1969 opening a new route to Southeast Asia, demonstrating its leap to the global stage by upholding its missions of enhancing the national brand and pursuing what it describes as ‘private diplomacy’ in Southeast Asia.

The flight attendants wearing vintage uniforms walked down the aisle like a fashion show, entertaining passengers by showcasing the changes in uniforms in the past 50 years.

Korean Air
The flight attendants in vintage uniforms showcase the changes in uniforms in the past 50 years.

Korean Air used a promotional aircraft designed with the 50th anniversary emblem for its special flight. The aircraft livery depicts the number 50 with a plane flying over it alongside the slogan ‘Beyond 50 Years of Excellence’. The number 50 symbolises Korean Air’s 50th anniversary and features a stylised taegeuk design. Taegeuk is the iconic symbol of the Korean flag.

Kim Tae-soon, 75, and six other former flight attendants, who attended the inaugural flight ceremony for the Seoul-Ho Chi Minh route in 1969, were back on a Korean Air flight after 50 years.

“I vividly remember flying on Southeast Asian routes, in an aircraft designed with the Korean national flag,” says Kim. “I feel great pride in the amazing growth that Korean Air has achieved over the past 50 years.”

Prior to boarding, the former flight attendants in vintage Korean Air uniforms took photos alongside the incumbent crew members in front of the aircraft, and were presented with the 50th anniversary badge and a bouquet of flowers. The former crew members also arranged an impromptu photo event with the passengers at the boarding gate and onboard the flight.

At Ho Chi Minh Airport, a welcoming event was held for Korean Air’s special flight. Employees at Korean Air’s Ho Chi Minh Airport presented a bouquet to the flight attendants near the plane’s arrival gate.

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of its foundation, Korean Air will operate more flights with crew members wearing vintage uniforms until November 6.

The ‘historical uniform teams’ will wear ten types of vintage uniforms as well as the current uniform on a single flight, enabling passengers to enjoy Korean Air’s history, the carrier says. These teams will be on important routes from each region, such as LA, Tokyo, Beijing, Hong Kong, Singapore, Paris and Sydney. For domestic routes, the teams will be on Gimpo-Busan, Gimpo-Jeju routes.

Korean Air development
Korean Air was established on 1 March 1969, when Hanjin Corporation acquired the right to operate the government-run Korean Air Lines. At the time, the airline only operated three international routes: Seoul-Osaka (opened on 17 March 1964), Busan-Fukuoka (opened on 1 September 1965), and Seoul-Tokyo (opened on 25 July 1968).

Korean Air had a grand plan to gradually extend its Southeast Asian routes to Europe through the Middle East while pursuing a long-cherished project to open a route to the Americas, which would be a symbol of national strength. Accordingly, on 2 October 1969, Korean Air started a Southeast Asian route linking the Hong Kong-Ho Chi Minh-Bangkok section, deploying a Boeing 720 aircraft.

Boeing 720 aircraft
Korean Air Lines Boeing 720.

The Korean National Airlines, or KNA, opened a Seoul-Taipei-Hong Kong route on 29 August 1954. Therefore, Ho Chi Minh was the first international city route launched by Korea’s national flag carrier since the establishment of Korean Air.

Plans to open the route linking Seoul to Ho Chi Minh had been in the pipeline since the days of Korean Air Lines, before the foundation of Korean Air, as Korea had to transport soldiers dispatched to Vietnam and workers from construction companies operating there.

At the time, however, the Vietnamese government was lukewarm about opening the route as Vietnamese airlines were not allowed to fly to Seoul. The opening of Korean Air’s Seoul-Ho Chi Minh route was made possible when an executive of Hanjin Transportation Co., based in Vietnam, sought cooperation from the Vietnamese government through the Korean ambassador to Vietnam and gained permission from the Vietnamese aviation bureau chief.

Korean Air, after opening Ho Chi Minh as its first international route, continues to grow rapidly as a global carrier. Korean Air was the first Korean carrier to start a regular service on the American route with its Seoul-Tokyo-LA freight route in April 1971. In April 1972, the airline began a fully-fledged passenger service to the Americas, with its Seoul-Tokyo-Honolulu-LA route. Korean Air also launched a cargo route between Seoul and Paris in October 1973 and a passenger route in March 1975, spreading its wings into Europe.

Since then, Korean Air has gradually expanded across the world, opening Seoul-Moscow routes in March 1990 and Seoul-Beijing routes in December 1994. Korean Air has made a leap forward as a global airline, operating international routes in 111 international cities in 43 countries as of 2 October 2019.


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