Jin Air — Seoul to Vientiane: Thanks, but No Thanks

jinairpr-45_600For travelers flying to Laos from South Korea flight options have been limited: there was the Incheon-Hanoi-Vientiane route which left Incheon in the morning and got into Vientiane early in the evening or the Incheon-Bangkok-Vientiane route, which arrived at 2:00 in the afternoon of 9:00 in the evening depending on whether one wanted a three, six, or ten-hour layover in Bangkok.

Now there’s a direct flight on budget airlines Jin Air (part of KAL) which departs Incheon at 6:00 in the evening and arrives at 9:40. (Budget might be a misnomer though, because it’s only a few thousand won cheaper than the Thai Airways ticket, sans the Bangkok layover.)

Check-in is quick and painless. The ground staff is friendly, vivacious, and efficient. You might think you’re on a college trip judging from the baseball caps and jeans they all wear. On a recent flight to Laos, I was the only foreigner on board.

Their inflight service is what you would expect from a budget airlines. There is no inflight entertainment which I found a bit odd for a five-hour plus flight, but one could rent a Sony Playstation Vita (I saw no one that took advantage of this) and the meal was more of a snack (two tiny rice rolls, two sausage patties, salad, kimchi, and custard (which I mistook for tofu) than something to hold you over on a long flight. Beverages (Coke and orange juice) were free but alcohol (Tiger Beer) was not. However, there was duty free. There’s always room for duty free, even on a budget airlines.

The highlight of the flight, prior to arrival at Wattay International Airport was a rousing stretching routine led by the flight attendants and with some pre-recorded music turned up loud and distorted. Everyone knew what stretching exercises to do: either they had taken Jin Air before or knew the routine.

If you are a foreigner traveling to Laos you can get a visa on arrival (be sure to have a passport sized photo). For Americans the cost is 35.00. South Koreans do not need a visa. As I was the only foreigner inboard I was able to breeze through immigration formalities after getting my visa (there is a special line for visa-on-arrival passengers).

However, be aware that because of the late arrival (the flight I was on arrived 30 minutes late due to a late departure from Incheon) you won’t be able to exchange money at the airport. However, there are two ATMs near the airline check in counters which takes foreign cards. Also it would be a good idea to make hotel reservations prior to coming to Laos. All of the Korean passengers onboard were on various package tours and had no problem arranging for transport from the airport to their hotels. There is taxi service available ($8.00 for car/$16.00 for van) but given the late arrival, I had to take a van.

Returning to Incheon is a little inconvenient given the late departure (23:00). Although I would have had the same departure from Bangkok, there are more things to do in the airport. You are better off paying half for a hotel room (which I did) and getting in some sleep before the flight back to Incheon.

There was no announcement of the check in for the flight. No need to worry. Groups of Korean travelers upon arriving at the airport went to the check-in counters immediately. Also all the boarding passes and baggage tags had already been processed, which actually made the check-in process easy (one could still request an aisle or window seat).

It was a smooth flight going and coming back (except the late departure from Incheon), the service was fair given that it is a budget airlines, and the staff and crew were quite friendly. However, the next time I fly to Laos I am sticking with Thai Airways. For want it’s worth, as a budget airlines, Jin Air gets you to Laos quicker, but that’s about all.

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