Korean Air was founded in 1962 as an intergovernmental enterprise, and established as a private airline in March, 1969.
In 1971 and 1972, transpacific cargo and passenger services to the United States were introduced.
In 1973, the first Boeing 747 joined the Korean Air fleet. During the same year, regular service to Paris was introduced, using DC-10s and Boeing 707s.
Two years later, Korean Air was one of the first Asia airlines to purchase the A300.
By 1980, new international routes were added, including Seoul – Los Angeles and Seoul – New York.
During the 1980s, Korean Air continued to expand, adding new aircraft to the fleet and various passenger and cargo routes to its existing network.
In 1990, Korean Air established its own computer center and implemented a computer reservation system (CRS).
In April, 1994, the airline celebrated its 25th anniversary, reaching the 150 million passengers carried milestone.
In March, 1995, the 100th aircraft, a Boeing 747-400, joined the fleet.
By 2007, Korean Air grows to almost 17,000 employees and a network that reaches over 110 cities.
In July, 2008, Jin Air, Korean Air’s low cost subsidiary, is launched.
In 2009 Korean Air was selected as Best Airline in China Top 5 by National Geographic Traveler China, ranked number one global cargo airline by IATA for fifth consecutive year and received “Global Award” in “2009 PAX Leadership Award”.
During 2010 Korean Air was named “Best First Class Airline 2010 (Asia)” by UK Business Destinations magazine, was ranked number on global cargo airline by IATA for sixth consecutive year. It was awarded by Airbus as “A330 Award for Top Operational Excellence” and it won the 2010 Excellence Innovation Award.
In 2011 Korean Air receives the Leading First Class Airline Award at the World Travel Awards.
During 2012 Korean Air was awarded by World Travel award as ‘2011 Grand Final World’s Most Innovative Airline, it was also awarded as the ‘Most preferred Airline in China’ by Travel+Leisure magazine.
In 2013, Korean Air has acquired 44% of Czech Airlines’ stake but sold the stake in October 2017.
In August 2014, Korean Air added to its fleet the 10th A380 aircraft, its ‘hotel in the sky’ featuring 301 New Economy seats, the lowest configuration in Economy Class of any A380 operator so far, providing the most spacious pitch of 34 inches, 94 fully-flat Prestige Sleeper seats on the upper deck in Prestige Class (Business Class) and 12 First Class Kosmo Suites. Korean Air operates the A380 on long-haul routes to the US (Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta) and Europe (Paris).
In August 2015, Korean Air introduced its first B747-8 Intercontinental aircraft. The new B747-8i features a three-class configuration with 368 seats: 6 Kosmo Suites 2.0 designed with a sliding door and higher partitions in First Class, 48 Suites in Prestige Class (26 on the upper deck and 22 on the main deck), and 314 new Economy seats in Economy Class.
In September 2016, Korean Air and Delta Air Lines announced the strengthening their partnership by expanding codeshares planned for launch in the fourth quarter of 2016, subject to government approvals. Korean Air will place its code on 156 Delta flights on US and Canadian routes beyond Los Angeles, Atlanta, and New York, as well as on Delta’s Sao Paulo (Brazil) flights from Atlanta and New York. In turn, Delta will add its code on Korean Air flights to 32 cities beyond Seoul-Incheon, including Bangkok, Singapore, Saigon, Taipei, and many other leisure and business destinations throughout South East Asia and Japan, as well as on Korean Air flights from Houston and San Francisco to Seoul-Incheon.
In February 2017, Korean Air unveiled its first Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner at Incheon Airport. The Boeing 787-9 is configured with a total of 269 seats: 6 First Class Sleeper seats, 18 Prestige Class Suites and 245 New Economy Class seats. Korean Air is scheduled to add to its fleet 5 Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners this year, with another 5 to join the fleet by 2019.
In December 2017, Korean Air took delivery of its first Airbus A220 300 (Bombardier CS300) aircraft, becoming the first airline in Asia to introduce this type of aircraft. The Airbus A220 300 is configured in a 2-by-3 layout with 127 seats, 25 of which offer extra space with a 36″ pitch (4 extra inches).
In May 2018, Korean Air and Delta Air Lines launched a joint-venture partnership on transpacific routes that will give passengers seamless connections to 80 destinations in Asia and 290 across the Americas.
In June 2019, Korean Air announced new plans to modernize the fleet, signing a memorandum of understanding to purchase 30 Boeing Dreamliners. The new aircraft, 20 Boeing B787-10s, the largest member of the Dreamliner family, and 10 Boeing B787-9s, will replace existing airplanes, such as Airbus A330, Boeing B777, and Boeing B747.
As of June 2019, Korean Air removed the First Class on 27 of its international routes (e.g., Seoul to Auckland, Brisbane, Nadi, Toronto, Vancouver, Barcelona, Madrid, Istanbul, St Petersburg, Zagreb). Korean Air intends to remove First Class on Airbus A330, Boeing B787, and B777 aircraft as part of a cabin retrofit program. Still, all 10 Korea – mainland US routes have a First Class service, as well as other 14 long-haul routes.
After almost two decades with a rather high deadly indents rate (1970-1997), Korean Air managed to vastly improve safety. The most notable incident occurred on the 1st of September, 1983, when a Korean Air Lines civilian airliner was shot down by Soviet jet interceptors, leading to the death of all 269 people on board.