Which is Better - Airport Limousine Bus or Airport Express & Subway from Incheon or Gimhae International Airport? Why I Like Taking the Airport Bus to Seoul or Busan

Upon arriving via plane in Korea, I've often been in conflict whether to take the airport limousine bus or the airport express with subway (Seoul) / the (Busan) light rail with subway to and from the airport. Not sure which to take? Which one is better? Well, I always end up being reminded of the things in this post and I almost always take the airport bus to downtown Seoul or Busan (even in Hong Kong). During my recent trip to Seoul and Busan, I've delved deep into the reasons, encountered several things while taking the bus/subway and sought out the best possible ways given my situation. I want to share with you some pros, cons and warnings before you even go there so that you already know what to do when you land. The international airport nearest Seoul is in Incheon City while the closest to Busan is in Gimhae City. It takes around 45 minutes to get to downtown Seoul and Busan by airport bus. To each his own but I think some will apply to you guys and you might find my tips handy. I'm a luggage kind of gal, I have weekday flights mostly, I overpack at times, I go home with more stuff, I travel by myself sometimes and I usually have a whole day scheduled for the flight & getting settled in the hotel or homestay or guesthouse.


They call it Airport Limousine Bus in Korea. Sounds fancy and expensive, right? Well, I just call it the airport bus because it actually has very competitive rates (vs the Airport Express and Taxi) for the public. For this latest trip, I took the airport bus from Incheon to Seoul (fly in from Seoul, 1 big luggage & 1 backpack) then took the airport bus from Busan to Gimhae (fly out from Busan, 1 big heavier luggage & 1 backpack).

Let me list the reasons why I take the bus from the Incheon International Airport to Seoul:

- The bus platform is nearer to the arrival area than the Airport Express. It stops near the departure terminal too if you're flying out! You can just ask at the bus information counter at the airport (near Exit 4 and 9 for Incheon arrival) or research online ahead or ask your host/hotel - which bus number and which stop is the nearest to your hotel (some have major hotel stops). Check here for the Incheon Airport bus numbers and stops.


- This was my bus stop (below) and I opted not to cross (and walk longer) to the Airport Express on the other building. Therefore, no lugging around my big Samsonite and/or getting lost and/or spending time locating the elevators.  


- The bus has a set schedule (on time, twice an hour for this bus I took on a weekday but can be as many as five depending on the route). Please check and ask for Saturday and Sunday operation. I found that some buses don't operate on weekends or have different times. Weird, but this is a consideration that can also affect your decision. If you're in a hurry and you only have a backpack, maybe you would want to take the Airport Express. Obviously, if you take the bus, you just sit there and don't do transfers unlike the train to the subway to the transfer stations and all so less walking (with all your luggage) if by bus =) Please take note that you also might go up and down several times for the subway. The subway also closes (around 12 plus) and the buses have limited schedules - I don't have a solution for this but I know they have airplane curfews so planes don't land in the early morning like in Busan.

- The bus can also take T-money (you load it at the convenience store at the airport) or cash (paid at the bus info center inside). This bus accepted my T-money (I've encountered some that don't like in Busan). Please have cash ready though just in case or just purchase directly so you don't have to go back and forth.

- You give your luggage to the bus driver. He may not speak English. Take a picture of your route and memorize how many stops. Show the driver your destination (in Korean Hangul alphabet with English translation is best). He will put your bag at the bottom compartment of the bus. He will give you a tag to give back to him when you arrive at your stop. Move your umbrella to your handcarry.

- The bus has limited seats so you have a seat and it's first come, first served! They probably have a no-standing policy too. I sit close to the driver, have my destination written on paper, listen to the announcements and count the stops.

- I arrived at night. They dim the lights in the bus. They have reclinable seats with seatbelt. There's no WiFi. It has a CCTV, airconditioning and TV. They have English, Chinese and Japanese announcements for the stops. Be very careful not to fall into deep sleep though if you're traveling alone (same goes for the subway) haha. The view outside the window at night is scenic and the bus is quiet. Unless your camera or you are high tech (high speed shooting), you can only stare out and enjoy the scene =) I guess when you take the subway and Airport Express, you'll be introduced to the busy scene with people first. If you take the bus, you take in the place first and relax for a while. You don't have to fight for a seat and worry about your luggage.. You get my drift and preference for travel?  

- One thing to note about airport buses - the bus is prone to traffic especially in rush hours although there is a bus lane and they try their best to be on time (with insane driving sometimes). Being on the road with other cars, I guess it's also prone to accidents. Well, the subway too so just fasten your seatbelt on the bus, ayt?

- One important thing to note about the subway - not all subway stations have elevators or escalators (maybe only major transfer stations and high traffic stops) ;) I found this very disturbing because usually a hostel or guesthouse will tell you that the easiest way to them is via subway. But please consider the amount of stuff you're bringing, if you want to walk, who you're with, your luggage type, the transfer stations and the location of the elevators if ever BEFORE you even book that hotel. I don't want to worry about those things when I'm just getting settled in and I just came from a long flight or if I'm hungry haha. I also don't want to scour every subway stop (Seoul has so many!!!) to check which ones have elevators. Sample: I was going to transfer from my homestay to another - Dapsimni Station (my origin) and Anguk Station (my end destination) had an elevator but the transfer station Jongno 3 (sam)-ga didn't and I had to walk LONG or find another farther transfer station that has elevators and escalators so I opted to go via taxi and not subway with all my luggage. Gets? Good thing I tested the route first during a day trip without my things before D-Day. It would have been okay if I only had a light backpack. Update: I just found this Seoul Disability site that lists the elevators and escalators if you search via subway stop, click here =)

- Finally, the bus leaves you at the street level. If you have a map or GPS, you will already see a rough estimate of the streets, the neighborhood and where your bus passed like if you passed restaurants, subway stops and sites. I went during the summer season (July - August) and they had an insane rain and weather that day (those months actually - very hot then super rains..). My reason for telling you to move the umbrella to the handcarry, to take a picture of your route and to pay attention when your stop is close is this. Not all airport bus stops have visible signs and roof! My luggage was drenched because my umbrella was in there! The bus may also have quickly passed an empty stop already. If possible, research about the bus stop and how far it is from your accommodation. This can also affect your decision. Please note that the stops to and from the airport may be different (like sometimes across the street or in another place).

If you're going back to the airport and you're staying in Seomyeon, the airport bus is in front of the Lotte Department Store and Lotte Hotel with this pink sign. You pay in cash and they give out change.


Here's a sample of the time table. Different stops have different time tables naturally. The bus going home is definitely easier haha. Make sure you arrive around 15 minutes early, wave at the bus, show your luggage and go up the bus quickly because the driver won't wait for you. I suggest that you find the bus stop a day before your departure to make things simpler. Check your terminal number too if the airport has specific terminals for the bigger airports. They have separate domestic airports in other locations as well.