Unfettered by cutthroat competition, it quietly began adding flights to cities throughout China. A decade later, its flight network was the most extensive of any foreign airline operating there.
As it focused on China, the airline also stressed service as a way to distinguish itself from larger competitors.
For the third year in a row, Asiana was picked as having the best onboard service and flight attendants in the world, beating out legacy behemoths Singapore Airlines and British Airways, in a survey of business travelers. It also is one of only five airlines in the world with the highest five-star rating from an independent rating firm, SkyTrax.
The attention to detail is visible at its crew training facility just outside Seoul where would-be flight attendants spend hours learning how to walk gracefully in a ballet studio with floor-to-ceiling mirrors.
In the latest of novel moves for the industry, Asiana will later this month begin exchanging flight attendants with Japan's All Nippon Airways.
Passengers on Asiana flights between Seoul and Tokyo will find a Japanese flight attendant from ANA, which will have a Korean flight attendant from Asiana on its flights.
The airlines said the exchange program would help improve the experience of Korean and Japanese passengers who'll be met by crew members who can not only speak their language but understand cultural differences.
It is one of several services offered by the airline that has been catching the attention of international business travelers. Onboard chefs prepare meals for first-class passengers on some flights between Los Angeles and Seoul. First- and business-class passengers also get free chauffeured limousine service in Seoul.
"They've been kind of under the radar," said Chris McGinnis, editor of a travel newsletter for Expedia.com. "My friends recently tried them and liked them."
Unable to deliver passengers directly to Beijing, American will rely more on its airline partners in Asia.
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Korea Air's rival Asiana supports the EU clause, saying it will boost the competitiveness of local carriers.