Photo of the Korean Air plane at Stuttgart airport. Photo for illustrative purposes only Image Credit: Twitter @Andreas_Stgt

The latest trick employed by K-pop fans desperate to get close to band members, which sees them buy expensive airline tickets and then abruptly cancelling their flight once they have taken photos of their idols, has prompted South Korea's flagship airline is to increase refund penalties for late cancellations.

Korean Air announced the decision days after three fans of the boy band Wanna One took their obsession to extremes, boarding a Seoul-bound flight in Hong Kong to take photos of the band's 11 members. They then demanded that they be allowed to disembark just minutes before takeoff and that they be given a refund.

"The fact is there were passengers who falsely checked in on the flight to see celebrities," a Korean Air official told Reuters.

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The fans, two from China and one from Hong Kong, ignored the cabin crew's requests to take their seats and forced 360 other people on board to leave the plane with their carry-on luggage and go back through security screening - a legal requirement when passengers disembark voluntarily.

The incident delayed the flight last Saturday by almost an hour, Korean Air said in a statement.

From January, however, the airline said it would make passengers who cancel international flights after passing through the departure gate pay an additional fine of 200,000 won ($177).

Korean Air said it had dealt with 35 similar incidents in the past year, but speculated the total would rise to several hundred if other South Korean airlines were included.

"There have been several cases in which fans deliberately buy expensive flight tickets that offer better rebate terms, and then demand a refund," a spokesperson for the airline told the Korea Times.

"However, as far as I know, this is the first time a group actually got on the plane and asked to leave [just] before takeoff."

Buying expensive - and fully refundable - tickets gives fans access to exclusive airport facilities, increasing their chances of being able to photograph famous artists at close quarters and sell the images online, the newspaper said.

Korean Air currently imposes relatively minor penalties on passengers who make last-minute cancellations.

While some premium tickets can cost more than 2 million won($1770; Dh6,537), "no-show" penalties for Korean Air services range from about 120,000 ($105) won for long-haul flights and as little as 50,000 ($45) won for shorter flights to countries such as Japan and China.