Do you ever find your way to Wikipedia and begin clicking from one article to the next, spending an hour or more learning about something rather unexpected? Reading about the history of Pan-Am and TWA recently led me to stumble into the entry on the Concorde, which in turn led me to a piece on Iran Air, which in turn led me to a list of airlines restricted by the European Union, which in turn led me to the entry on Air Koryo. What I found was pretty amazing.
Up to this point, I didn’t know North Korea operated a commercial international airline. Indeed, given the isolated country’s relationship with other nations tends to range from “strained” to “technically at war with”, I was somewhat amazed the airline could operate in any meaningful capacity.
The majority of Air Koryo’s fleet consists of Tupolev planes of Russian manufacture, with the other Antonov planes built in Ukraine. Many of its planes date back to the Soviet era, and bans by the United States and European Union prohibit the airline from purchasing Boeing or Airbus planes to refresh its fairly ancient fleet.
A website named Skytrax has ranked 681 world airlines on a five-star basis. Of these, Air Koryo is the only 1-Star airline. Various reader reviews offer a look into the parallel universe in which the airline operates.
Among the highlights are the revolutionary music played prior to take-off and complimentary state newspapers offered to passengers detailing the manifold achievements and successes of the country and its leaders.
On many of the airline’s planes, the air conditioning system causes a fog of water vapor to fill the fuselage, at times requiring flight attendants to wipe down lighting.
Long-haul flights include meal service, during which you can enjoy artisan, homestyle, farm-to-table, gluten-free entrees like this hamburger enjoyed by a reviewer for RocketNews.
To be fair, it looks like the food service can be spotty, sometimes bordering on serviceable, as seen on a different flight:
The airline also has a fair record of safety, with its last fatality taking place in 1983 despite the age of its operating equipment.
It’s possible to book tickets on Air Koryo to and from its hub in sunny Pyongyang to Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia.
This can actually be accomplished on the airline’s website.
We did a spot check on fares and found a flight in mid-December for $287 from Pyongyang to Beijing, a fare that was quoted in and could be paid for in US Dollars.
However, don’t book your tickets just yet: travel to North Korea requires a special visa and can only be accomplished as part of a state-sanctioned tour group under the constant guidance of a government minder.
Unfortunately, Air Koryo doesn’t offer a points or miles program, so the cheapest method of travel on Air Koryo we can recommend is not flying with them at all, ever, at any time.
You can stay up to date on Air Koryo by following them at their official Facebook page, which shares this special message for the holidays: