Recently, I went to North Korea to attend their first ever air show at Wonsan, The Wonsan Air Festival.
There are only two airlines that fly to North Korea at the moment: Air China and Air Koryo.
Air Koryo operate the majority of their flights into and out of North Korea from: Beijing, Shenyang, Shanghai and Vladivostok. They also operate seasonal flights to SE Asia and Kuwait.
The natural gateway to the DPRK, also known as "The Hermit Kingdom" is from China. Most travellers would begin their journey at Beijing Capital International Airport.
I am going to review my Business Class Flight with Air Koryo and answer the question; do they really deserve a Skytrax 1 Star Rating?
From the Skytrax Website; "The 1-Star Airline Rating represents a poor quality of product delivered across the assessment sectors, combining with low and/or inconsistent standards of front-line staff service for the on-board and home-base airport."
Currently, they are the only airline receiving a 1 Star Rating on Skytrax. I wanted to experience their flight and to see for myself; are they really the worst airline in the world?
Air Koryo use Terminal 2 at Beijing Capital International Airport. Check in opens about 3 hours before the flight.
The process is smooth and orderly.
There are separate Business Class and Economy Class check-in counters.
Air Koryo Business Class Customers are invited to use The Air China Lounge in Terminal 2.
Most airlines that operate out of Terminal 2 also use this common lounge (including Korean Air, who depart at the same time as Air Koryo!)
The lounge is spacious but in need of refurbishment. There is however, plenty of food and beverages on offer.
Chinese dishes with Rice or pasta.
Chinese steam dim sum (mainly buns)
At 11:30am, 30 minutes prior to our scheduled departure time, we arrive at the gate to find our fellow passengers lined up and eagerly awaiting to board.
Flight Number JS152
Beijing to Pyongyang
Tupolev 204-100 series, Reg: P-633
There are 3 rows of Business Class Seats in a 2-2 configuration on this Tu-204-100
I am sitting in 3C, the last row aisle seat on the right side.
The legroom is estimated at more than 40" seat pitch, more than most US and European short haul flights.
The seats are very comfortable with a leather cover and a silk pillow.
The Flight Attendant came around with the hot towel service and a welcome drink (water)
We take a quick peek at the full Economy Class Cabin.
Due to the usual traffic congestion at Beijing Capital International Airport; our take-off time was delayed by 30 minutes. At 12:45pm, we are finally airborne from Runway 36R and heading in a NE direction towards Shenyang and Pyongyang.
The In-flight service started after we reached cruising altitude, which is about 8,000m above sea level.
The Flight Attendants took off their blue jackets and came around with fresh white table linen.
(Air Koryo have had a uniform change since 2014; upon advice from their Great Leader Kim Jong-Un they have done away with their red jackets)
A round of drinks was served with peanuts.
I tried out their Korean Grape Soda, which tasted really sweet.
A multi-course lunch is served on this 1.5 hour flight!
Korean Wraps with vegetable and meat.
Fried prawn and boiled salmon
Delicately arranged fruits.
Just when I thought that lunch was finished, the flight attendant brought out yet another tray. It is Kimbap! (Korean Sushi)
Note how neatly arranged it is!
The Flight Attendant came around with a beer bottle to top up our glasses.
The Korean grape soda I was drinking.
Air Koryo coffee/tea cup.
In-flight entertainment was provided on several fold down screens (like on the B737 and A320)
On the displays there was a Korean Armed Force Band, proudly singing and playing instruments.
Before we started our descent, the flight attendant passed along the aisle with the duty free sales.
None of the usual western brands of perfume/liquor/cigarettes are available on the trolley. It is full of only North Korean Goods! (Famous for handicraft and Ginseng)
Approaching Pyongyang Sunan Airport, which is located 50 km away from the city.
Another round of the hot towel service ensued before landing.
After a smooth landing, I was even allowed to see inside the cockpit of The Tu-204!
My flight with Air Koryo in Business Class was a great one. They are: punctual, polite, and professional; I also found they spoke good English. For the 1.5 hour flight from Beijing, their offering puts most US and European Carriers to shame!
While their service is certainly quite different from the mainstream airlines offerings; I would say keep an open mind and you will find you receive an enjoyable experience from them!
I will not pass judgement on whether Air Koryo is deserving of a 1 Star Rating or not. I will instead leave you with my pictures and let you be the judge.
What do you think? I would love to hear your opinions!