September 30, 2016

Review: Is Air Koryo really 1 Star? Business Class Beijing to Pyongyang

Air Koryo Business Class Review


Flight JS152 Beijing to Pyongyang

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 Check in Counter at Beijing T2

Air Koryo Check in Counter at Beijing T2


Business Class Lounge

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.

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2


Chinese dishes with Rice or pasta.

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Chinese steam dim sum (mainly buns)

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2

Air China Business Class Lounge Beijing T2


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

STD: 1200

Beijing to Pyongyang

Tupolev 204-100 series, Reg: P-633

air-koryo-business-class-09 air-koryo-business-class-10  

Welcome On-board

Anyoung Hashimnikka (Korean word of Hello with respected tone) Air Koryo flight attendants stand at door 1L to welcome every guest on-board.

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.

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat


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.

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

Air Koryo Business Class seat

The Flight Attendant came around with the hot towel service and a welcome drink (water)

Air Koryo in-flight service

Air Koryo in-flight service

  air-koryo-business-class-13   air-koryo-business-class-14

We take a quick peek at the full Economy Class Cabin.

Air Koryo Economy Class cabin

Air Koryo 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)

Air Koryo In-flight service

Air Koryo In-flight service


A round of drinks was served with peanuts.

Air Koryo In-flight service

Air Koryo In-flight service


I tried out their Korean Grape Soda, which tasted really sweet.


A multi-course lunch is served on this 1.5 hour flight!

Air Koryo In-flight meal

Air Koryo In-flight meal

Korean Sausages.


Korean Wraps with vegetable and meat.


Fried prawn and boiled salmon air-koryo-business-class-28

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!

Air Koryo In-flight meal

Air Koryo In-flight meal

The Flight Attendant came around with a beer bottle to top up our glasses.



The Korean grape soda I was drinking. air-koryo-business-class-32

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.

Air Koryo In-flight Entertainment

Air Koryo In-flight Entertainment

Air Koryo In-flight Entertainment

Air Koryo In-flight Entertainment

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)

Air Koryo in-flight duty free sales

Air Koryo in-flight duty free sales

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!

Related Post


Tips on Smart Travel and finding the best airfare

I use Momondo to search extensively across the best airfare before buying it. Have a look at this post to see how it is working for getting a cheaper ticket! Momondo definitely features the best First and Business Class deals of any Flight Search Engine out there.  I have put together many useful travel tips and airfare promotions in my Smart Travel section to guide you travel in more luxury with lower price!


  1. Abebrese

    Sam, MANY THANKS for this rather dispassionate report on Koryo Airline. You have EARNED my respects and, even though we may NEVER EVER meet in person, you can be assured that I will carry your name and personality in VERY HIGH ESTEEM for this service that you have done the travel population.

    I have never flown Koryo airline but, because of the obvious PROPAGANDA that is being waged by SKYTRAX, which is a Western-World company,against Koryo, I am determined to make the effort to fly Koryo and visit North Korea before long.

    It is a SHAME on the professional competence of the Skytrax company that ALL the remarks and comments above go contrary to the 1 STAR assessment given Koryo by the company, and IF the intention was to DISCOURAGE patronage of Koryo airline, I am sorry to state that THE OPPOSITE has rather been achieved by the DISGRACEFUL AND VILE PROPAGANDA of SKYTRAX company and its sponsors.

    And, talking about POOR AIRLINE SERVICE, from CHECK-IN to IN-FLIGHT SERVICE to DISEMBARKATION, I could list a number of the airlines which have received 4 STAR ratings by Skytrax which are so AWFUL that words cannot ADEQUATELY describe them.

    Take COURTEOUS AND RESPECTFUL behaviour to patrons of airlines,and it may interest Skytrax to know that, only a few years ago, a highly rated airline in The USA was so RUDE as to ask some patrons to leave the plane and go have a shower before they were allowed to continue their flight.

    The West MAY not like North Korea for standing up to the BULLYING BEHAVIOUR of some POWERFUL Nations in the World, but that should NOT CLOUD the PPOFESSIONAL EVALUATION of what is GENERALLY accepted by commentators on this and other platforms as A COMPARATIVELY GOOD PRODUCT AND SERVICE – which is The Koryo Airline.

    I think the people at Skytrax SHOULD HANG THEIR HEADS IN UTTER SHAME for the BAD Political Job done on Koryo Airline.

  2. Finnair

    Thanks for this really interesting video. I really want to visit North Korea. But I think it’s not so cheap to go there.
    Air Koryo definitely doesn’t seem to be a one star airline from what I can see in your video.

    Peace to North Korea, let them be! We don’t have the right to make them a western style capitalist country. If North Koreans want to change, they will do it on their own. Sooner or later.

    By the way, I am a great fan of Japan. But I have a lot of sympathy for North Korea, too.

  3. Thiravat Voravetvuthikun

    Considering their limited resiurces, they are better than many airlibes. It’s a disgrace to rate them without taking into consideration of how they are treated. The North Korean people is also people who wants peace and prosperity, why won’t we allow them thise rights. the same as ours. They tried to liberated from Japan. And their leader’s belife is to have powerful weapons to prevent any future intervention and occupation of their land, is that wrong?

  4. Naj

    from ypur review, my summary is,this Koryo Airlines isn’t real 1 star airlines. from the food,it was so neat and completed-service. and the flight-attendant were polite. great review! I want to come to North Korea hahaha

  5. Ivan Vasilievich

    Of course it is not 1*; that’s all politics and business. At least, most charter and low-cost carriers are way worse than JS. And Skytrax has not been extremely trustworthy recently, truth be told. The only time I personally have ever got sick from airline food was ex-HEL (Finnair catering; Skytrax 4*). They love labelling known cattle carriers as 5*, too.

  6. Michael Huang

    Brilliant job! BTW why does Air China has a lounge on PEK T2 where there is no Star Allience Members

    • Sam Chui

      The lounge is part of the legacy before T3 was built and they moved into.

  7. Erica T

    I flew Air Koryo at the beginning of the month in economy. The flight was comfortable and we had the same beverages. I did not try the mystery meat burger. To me the flight service seemed on par with any US carrier.

  8. Andy Geary Stevens

    I also flew Business Class on the same flight. Many European airlines have stopped providing a proper meal service but Air Koryo continues to do so and the quality and quantity has improved over the 10 years that I have been flying with the airline. The cabin crew are polite and attentive even though there are little things that could be done to improve the service. In flight Entertainment might be considered “unusual” but it gives an insight into the life and culture of the DPRK. I would give give the carrier 4 stars out of 5 because they cabin crew really try to please their passengers. ****

  9. Dennis K.

    Sam – excellent review and insight. The grandiose airport terminal just seems so surreal…. I have read a few other trip reports about Air Koryo (including the famous Koryo burger). Setting aside the political issues (concerning the country) and possible safety issues (concerning the planes and the country), I would say Air Koryo deserves more than one star. Happy to find your blog and look forward to reading more articles from you.

    • Sam Chui

      Thanks Dennis for your comment!

  10. melbcollege

    Great review. Skytrax rating is pretty random, I am not sure many people take it seriously anyway. It is commercial service. I guess Air Koryo never paid them for any service. I would fly with Air Koryo in the future.

    Well done!

  11. Donald

    Was the North Korean beer the only alcohol choice and the grape soda the only “non-water” choice?
    Also, there seems to be plenty of food, but how was the taste? Very, very interesting. I know there are companies in the US that arrange travel to North Korea. They always leave from China. It looks like a lot of other Westerners on your flight. They must all be tourists, right?
    And what was the fare and how did you pay? Was it through an intermediary?
    So, so interesting. Can’t wait to read the rest.

    • Sam Chui

      Travel is organised from Juche Travel Service. There are lot of international tourist on every flight from Beijing. Fare are included in the package price so I can’t work it out separately.

    • Cinderella

      Shenyang (SHE) >Pyongyang (FNJ) 1140 CNY
      Shanghai (PVG) >Pyongyang (FNJ) 1840 CNY
      Beijing (BJS) >Pyongyang (FNJ) 1680 CNY
      Vladivostok (VVO) >Pyongyang (FNJ) 230 USD
      ORang (RGO) >Pyongyang (FNJ) 80 USD

  12. Paul Adams

    I was impressed with the service and the food. Good Job Air Koryo.

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