For the overwhelming majority of travelers who venture to North Korea, there are only two options. The first and quickest is to to fly to Pyongyang (FNJ), an airport serviced by just two airlines. The second option is to take the train – the more scenic route if you will – from the Chinese border.
during my university days, my college friends and i made a pledge to one day visit North Korea. when that day finally came many years later, there were just three of us who actually went
During my trip to North Korea, I opted to fly to Pyongyang. It was as much as being able to try out the services of the North Korean flag carrier, Air Koryo, as it was about the limited days I could spare for the trip. Air Koryo is notoriously known to be the only one-star airline among those rated by Skytrax – though I was to learn later that it’s not as bad as it’s made out to be. But I’ll explain more later.
Flights to Pyongyang depart from Terminal 2 of Beijing Capital Airport. When I arrived to check-in, I was met with a long queue. The flight it seemed, was going to be full. I spotted a mix of tourists and locals among the passengers for the flight.
The aircraft used for my flight from Beijing to Pyongyang was a Tupolev Tu-204 and it was to be my first time on a Russian plane. It’s also one of the airline’s newer planes, with a capacity of up to 222 passengers (12 business class and 210 in economy).
Economy class followed a 3-3 seating configuration similar to narrowbody Airbus planes. Boarding took a bit of time. The flight was full and there was a contingent of North Korean athletes on the flight. I also flew during North Korea’s peak tourism season as it coincided with the month-long Arirang Mass Games.
Seat was reasonably comfortable. I could not find any data on the airline’s seat pitch or width anywhere but I didn’t feel cramped at all despite it being a full flight. The seat’s headrest was covered in fabric while the mid and lower regions of the seat were leather-trimmed.
There was no personalized entertainment system on the plane (not that I expected one). However, there was this overhead monitor every four rows or so that aired propaganda videos about Kim Jong Il and North Korea throughout the flight. I found it quite entertaining due to the novelty factor.
Meal service was reduced to this burger, which I have read so much about. People call it the mystery burger as no one knows exactly what’s in it. I tried it and couldn’t really identify the type of meat used. At least I think it’s meat!
Service was not bad but it wasn’t helped by the fact that the North Korean athletes on the flight demanded five rounds of drinks from the poor stewardess!
The flight took a mere 75 minutes and before I knew it, we were already landing in Pyongyang’s Sunan Airport. The landing was quite bumpy – because the runway was not evenly paved. But I was glad to be finally in North Korea.
I arrived in Pyongyang prior to the opening of the new terminal so the aircraft had to park at the tarmac and a bus had to take us to the actual terminal.
Overall, my flight wasn’t anywhere as bad as what a one-star rating might suggest. Flight departed on time. Seats were comfortable and the plane was reasonably new. The downside is that you never get to really earn miles with the flight even though it’s quite pricey for a 75 minute journey. Other than that, they could really use some improvement on the food.
Have you flown with Air Koryo? How was your experience?