This is my first flight report and details my flight from Pyongyang's Sunan Airport to Beijing's Capital Airport.
After a fascinating five-day tour of North Korea to take part in the festivities around Kim Il-sung's birthday, our small group headed to the airport at 5:45am for no particular reason since there's no rush hour traffic in Pyongyang and the airport only handles two to three flights per day.
Pyongyang Sunan's Terminal 2 serves as the international terminal and opened in July 2015. The story goes that Kim Jong-un deemed the existing terminal too small and outdated in early 2012. With much of the work carried out by hand, progress was slow. During an inspection in late 2014, Kim Jong-un complained about the unfinished terminal and had parts of the building torn down and rebuilt.
Finally opened with great fanfare, Terminal 2 has 12 check in counters and three gates. There's a lot of room for expansion even though only two airlines actually use the airport; Air Koryo and Air China.
Landside at the departures area during the morning rush (there are two Air Koryo flights in the morning). As you can imagine, check in was quick.
The airport offers up a handful of coffee shops, restaurants, duty free stores, newsstands and other places that travellers expect in modern airports. The only difference is that most of them weren't open.
Everywhere in North Korea, you are bombarded by propaganda but in keeping with its neighbour to the south, North Korea now has a full-fledged girl band called Morangbang that are on constant display.
We were a bit early for check in so I wandered around a bit. After 5 days together, the guides were feeling more comfortable with our little group and we had relative freedom in taking photos.
Much to our surprise, once the check-in desks opened, the whole process of obtaining boarding passes, passing through immigration and security took barely five minutes.
Airside. FNJ was easily the fastest airport I have ever passed through. They didn't even manually check our bags and electronic devices that I had assumed they would.
Air Koryo's Antonov An-148 100B heading to Beijing. We were originally scheduled to take this flight since it's specially arranged during peak periods to cover the extra tourists. As you can imagine, with such a small regional jet, there aren't really that many extra tourists. I was a little disappointed I wouldn't be able to add the Antonov to my list.
Our ride arriving at gate 3 shortly after we checked in. P-633, a Tupolev Tu-204 100B, is one of Air Koryo's two Tu-204s and the same aircraft we had on the inbound flight.
Not too many bags to load since it seems that most people choose to hand carry their bags.
The best part about FNJ is the ability to see airworthy aircraft that no longer exist anywhere else such as P-552, a Tupolev Tu-154B with another Tu-154B parked right behind.
Boarding commenced promptly at 7:50am as scheduled. The other passengers seemed to be predominantly foreign business travellers, some North Koreans that were kept separate in the rear cabin and tour groups.
The cabin from row 8. Seat pitch is average and the seats are decently comfortable if a bit worn. The individual air vents are a nice bonus.
The seat controls are basic.
I wasn't expecting the ground crew to wave us off like they do in Japan. That was a neat little touch.
Passing by P-552. I'd definitely love to try a Tu-154 one day.
Passing by a rare Ilyushin Il-76TD
Passing by Air Koryo's other Tu-204. P-632 is 300 series aircraft.
Passing by a Tupolev Tu-134B and one of my favourites, an Ilyushin Il-62M.
The takeoff roll was brief and the view out the window kept me entertained. The Tu-204's cabin feels distinctly Eastern European in terms of design but the actual flight experience itself is not much different than on a 737 Classic or 757.
Once we reached cruising altitude, the in-flight entertainment consisting of propaganda commenced. Other options to keep entertained include the Pyongyang Times or the DPRK magazine. The cabin crew were reserved and not particularly engaged. They went through their required motions and that's it. On the other hand, our expectations were low and the opportunity to fly the world's most secretive nation's flag carrier was worth it.
Row 8 also offers a great view of the Aviadvigatel PS-90s. They are a huge leap from previous Soviet engines and make a lovely noise on take-off. Like a very muffled chainsaw.
The in-flight meal consisted of Air Koryo's notorious burger. It was actually enjoyable in a weird way. I'm not really sure what kind meat the patty was composed of since it was heavily breaded with a dollop of mayonnaise and slice of cheese.
After five days carefully watching our our behaviour and controlling our actions, it was a relief to enter Chinese airspace.
Final approach into Beijing's Capital Airport.
Last glimpse of P-633 before our onward flight back to Hong Kong.
Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the trip report. Please feel free to leave a comment.
Pyongyang - FNJ
Beijing - PEK
Visiting North Korea and flying Air Koryo was definitely out of the ordinary. While I didn't have high expectations of the service; the experience more than made up for any lapses particularly the in-flight propaganda.
Pyongyang's airport is also an AvGeek's dream with pristine Soviet-era aircraft on display.
The Tupolev Tu-204 was a unique experience and feels very much like an older 757 in many ways.
Thanks for reading!
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