Review of Air Koryo flight Pyongyang Beijing in Economy

Airline Air Koryo
Flight JS151
Class Economy
Seat 8A
Aircraft Tupolev 204-300
Flight time 02:00
Take-off 16 Apr 16, 08:20
Arrival at 16 Apr 16, 09:50
JS 13 reviews
linard76
By 3586
Published on 27th September 2016
Greetings,

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 The story goes that Kim Jong-un deemed the existing terminal too small and outdated in early 2012.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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Not too many bags to load since it seems that most people choose to hand carry their bags.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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The seat controls are basic.

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I wasn't expecting the ground crew to wave us off like they do in Japan. That was a neat little touch.

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Passing by P-552. I'd definitely love to try a Tu-154 one day.

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Passing by a rare Ilyushin Il-76TD

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Passing by Air Koryo's other Tu-204. P-632 is 300 series aircraft.

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Passing by a Tupolev Tu-134B and one of my favourites, an Ilyushin Il-62M.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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After five days carefully watching our our behaviour and controlling our actions, it was a relief to enter Chinese airspace.

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Final approach into Beijing's Capital Airport.

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Last glimpse of P-633 before our onward flight back to Hong Kong.

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Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed the trip report. Please feel free to leave a comment.












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Verdict

Air Koryo

4.3/10
Cabin5.0
Cabin crew5.0
Entertainment/wifi3.0
Meal/catering4.0

Pyongyang - FNJ

7.3/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.0
Services3.0
Cleanliness9.0

Beijing - PEK

6.5/10
Efficiency4.0
Access8.0
Services8.0
Cleanliness6.0

Conclusion

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!

Related

18 Comments

  • Comment 368368 by
    Pilpintu 733 Comments

    What an incredible experience! :O

    This is definitely one of the most fascinating, intriguing destinations! I don't know if I would be able to bear being watched all the time, though.

    I think many airlines with modern aircraft could learn a lot from those slim seats and give passengers some more legroom!

    I'm trying to decide what's scarier: North Korea developing weapons of mass destruction... or that hamburguer. XDD

    Many thanks for sharing!! :)

  • Comment 368401 by
    Nick 172 Comments

    Great trip report. FNJ is a surprisingly normal looking airport. Do you plan on writing a report for your inbound flight? Would be interesting to see what photos you were able to take during the middle of your trip.

    • Comment 368408 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      Greetings Nick, sure! I can tee up the inbound flight as well. We also took a helicopter tour of Pyongyang I can share as a trip report.

      • Comment 368411 by
        KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5387 Comments

        oooh, sounds very cool! I would encourage you to add that as a bonus to the end of this report, or the next one--we currently only do commercial airline flights. And yes, please, bonus pics of North Korea sounds good. Feel free to add them to this report or the next.

  • Comment 368405 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5387 Comments

    Wow, thanks for sharing such a rare report and inside glimpse to North Korean aviation. North Korea certainly has an appeal in the AvGeek community for its rare Russian aircraft, but I can't say it's on the top of my list to visit. So it's nice to live vicariously though reports. That's the beauty of Flight-Report.com!

    " During an inspection in late 2014, Kim Jong-un complained about the unfinished terminal and had parts of the building torn down and rebuilt."
    - And had the architect executed, from what I've read at the time.

    It makes no sense to have built such a large terminal considering how little international air traffic there is at FNJ. Purely a vanity project, but it's backfired as the empty terminal just seems sad really.

    "The other passengers seemed to be predominantly foreign business travellers"
    - That's surprising considering how little business North Korea does with the outside world, aside from China of course.

    "Once we reached cruising altitude, the in-flight entertainment consisting of propaganda commenced."
    - Interesting! I imagine I would find that to be a neat cultural experience. Was it in English or at least had English subtitles? If only in Korean that would be like preaching to the choir, haha.

    "The in-flight meal consisted of Air Koryo's notorious burger."
    - Ah, the famous Air Koryo Mystery meat burger! I had heard they stopped doing those, but I guess not! It's funny how the national airline of a country that has demonized The U.S. and U.S. culture serves a hamburger onboard.

    "it was oddly a relief to enter Chinese airspace."
    - I can imagine! Going from an oppressive totalitarian regime to a slightly less oppressive one :-P

    From a purely passenger experience point of view--ignoring North Korea and all that that entails--Air Koryo really isn't that bad. Skytrax has consistently classified Air Koryo as the worst airline in the world, the only 1-star airline on Skytrax, but I've never actually seen any evidence to support that in trip reports. There are plenty of worse airlines out there. Obviously, just politically motivated. Still, I wouldn't dream of visiting North Korea while under its current regime, even though the AvGeek themed tours seem tempting. If anything I just would hate to have someone constantly breathing down my neck and watching my every move--sounds like that wasn't too much of an issue on your tour.

    Thanks again for sharing this really cool report and welcome to Flight-Report!

    • Comment 368409 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      Greetings Kevin,

      Pyongyang's airport is definitely a project based on vanity and ego. There's no need for an airport of this size unless tourism expands from the current 250,000 Chinese and 3,000 Western tourists per year levels.

      In terms of businessmen, they were predominantly Chinese, African or Russian. There are some European delegations that visit North Korea every so often.

      The proganda is a mix of English and Korean. English is used for the safety video and segments that extoll the virtues of the DPRK and Korean for the songs.

      The hamburger definitely still exists. We had it on both flights.

      • Comment 368410 by
        KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5387 Comments

        Thanks for the additional information! I wonder how many of those businessmen are actually spies, haha. Yeah, I can't see DPRK tourism growing too much anytime soon with all the sanctions still in place and the hassles of getting visas. I believe the tour operators take care of all that, but I imagine it's a long process. As a U.S. citizen, did you find it to be a hassle? It seems that the DPRK tries to attract AvGeek tourism, which makes sense. Hey, if you've got the goods, flaunt it, I guess, haha.

  • Comment 368414 by
    anaknegeri 55 Comments

    Waooowwww, this is a really great report. Other than your report, we can get only very few informations about North Korea, a mysterious country.

    Air Koryo is one of few airlines still operating the Soviet-made aircraft. Even while arilines of other communist countries like China and Vietnam have been using Airbus and Boeing, the North Korean flag carrier still insisted using Tupolev and Ilyushin. Very interesting.

    • Comment 368416 by
      KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5387 Comments

      Not sure that they have a choice with the economic and trade sanctions. The U.S. would not sell a Boeing aircraft to North Korea, anyway. I guess they could always buy them second hand like Iran was doing. Those soviet aircraft are super cool though since they are so rare. Glad travel to Cuba has opened up from the U.S. --Russian aircraft down there too.

  • Comment 368443 by
    indianocean SILVER 7039 Comments

    What amazes me in your report is the contrast between the airport (quite modern) and the airplanes (quite old).

    I never saw such an empty international airport.

    Thank you for sharing that great experience

    • Comment 368444 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      The airport is totally up to date, spotlessly clean and empty. The An-148s are fairly new as both were delivered in 2013. On the other hand, their An-24Rs, Il-18D, Il-62Ms, Il-76TDs, Tu-134Bs and Tu-154Bs are quite old now. In particular, I believe their Il-18D is the oldest one still in service.

  • Comment 368473 by
    ID_Flyer 24 Comments

    What a unique flight report!
    Relatively few fly into North Korea and the aircraft which makes up Air Koryo's fleet are outdated. They do say, 5that going to North Korea is a travel back in time, while going to South Korea is a glimpse into the future!
    I think Kim-Jong-Un declared that he created the burger, so it was a "national dish" in a sense.

  • Comment 368560 by
    RandomBaritone 5 Comments

    Great job! I had considered visiting the DPRK a decade ago as part of a cultural tour, but the government's recent seizures of a few tourists have convinced me to avoid it. Still fun to experience it vicariously though. Many thanks.

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