Review of Air Koryo flight Beijing Pyongyang in Economy

Airline Air Koryo
Flight JS152
Class Economy
Seat 9F
Aircraft Tupolev 204-300
Flight time 02:25
Take-off 12 Apr 16, 13:05
Arrival at 12 Apr 16, 16:00
JS 13 reviews
linard76
By 2723
Published on 6th October 2016
Greetings and welcome to the photo review of my Air Koryo flight from Beijing to Pyongyang.

This trip came together as sort of a fluke. A group of friends were having dinner and talking about North Korea when we started talking about potentially going.

Booking the tour itself was quite easy with the agency handling all visa and logistical requirements. It was just really up to us to "design" the sort of experience we wanted to have which can range from natural beauty to history and culture. We were also able to pick the hotels we wanted to stay about. That's about the extent of the freedom you have with any visit to North Korea.

After spending a few days in Beijing, we headed to Beijing Capital's terminal 2 to check in.

Not surprisingly, the Air Koryo check in area was quiet and the whole process took just a couple of minutes.

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Once I had everything in hand I needed to actually entire North Korea, I really started feeling excited about the next five days. Outbound from Beijing, the Air Koryo boarding passes are printed on Air China stock.

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Beijing Capital's terminal 2 is quite inefficient and it took us nearly 25 minutes to pass through immigration and security check.

Airside at terminal 2.

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Interestingly enough, my Priority Pass membership grants access to the lounge that Air Koryo and a random selection of other airlines use for their business class passengers.

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The lounge itself is dark with fairly dismal food options. With no view to speak of, there's really little reason to spend much time here.

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Today the KE and JS flights were fairly far apart but more often than not, they are often right by each other. I do wonder what the pilots must think.

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Walking up to the gate, I caught a glimpse of our plane sitting next to a gorgeous KLM B747 and an Uzbekistan B767.

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Right on time, boarding opened for JS152 which, as usual, is served by P-633, a Tupolev Tu-204 300.

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Even at just 7 years old, the cabin of the Tu-204 looked like it was from a different era. The seat itself was worn and comfortable, sort of like a favourite lounge chair at home. Pitch and width felt average but of course, nothing could contain my excitement for the flight.

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Seat 9F has a great view of the Aviadgatel PS90s and was also far enough away from the bulkhead so that the flight attendants didn't notice that I was snapping away.

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Lunch was served right after the seatbelt lights were extinguished. Air Koryo's infamous mystery meat burger was not so bad. That orange drink though, was oddly creamy and deadly sweet. The DPRK magazine goes well with the propaganda videos that have been playing at a moderate volume since take-off.

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A shot of the forward economy cabin. The aft cabin is reserved for North Koreans travellers of which there were a handful of what looked to be businessmen.

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As we broke through the clouds during out descent into Pyongyang, I finally got my first glimpse of the North Korean landscape. Oddly enough, our flight never seemed to cross any water. It appears as though our flight went up through northern China and back down into North Korea.

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Any AvGeek is in for a real treat if they are seated on the right during the taxi to the gate.

A Ilyushin Il-62 and a Tupolev Tu-134B-3 being lovingly hand washed.

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Air Koryo's other Tu-204 next to a Il-76TD cargo plane. P-632 is a shorter Tu-204 100 series model.

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A better look at the Ilyushin Il-76TD.

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Arriving at Pyongyang Sunan's terminal 2, which opened on 1 July 2015. The construction of the terminal is fraught with controversy with reports that Kim Jong-un was unhappy with the design and had parts of the terminal torn down and rebuilt. There was also word that the head designer was executed but he was later found to be alive but had been sent to a collective farm as punishment.

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Parked at the gate.

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We were here! No service of course.

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On day three of the tour, we were in for a treat. We were offered the opportunity to take a helicopter tour of Pyongyang which had only just been available to tourists. Of course we agreed.

Arriving at the domestic terminal.

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As we will see with the outbound flight, there's not much going on at Pyongyang Sunan airport.

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Not too many departing flights today.

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The domestic departures area.

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We waited about 20 minutes for the boarding announcement and then exited the terminal for a ride in the airport's relatively new low floor bus.

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A glimpse of Air Koryo's Antonov An-148s, An-24Rs and Ilyushin Il-18Ds.

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Our ride for the day, a Mil Mi-17 (#847). Just awesome!

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Inside the Mi-17. I loved the interior decor and wondered who else has ridden in it before.

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Once we took off, the entire group was glued to the windows. Even our guides and minders were excited as they had not been in a helicopter or any other aircraft before.

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Just entering the outskirts of Pyongyang with the atom-shaped science and technology complex right below us.

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Passing by the Yanggakdo Hotel with the Ryugyong Hotel (or Hotel of Doom) off in the distance.

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Passing by the Juche Tower.

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Passing by Pyongyang's train station and from here, you can see the source of the city's persistent haze - the smoke belching coal-fired power plant.

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After a 40 minute joyride, we sadly had to come back in for a landing.

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Last view of the cockpit before disembarking.

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Last view of the Mi-17 and what a special experience it was to fly around Pyongyang in one that was decked out in such a comfortable cabin.

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View of FNJ's apron with the lone non-Air Koryo airline that ever comes to the airport. And just recently, Air China cut it's flight from Beijing to Pyongyang as perhaps a form of punishment.

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That concludes my trip report. I hope you enjoyed perusing as much as I enjoyed sharing my experiences.

As a special bonus, I've added some random snapshots of my trip below.

See more

Verdict

Air Koryo

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

Air China First And Business Class Lounge - 2

3.0/10
Comfort3.0
Meal/catering3.0
Entertainment/wifi3.0
Services3.0

Beijing - PEK

5.0/10
Efficiency4.0
Access5.0
Services6.0
Cleanliness5.0

Pyongyang - FNJ

7.1/10
Efficiency9.0
Access8.0
Services3.0
Cleanliness8.5

Conclusion

The whole experience from the moment I boarded the initial flight to when I stepped off the plane 5 days later in Beijing was surreal. North Korea's Air Koryo is truly an AvGeek's dream with access to aircraft that don't exist anywhere else in such pristine condition.

Pyongyang's airport reflects the country in a nutshell in that it desperately wants to portray an image of polished perfection to outsiders.

Thanks for reading!

Information on the route Beijing (PEK) Pyongyang (FNJ)

The contributors of Flight-Report published 4 reviews of 1 airlines on the route Beijing (PEK) → Pyongyang (FNJ).


Useful

The airline with the best average rating is Air Koryo with 5.5/10.

The average flight time is 2 hours and 5 minutes.

  More information

11 Comments

  • Comment 369572 by
    marathon GOLD 9566 Comments

    I'm surprised by the time it took to go through immigration in PEK. I flew out of PEK's Terminal 2 quite a number of times in the past and it was usually efficient.

    Airport lounges in Mainland China are a mixed bag. Some are pretty good and others are plain awful; you seemed to have the latter category. Good thing that you did not pay for it, though.

    Were there any explicit restrictions about taking pictures in flight? There is none on Chinese airlines as long as you do not use a smartphone for that, but this was Air Koryo of course.

    The chopper ride is great. How much did they charge for that ?

    I find most of your grades severe, especially PEK that I know well (OK, efficiency was below par that day, but what about the other criteria ?). I prefer "worn and comfortable" seats to "brand new and rock hard or cramped seats".

    Thanks for sharing !

    • Comment 369601 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      I've flown through PEK quite a few times too and it has rarely impressed me with its efficiency. In particular, the document and security check lines can be long. Perhaps I just generally fly during peak hours. My partner who is from Beijing doesn't like T2 either.

      So far, the best lounge for me at PEK is Air China's first class lounge in T3.

      I totally know that CAAC restriction all too well. I find it's not consistently imposed and odd that you can use an iPad instead to take photos. Air Koryo doesn't allow photos so the trick is to keep them from catching you. If they do, they just ask you to stop.

      For the chopper, you just book the whole thing for 1500 Euros and fill it up. It fits up to 10 tourists not including the minders and guides.

      My grades aren't necessary severe. I would put a 5 rating as purely average.

  • Comment 369594 by
    akivi GOLD 2524 Comments

    Thank you so much for this great report ; I don't know what was the most intereresting, the Tupolev or the helicopter cabin :) It's also the first time I see pictures of North Korean subway and roller coaster !

    • Comment 369602 by
      linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

      I agree, it's a toss up between the helicopter ride and Air Koryo.

      That roller coaster was thrilling. The whole experience of riding an old coaster in North Korea with North Koreans was just out of this world.

  • Comment 369681 by
    nico83et13 SILVER 2121 Comments

    Thank you So much for this report.

  • Comment 369687 by
    Thurya 78 Comments

    Thanks for the flight report and extras. Always excited to see trip reports to DPRK. MI-17 ride puts incing on the cake. LOL! They have installed a domestic A/C unit installed in that, I have seen some railway carriages with such units but this is the first time seeing one in an aircraft!

  • Comment 369927 by
    KévinDC TEAM SILVER 5219 Comments

    Thanks for another awesome report! How cool to get this glimpse into North Korea and what seems like Eastern Bloc aviation from another era. Despite the relatively young age of the aircraft, the whole experience is very retro, and of course that helicopter! What a great opportunity to get to take a ride in that MI-17! Oh my what an...interesting interior. I feel like there should be plastic covers on the furniture because it reminds me of a grandmother's house, haha. I love aerial shots and these are particularly interesting. I did not think Pyongyang was so big, but at the same time it seems overly built up and desolate--I mean, where are the people? It just seems so empty down there. It seems like the city was just built up for show but didn't quite hit the mark, like the gigantic empty monstrosity that is the Ryugyong Hotel. Anyway, thanks again for this inside look into DPRK aviation, simply awesome!

  • Comment 369947 by
    linard76 AUTHOR 32 Comments

    Thanks Kevin!

    The Mi-17's cabin definitely had a grandmotherly feel to it.

    Pyongyang is big and designed to be that way. Apparently they wanted the city to "feel" spacious with broad avenues, squares and imposing monuments. The only big crowds we did see were around Kim Il Sung Square for the celebrations.

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