After years of being ranked by Skytrax as the world’s worst airline, North Korean flag carrier Air Koryo is undergoing a revolution, according to interviews with passengers and travel agents.
New planes, new inflight entertainment options, smart new uniforms for the crew - even business class. It’s all part of ‘supreme leader’ Kim Jong Un’s effort to boost tourist numbers 20-fold to 2 million by 2020.
Bloomberg News is offering 5 reasons to book your ticket now, before the thrill of flying the world’s only 1 star airline vanishes forever. After all, anyone can fly a mediocre airline, a truly terrible one is the stuff of great travel tales.
The Hermit Kingdom
Besides the masochistic joy of experiencing Air Koryo, the main draw for most travellers is to have a peek inside the world’s most isolated country. As Singaporean Mindy Tan put it after visiting last year: “I’m sick of all the same footage of marching, pictures of Kim. I just had to witness it for myself.”
And who wouldn’t want to watch 100,000 kids doing a synchronized dance, no doubt in honour of the supreme leader. There’s nothing creepy about that.
The in-flight entertainment
The communal screens that drop down from the ceiling will keep you entertained with propaganda broadcasts and concerts by supreme leader Kim Jong Un’s favourite all-female band, Moranbong, who sing patriotic songs about Kim Jong Un. By the way: bring noise-cancelling earphones. There’s no volume control.
You don’t often get tour agents who will arrange a trip to a country just to fly in its planes, but in North Korea this is possible. U.K. based Juche Travel Services offers an aviation-themed tour.
Air Koryo recently acquired 2 Russian-built Tupolev Tu-204s for international routes. But once in Pyongyang, you can hop into Soviet-era aircraft such as a Mil Mi-17 transport helicopter for a buzz over the capital or a view of the mountains.
While you may suffer the inconvenience of long lines and immigration hassles at your point of departure, once you arrive in the Democratic People’s Republic, it should be a breeze.
No longer do pax have to shuffle through the temporary shed that has been masquerading as an airport terminal for the past 5 years. There’s a sleek new building now, welcoming fewer than half a dozen international flights a day. The airport bus may deliver you on time to an almost deserted building. That might be worth the trip right there.
While the food, especially in the new business-class lounge, has improved, the most-photographed component of an Air Koryo trip remains the famous “mystery-meat” burger. “The burger has been going on for so many years, everyone’s making fun of it,” says Sam Chui, an aviation enthusiast who's flown Air Koryo about 20 times. Chui, who has eaten at least 10 of them. To put to rest the long-running dispute over the source of the protein, we contacted Air Koryo’s office in Beijing for clarification. The airline’s representatives didn’t respond.