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Inside North Korea's Air Koryo, the world's only '1 Star' airline

The only way to get to North Korea is through the government-owned airline – which isn’t quite as glamorous as some others.
Dec 20th 2011, 9:29 AM 6,686 10

With North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il gone, here’s a look at how one of the country’s state-owned businesses — one that was frequently viewed by the outside world — was run during his time.

It’s Air Koryo, and it’s the only airline in the world deemed bad enough to earn a 1-star rating from leading airline reviewer SkyTrax.

Why? Customers cited the strange experience on the flights, which include cordial but distant attendants, propaganda newspapers and state music. Oh, and then there’s the food, which reviewers say is anywhere between mediocre and nearly inedible.

Will things change now for Air Koryo now that North Korea’s in different hands?

We’ll have to wait and see, but for tourists heading into the country to see it with their own eyes, Air Koryo is one of the few airlines that actually goes to Pyongyang.

Its fleet of Russian-made planes fly out of Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang, and has flights to China, Russia and a few European countries, according to the Centre of Aviation.

Mark Fahey, a biomedical engineer from Australia, flew to Pyongyang on the notorious airline and put up some pictures on Flickr. Here’s what he, and a few others that decided to whip out their cameras while on other flights into the closed nation, saw on their trips.

There are a bunch of customer reviews on SkyTrax, and while many were dissatisfied with their trips, a few raved about their experience flying Air Koryo. Here’s an example from each side:

“Interesting to say the least. Outbound was oldest plane I have ever seen in my life (Il-62), and literally falling apart at the seams. Propaganda handed out, announcements regarding how this flight was made possible by the dear leader, etc. Return was same aircraft type, but much better shape. However, upon landing in Beijing, was quickly sweating due to no air conditioning. Not like you have much of a choice when flying to Pyongyang – snag Air China if you want a safe flight, but Air Koryo if you want the experience.”
- V. Forni (2009)

And here’s the most positive review:

“I flew Air Koryo as part of an organized tour in and out of DPRK, planes were new TU204s. The planes were clean and plenty of overhead luggage space, crew was pleasant and efficient, food okay for a short flight. The overall experience was better than some airlines with 2 and 3 star ratings.”
- Peter Sexton (2011)

Other North Korean photo galleries:

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