What It's Like To Fly On North Korea's 1-Star Airline

air koryo

Photo: By Mark Fahey on Flickr

Not many Westerners get to visit North Korea, and it’s a good bet most don’t realise the secluded country has its own airline.The airline, Air Koryo, is the only airline in the world deemed bad enough to earn a 1-star rating from leading airline reviewer SkyTrax.

Click here to jump to the photos >>

Why? Customers cited the strange experience on the flights, which include cordial but distant attendants, propaganda newspapers and state-approved music. There’s also the food, which looks nearly inedible.

Nonetheless, the airline hasn’t had any safety problems in years, and it functions quite well. While it is banned from flying in European Union air space, Air Koryo has regular international flights to Moscow, Vladivostok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore, and even Kuwait, according to the International Business Times.

And 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.

Mark F., a biomedical engineer from Australia, flew to Pyongyang on the notorious airline in August 2011 and put up some pictures on Flickr. Here’s what he, and a few others who decided to whip out their cameras while on other flights into the closed nation, saw on their trips.

Air Koryo has 1-star general ratings almost across the board from Skytrax. The in-flight magazine is halfway decent, apparently.

This is an Air Koryo Ilyushin Il-62 P-885, a version of the Il-62 that was originally designed in the 1960s.

Air Koryo also flies two Ukrainian-Russian An-148s; the first arrived in its fleet last month.

The safety instructions are in both English and Korean.

The attendants pass out a propaganda paper before getting off the ground. On this August 2011 flight, leader Kim Jong-il was on the front page.

They play revolutionary marching music to go with your Pyongyang Times before both take-off and landing, according to a Skytrax passenger review by Jason B.

The seatbelt sign is old school, but still gets the point across.

The air conditioning knobs look pretty normal, though also not too new.

To keep the droplets from bothering the passengers, flight attendants wipe the cabin down periodically — a process that Joseph F. caught on camera on his flight.

Some of Air Koryo's newer planes have flip down screens, like this one on Stefan K.'s flight.

Skytrax rates the food at 1-star for economy and 2-star for business class. Most reviewers say that it's edible, but nothing special.

Air Koryo hasn't had an incident since 2006, when a plane ran off a runway. It hasn't had any fatalities since 1983.

In 2011, you couldn't do much on Air Koryo's webpage, part of the government's site — you had to call or email a Hotmail address. But the government's site has been redesigned, and the Air Koryo page no longer works.

Overall, the airline has mixed reviews from travellers, though most are on the negative side.

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:

Not as lucky as the last writer here. Travelled on an ancient Ilyushin aircraft, and whilst happy to reach my destination, this is not an airline I would use again (no choice this time on my schedule to Pyongyang). This plane was not maintained well from the surface appearance in the cabin, and many seat mechanisms also were broken. Cabin staff had a fixed smile on boarding, and whilst they gave out a meal tray, they could not speak or understand English and appeared to rather poorly trained. Food was as expected I guess, but the quality was well below all Asian airlines I have ever flown, and think it was the cheapest meal ever sampled on a plane. -- Martin B., Germany, December 2012

And here's the most positive review:

Only flew internal flights (3 legs) on AN-24. Drinks (beer or cider) provided on the 2 longer legs. No IFE. FAs spoke reasonable English and were friendly. No safety demonstration and the overhead bins were just overhead shelves. I like the way you can push the empty seats all the way forward (so they lie flat), in a half-empty plane, it's a good option for more leg room! There is no choice flying domestic in DPRK but Air Koryo provided good entertainment. -- Phil B., Cambodia, August 2012

Now see another Asian air travel experience.

NOW WATCH: Executive Life videos

Business Insider Emails & Alerts

Site highlights each day to your inbox.

Follow Business Insider Australia on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.