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Flying Home For the Holidays?
December 20, 2011 8:58 AM   Subscribe

Inside Air Koryo official website The world's only 1 star airline. 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.

For SkyTrax reviews, click here.

It is certainly not surprising that Air Koryo has once again been banned from the skies of Europe – specifically the European Union. (As of January 2010)

And if none of you is deterred by the above, here's the official website where you can get booking information.
posted by Ruthless Bunny (51 comments total) 5 users marked this as a favorite

 
It may be one star, but that star is red. Under Juche, one star is all you need.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


Given that North Korea was facing mass starvation at one point in time, I'm kind of surprised that the airline even provides food.
posted by asnider at 9:03 AM on December 20, 2011


Only 1-star airline?

Air Transat, the gauntlet has been thrown. You can do this -- I believe in you!
posted by Capt. Renault at 9:06 AM on December 20, 2011 [6 favorites]


isup.me:

It's not just you! http://www.korea-dpr.com looks down from here.
posted by Mister Fabulous at 9:08 AM on December 20, 2011


If your biggest complaint about your airline is the food and service, life's not so bad. Drunk pilots, broken aircraft, running out of gas halfway to the destination and taking up a collection from passengers for fuel.. Those are things worth worrying about.

Also, Business Insider is often a terrible source for journalism. Here's the link to Mark Fahey's Flickr set on North Korea they screwed up.
posted by Nelson at 9:14 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I dunno, looking at the pictures, it's at least cleaner than the last Continental flight I endured.

(Srsly: the "Elite Access" carpet at the gate at LAX was so filthy its logo was nearly illegible. And I'm pretty sure I'd prefer free Korean propaganda videos to paying for the privilege of watching Two and a Half Men and According to Jim reruns.)
posted by gompa at 9:16 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Doesn't look so bad to me. Why only one star?

Of course I've had an air conditioning unit fall on my head, and watched the flight attendants secure it again with duck tape, and I still fly that airline frequently, so what do I know?

And gasp! propaganda leaflets hardly seem the worst - or least common - part of the flying experience. Ever seen the tourist videos they play on many international flights?
posted by tavegyl at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


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

No. Why would it? Unless some committee gets its communal panties in a twist over the thankless job of running an airline, expect status quo.

Remember, this airline exists so select citizens can actually come and go. It's not like many other airlines are getting in line, or are allowed to, service North Korea.

Why would they care what "SkyTrax" thinks?
posted by clvrmnky at 9:18 AM on December 20, 2011


I'll start paying attention to the quality of a country's passenger air service if and when said country's citizens are allowed to have passports. Sorry, not sure I have the energy for any more NK-KJI jokes'n'jabs after the obit thread.

But hey, at least Koryo was awarded a ranking. Could be worse.
posted by obscurator at 9:27 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


I figure it's about on par with United.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:31 AM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


obscurator: "But hey, at least Koryo was awarded a ranking. Could be worse."

Albanian Airlines' licence to operate was revoked last month.
posted by vanar sena at 9:37 AM on December 20, 2011


Related: The list of air carriers banned in the European Union is a blacklist which includes airlines from countries with safety concerns due to alleged poor maintenance and regulatory oversight standards on the part of the EU, preventing them from entering the airspace of any member state.

Air Koryo is only one of 30 carriers/countries banned from entering the airspace of EU member states. They cannot fly above the EU, more or less.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:38 AM on December 20, 2011


Flying Home For the Holidays?

If you lived in North Korea, you'd be home right now.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


Hm, guess my "could be worse" still stands. I'll have to adjust my Balkan travel plans accordingly..
posted by obscurator at 9:39 AM on December 20, 2011


You know, I wasn't really nervous about the transition of power after Kim Jong Il died until negative articles about North Korea started popping up all over the place.

I mean, I know North Korea is a terrible place; I just have to wonder if we're being prepped for something.
posted by MrVisible at 9:44 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


It takes a certain kind of special to put large, business (they look more like first) class seats on a state owned airline for a communist nation.
posted by Slackermagee at 9:49 AM on December 20, 2011


Eh, they haven't had a fatality for 18 years. You could do worse, like drive a car.
posted by eugenen at 9:50 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


I flew Air Koryo in 2005; Beijing to Pyongyang. (Took the train back.)

I thought the food was actually pretty decent; there was a massive meal of several small cold dishes, in the Korean style. It was one of the better meals I had on my trip -- North Korea is not a culinary destination, but when they have such general shortages, there's not exactly a lot of room for complaint. And it's surprising to have a meal on such a short-haul flight.

The overhead compartments were all open mesh, which was odd; sort of like on some intercity buses in some parts of the world. The front part of the plane was full of KPA officers, and I remember they stowed their hats in the overhead compartments, so it was this sort of odd look of the hats hovering above the heads. The seats weren't great, but I'm a big dude, so airplane seats never agree with me.

I tried to take a picture of the seat card -- I had a coworker who collected them -- and was the first person in my group to get admonished for taking an unauthorized photo, to my shame. The seat card was great, because as we took off I realized that not only were we in an old Tupolev, the emergency information card was from an Antonov. And not just that, we were in a rear-engined jet, the emergency information was for a wing-engined plane. Like people weren't supposed to notice?

Turns out there's a lot of stuff in North Korea people aren't supposed to notice.

My favourite part of the trip was once we got to Pyongyang, after the shock of an airport with a giant picture of Kim Il Sung reminds you you're not in Kansas anymore. Our plane had three main groups; my tour group, the soldiers, and a group of American Koreans on some sort of family visit thing. One of the Americans must have left their book on the plane, perhaps because they didn't want to bring literature into the country. (The DPRK folks didn't seem to care, since it's not like anyone there speaks English.) So we had the bizarre spectacle of an Air Koryo flight attendant, walking through the crowd in the airport waiting to enter the country, holding up Hillary Clinton's autobiography, like it was a new Little Red Book.

I figure it's about on par with United.
Way better than United. I think that ideology may be crowding some people's judgment on the quality of the service. (Or it may have gone downhill in recent years, I suppose.)
posted by Homeboy Trouble at 9:51 AM on December 20, 2011 [28 favorites]


You weren't paying attention, MrVisible. North Korea really is a horrible, horrible place. I just read this 2008 article by one of Kim Jong-Il's former students, where he details how Kim blew up his former school, how the author's friends participated in exiling people from Pyongyang for being too short, how a different set of the author's friends helped plan a terrorist bombing of South Korean leaders in Burma. Oh, and how the author's own family was murdered in a gulag when he left the country.

These stories aren't some dodgy made up case for invading Iraq. People are still starving to death in North Korea, and being murdered, and living horrible, limited lives because of the insane dictatorship. It's a very dangerous time now with the transition. It seems everyone is hoping Kim Jung-Un does take over, because that's at least predictable misery, but we don't really know.
posted by Nelson at 9:51 AM on December 20, 2011 [5 favorites]


I mean, I know North Korea is a terrible place; I just have to wonder if we're being prepped for something.

CNN reporting on the Economist Intelligent Unit's annual Democracy Index rankings strikes you as a sinister piece of political manipulation of the media?

Man, we do live in paranoid times.
posted by yoink at 9:52 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


A friend of mine was in Africa a few years ago, supporting some Christian missionaries in Chad and Sudan. He said the "airport" in Chad was a real experience. It was just a runway, large enough to land a small jetliner on, but there was no terminal. The runway was surrounded by brush - as they waited for the plane, there was almost nobody in sight. When the plane landed, a horde of men in turbans and robes emerged from hiding and swarmed the plane.

Security consisted of a large wheeled plastic bin. The airline crew insisted that everyone put their weapons in the bin. Pretty much everyone had at least a rifle, there were several AK-47s, and a coupe of guys even had swords - despite arguing about it, the airline still made them put the swords in the bin.

Once on the aircraft and seated, the fellow across the aisle from my friend appeared to have never been on an airplane before. He was busy examining his seat controls, the window, everything. Then he opened the magazine holder on the seat in front of him, peered in, hawked a large wad of spit into it, and closed it. How convenient.

So yeah, Air Koryo doesn't sound so bad.
posted by Xoebe at 9:54 AM on December 20, 2011 [13 favorites]


I've heard really bad stories about Royal Air Maroc domestic flights. The international flight I took was fine though, although they did give me a kosher meal and I'm not sure who was more confused, me or the stewardess.
posted by smackfu at 9:56 AM on December 20, 2011


Wow, and I thought the Aeroflot flight I had in 1992 was bad where we were sitting on the tarmac in Ireland, watching the mechanic duct taping the wing.
posted by Leezie at 9:58 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are some hilarious segments in The Sex Lives of Cannibals about the author's experiences with Air Kiribati, though their website looks downright spiffy alongside the likes of Air Koryo.
posted by jquinby at 10:04 AM on December 20, 2011


Given that North Korea was facing mass starvation at one point in time, I'm kind of surprised that the airline even provides food.

Yeah, that is in bad taste.
posted by Leezie at 10:06 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


The problem with airline ratings is that they seldom rate specific links. British Air from Johannesburg to Victoria was one of the worst flights I've ever taken, and I've heard the same from others. The food still haunts my nightmares...
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 10:11 AM on December 20, 2011


Nelson, what a heartbreaking article. Thanks for posting it.
posted by orrnyereg at 10:12 AM on December 20, 2011


Maybe I'm making an extreme interpretation of what we know of North Korea, but I'm of the opinion that visiting the country for the purpose of tourism, whether it be under the guise of "journalism", is akin to visiting a concentration camp for the day to see what interesting things the inmates are up to and then going home bragging about how you visited Auschwitz.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:13 AM on December 20, 2011


I'd take some propaganda and bad food over flying Royal Jordanian Air from Bangkok to Aman under, almost literally, a pile of sleeping Jordanians.
posted by cmoj at 10:15 AM on December 20, 2011


Some designer with more time and ability that myself should mock up the Air Koryo Loyalty Program website. Also, no one's created a fake "Air Koryo PR" account on Twitter yet?
posted by These Premises Are Alarmed at 10:18 AM on December 20, 2011


Wow, and I thought the Aeroflot flight I had in 1992 was bad where we were sitting on the tarmac in Ireland, watching the mechanic duct taping the wing.

Not to defend Aeroflot, who did have a pretty crappy safety record, but that was speed tape, not duct tape, and it's used by all airlines for minor repairs.
posted by yoink at 10:19 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


> [i] Customers cited the strange experience on the flights, which include cordial but distant attendants, propaganda newspapers and state music. There's also the food, which many reviewers say is mediocre, but some claim that it's nearly inedible.[/i]

At least you get food and the attendants are cordial. Otherwise there's not much discernable difference between this and the typical domestic US flight, in which at the beginning and end of the flight you'll be pumped to sign up for the frequent flyer program and branded credit card, be unable to kill the sound or display of the commercials on the seatback TVs for automobiles you don't want to buy, and the only reading matter is the in-flight magazine telling you where to fly next and the SkyMall catalog.
posted by ardgedee at 10:31 AM on December 20, 2011


People seem to think that the reason the airline is banned from the EU is because of its customer service issues. It's because of safety issues. Read the "it's certainly not surprising" link in the FPP. The EU doesn't care if you have crappy food and crappy service--that's practically the advertising slogan of discount airlines like RyanAir and EuroJet.
posted by yoink at 10:37 AM on December 20, 2011


you'll be pumped

I hope they really derive revenue from this approach. How awesome is it that an semi-competent air crew can hardly be arsed to serve a [plastic] cupful of warm water without threatening a passenger or two yet they seem so happy and confident as they strut up and down the aisle pestering the onlooker with their credit card application forms?

And someone in management please tell the purser to STFU and GBTW. Nobody wants to listen to a stranger recite their resume over the PA system. Specially when it's interrupting in the in-flight modified for your screen and sensibilities shit Hollywood movie.
posted by jsavimbi at 10:41 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


This sentence from the reviews made me chuckle: "We were advised that there was no Business Class - there was and for most of us this would have been the preferred option."
posted by El Sabor Asiatico at 10:57 AM on December 20, 2011


and the only reading matter is the in-flight magazine telling you where to fly next and the SkyMall catalog.

I love SkyMall! I would never buy a single thing in it, but it's an amazing document of "shit I never knew existed."
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 10:57 AM on December 20, 2011 [3 favorites]


the only airline in the world deemed bad enough to earn a 1-star rating

Yet what's interesting is that the large majority of the reviews - which don't seem to be written by propagandists - say it's actually pretty good, or at least, not bad. Not quite sure how that squares with this post's framing...
posted by Hartham's Hugging Robots at 11:26 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yet what's interesting is that the large majority of the reviews - which don't seem to be written by propagandists - say it's actually pretty good, or at least, not bad. Not quite sure how that squares with this post's framing...

From the airlinequality.com website:
Rankings do not have any association with trip reports / traveller assessments you will find in the other consumer reviews / areas of SKYTRAX web site
Again, their 1-star ranking is largely unrelated to their customer service.
posted by yoink at 11:34 AM on December 20, 2011


I just read this 2008 article by one of Kim Jong-Il's former students...

This is still one of my favorite reads about North Korea (and it still makes me cry). You'll forgive my urge to correct your typo, I hope: Kim Jong Il was Kim Hyun Sik's former student, and the article might be what cemented my impression of Kim Jong Il not as a bloodthirsty tyrant, but as a spoiled child, who was simply never denied anything.
posted by byanyothername at 11:36 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Wow, and I thought the Aeroflot flight I had in 1992 was bad where we were sitting on the tarmac in Ireland, watching the mechanic duct taping the wing.

Not to defend Aeroflot, who did have a pretty crappy safety record, but that was speed tape, not duct tape, and it's used by all airlines for minor repairs.


Thanks for this. It makes me feel a lot better (although, it does lessen the OMG quality of the story. Can I still take a little poetic license?)
posted by Leezie at 11:44 AM on December 20, 2011


I love SkyMall! I would never buy a single thing in it, but it's an amazing document of "shit I never knew existed."

Seconded.

And it goes beyond that. Deeper. Broader. Preposterouser. Like: not only did I not know this existed, I find it hard to imagine how it came to exist. I mean just how in the hell? Like the Brobdingnagian sports chair - who decided that was not just a sight gag but a product? Who actually commissions the manufacture and then overseas design and production and shipping and stacks those things in a warehouse somewhere thinking, Soon my friends, soon indeed the orders will start rolling in! Who wouldn't pay the low low price of a hundred and fifty bucks for a sight gag?

Even more discombobulating is trying to imagine who actually would buy one of those things and use it. That's some Kim Jong-Illin' scale delusional self-indulgence right there.

(See how I brought that full circle? The Brobdingnagian sports chair - it's the North Korean despot's vanity project of SkyMall products.)
posted by gompa at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


It is a well-known open secret of the publishing industry that Sky Mall is a sister publication of The Onion. Fact!
posted by cstross at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


And it goes beyond that. Deeper. Broader. Preposterouser.

Do you mean to say that I'm being incepted by SkyMall? Let's check:

Easter Island Moai Garden Sculpture


It's all true!
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2011


Don't know the airline, maybe Uzbek Air? Late 90s, Bishkek - Tashkent.

Yak-42, load through the tail. No reservations it is "festival seating" style. So everyone crowds and elbows to get the "good seats" (spoiler: there are no good seats).

There is no checked luggage. Well, there is, but the luggage you checked was just pawed and rooted through by the baggage handlers and then dumped on the tarmac beside the plane. You have to grab your suitcase and bring it on with you.

There is evidence of maintenance! As you board, you see at the back of the cabin the oily wooden tool caddy typical of Soviet engineering. Contents: a huge sledgehammer, a crowbar, cold chisel, various screwdrivers. One big plumbers wrench.

Everything that is plastic in the cabin is broken or gone. My seat is missing a couple of bolts, only my weight is keeping it firmly in place on the floor. It would be hard to tighten these small bolts with that huge wrench, I am thinking. Easier to throw them out if they come loose.

Because of the baggage procedures there is not enough room in the cabin. There are standees, with their suitcases (i.e., cardboard boxes) in their seats because there is no other place for them.

The stewardess / kapo boards after the passengers. Her job is to scream and berate, and through sheer force of will make the cabin big enough for all of us to sit down.. No matter how loudly she rages, she cannot alter the cabin dimensions.

The pilots are on last, pushing to the front of the plane like people trying to get out of a packed theatre - pardon me, excuse me, pardon me... climbing over piles of luggage.

My seatmate was a shepherd. I did not need to ask him, the odour left no doubt at all in my mind. I have met goats who smelled less goaty than him.

Other than that it was a good flight.
posted by Meatbomb at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2011 [23 favorites]


Metafilter: I did not need to ask him, the odour left no doubt at all in my mind.

Meatbomb joins the long list of people for whom I would like to buy several drinks in exchange for an evening of stories, profane and otherwise.
posted by jquinby at 12:23 PM on December 20, 2011 [2 favorites]


Don't know the airline, maybe Uzbek Air? Late 90s, Bishkek - Tashkent.

I see the airlines serving the outskirts of former Soviet Union haven't changed all that much since they were Aeroflot in Soviet times, or if they did, it was mostly for the worse. In 1984 I flew from Samarkand to Tashkent to Baku if memory serves and my experience was only marginally better with "No smoking" sign falling off and overhead baggage dropping on our heads from time to time. I heard at the time that Soviet regional commuter connections in the far East were pretty much as you describe - like a flying Andean bus.
posted by hat_eater at 12:36 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Pfft. In Iran because of sanctions those Sukhov's and Topalov's don't even have replacement parts! But they still fly!

This year, a pilot successfully managed a landing with only two functioning wheels.
posted by stratastar at 12:43 PM on December 20, 2011 [1 favorite]


Other than that it was a good flight.

while reading this entire comment my mind automatically removed all the articles and then converted it into a russian accent.
posted by elizardbits at 1:02 PM on December 20, 2011


Meatbomb: "My seat is missing a couple of bolts, only my weight is keeping it firmly in place on the floor."

Heck, I've had that experience with Cathay Pacific, on one of my many Hong Kong-Taibei flights. Very crowded, and it looked like there wasn't much securing the seats to the floor besides faith and grease. Not the rest of it, though; Cathay Pacific was remarkably un-goaty, and I should be grateful for that.
posted by jiawen at 2:37 PM on December 20, 2011


My seatmate was a shepherd. I did not need to ask him, the odour left no doubt at all in my mind. I have met goats who smelled less goaty than him.

Perchance he was a goatherd then?
posted by HiroProtagonist at 5:59 PM on December 20, 2011 [4 favorites]


you can tell by the presence/absence of yodeling.
posted by elizardbits at 9:13 AM on December 21, 2011


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