When you are the inner circle of the tourist industry of one of the world’s least visited countries, then you are treated to the odd in-joke. One that does the rounds in the DPRK (North Korea) travel circles is that of the Air Koryo burger.
Who are Air Koryo?
Air Koryo, for the uninitiated, is the national flag carrier of Air Koryo, and are – officially, at least – the world’s only one-star airline. This seems, to me at least, awfully unfair; the planes are quite decent (if not a bit Soviet), the staff are friendly, they are largely on time, and most importantly they have a decent safety record.
Also, if you want to visit the DPRK then aside from Air Koryo your options are limited to the train from Beijing/Dandong, overland to Sinuiju, Rason, or the very unreliable Beijing – Pyongyang – Beijing Air China flight (also the most expensive). Therefore, if you travel to North Korea at regular intervals, Air Koryo is going to end up on your itinerary at some point.
What is it like to fly with Air Koryo?
So, what is it like to fly with Air Koryo? When you have a flight to North Korea your adventure starts as soon as you get to terminal 1 to drop your bags at the Air Koryo desk. Unlike most flights, where you will have very little idea what everyone else is doing, you can be fairly assured that every foreigner you see in the line is a tourist, and the Koreans are officials of some description. You will also probably be met by your tour guide. Aside from that, everything is fairly normal until you get onto the plane.
What planes do they use?
International flights tend to be on the Tupolev Tu 204-300. This might be Russian-made, but seems just like any other plane to be fair.
The stewardesses tend not to speak all that much English, but are always very helpful and pretty, which is nice.
Eating and drinking on Air Koryo
After all the safety mumbo-jumbo we’re then hit with the first port of call: the drinks trolley! Air Koryo certainly don’t reinvent the wheel with this, with choices being water, a local cream-soda-type drink, and the ever enjoyable Taedonggang beer! Not an extensive menu, but it very much does the trick.
The Mystery Burger
Dining onboard? You cannot talk about dining on Air Koryo without talking about the legendary Air Koryo Burger. The burger has gained infamy as a greasy burger of unknown provenance served in a dubious bun. It tends not to be served that much now, but it’s still quite famous. I once ate two in one sitting; I did not feel great.
Nowadays they apparently even serve a vegetarian version, although that consists pretty much of the bun, some veggies and just no meat. In actual fact the burger is pork, rather than “mystery”. And whilst not exactly a Big Mac, is not all that bad.
What is it ike to fly and eat with Air Koryo?
Overall you really can’t fault Air Koryo that much even taking into account the infamous burger. When you get to North Korea you are almost spoiled for choice when it comes to food. DPRK cuisine truly is amazing.
To read about the best North Korean foods click here
To read about North Korean Street Food click here
And in all honesty it is a two hour flight. I have taken many a domestic Chinese flight of longer than two hours where the food was non-existent, or atrocious. Sadly there is no first class lounge at Pyongyang International Airport.