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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Overall you really can’t fault Air Koryo that much (aside from the burger) and to be fair once you get to Korea, pretty much every piece of North Korean Food you have is a treat.
Gareth Johnson is the founder of Young Pioneer Tours, a published writer, and all round entrepreneur. He enjoys street food, and encourage others to get paid to travel the world.