North Korean state airline named world’s worst

Passengers board an Air Koryo plane at Pyongyang International Airport, North Korea. Picture: AP
Passengers board an Air Koryo plane at Pyongyang International Airport, North Korea. Picture: AP
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NORTH Korea’s “quirky” state airline has been named worst airline in the world for the fourth year in a row.

The airline enforces a no-photography rule which, if ignored by a passenger, could prompt a flight attendant to take the camera and delete the pictures.

Crumpling up a newspaper bearing the image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un can also earn travellers a stern lecture, or worse.

Air Koryo is the only carrier to have been awarded just one star in rankings released recently by the UK-based SkyTrax consultancy agency.

More than 180 airlines are included in the five-star ranking system, which is widely considered the global benchmark of airline standards.

Some experts and frequent Air Koryo passengers disagree with the “world’s worst” title. The airline is a definitely a unique ride, but fairly reliable, they say. The SkyTrax ratings are focused on service and not safety.

“It’s a bit of a giggle, actually. They are clearly not the world’s worst airline,” said Simon Cockerell, of the Koryo Group, a Beijing-based travel agency that specialises in North Korea. The agency has no relation to Air Koryo, though Mr Cockerell and his clients often fly on the airline.

He said Air Koryo’s weaknesses tended to be the kind of thing SkyTrax focuses on: cabin attendants tend not to speak foreign languages very well, there is no in-flight magazine, the meals aren’t going to win any awards and, on older planes, condensation from cooling systems tended to drip on passengers.

“It’s not Emirates,” he said, referring to Dubai’s Emirates Airlines, a four-star according to SkyTrax. “It’s not quite the flying experience people are used to.”

In-flight entertainment is usually limited to the popular Moranbong girl group singing patriotic odes to their leader, or North Korean cartoons, shown on drop-down screens attached to the cabin ceilings. On the less than two-hour hop from Beijing, there is a meal of sorts. It resembles a hamburger.

But Air Koryo isn’t what it used to be.

Its four-plane fleet of aircraft used on international flights is surprisingly new - acquired in 2008. Lax practices, like not announcing when the plane was about to land or skipping the safety demonstrations before take off, were fixed long ago.

The new airport terminal, a vast improvement over the temporary, warehouse-like building used until recently, provides a business-class lounge.

Air Koryo’s only regular international destinations are Beijing, Shanghai and Shenyang in China, and Vladivostok in Russia.

The only known fatal accident it suffered was in 1983 when the airline was still named CAAK.