Melissa's Flight Attendant Blog

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Name: Melissa

About Me

Countries Visited (not including Turnarounds): Australia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia & Herzegovina, Brazil, Canada, China, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ghana, Great Britain, Greece, Iceland, India, Italy, Japan, Kenya, Latvia, Libya, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Mauritius, Moldova, Monaco, Morocco, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Norway, North Korea, Philippines, Romania, Russia, Singapore, Senegal, Serbia, Seychelles, South Africa, South Korea, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sweden, Switzerland, Tanzania, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkey, Uganda, United Arab Emirates, United States, Vatican City

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Friday, August 24, 2012
Well I've just arrived from my short trip to North Korea, and honestly, there is no way I can describe the tour briefly, so what I've decided to do is write a series of posts on the trip, especially considering it is highly unlikely that I will ever fly there again (then again, Dubai is a twinned city with Pyongyang, so there is a 0.0001% chance this could change...) And taking into consideration the 'Avgeek' demographic likely to read this blog, I thought it was only fitting to start off with a post dedicated to Air Koryo, the national airline of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

Exterior of the Air Koryo Tupolev 204-300. I was on the same aircraft both into and out of Pyongyang

Boarding. Once we got off the airport bus everyone whipped out their cameras and took photos. Well not everyone - about 3/4 of the passengers.

Boarding the flight. With white gloves to stay classy.

If you weren't already aware, Air Koryo is the only airline currently rated as a 1 star airline by Skytrax, and has been for quite a few years. There are some things that they mention that I completely understand (the lack of a website, for example), but generally I had no problems flying with them. The toilets were clean, my luggage arrived in one piece, I had something to eat on both sectors - I've seen and heard of worse things happening on some low cost airlines.

The toilet pics I took on the Pyongyang-Beijing sector, and I cannot tell you all how glad I was to see toilet paper after a week of using squat toilets with no running water, soap, paper. Nothing. What I love even more is the bin is pedal-operated - I wish we had this on our airline...

Air Koryo Sick Bag

The food was surprisingly edible too, well on the trip to Pyongyang anyway.

This was the meal from Beijing-Pyongyang, which was actually provided by caterers in Beijing. There was a (stale) bread roll, cut fruit in syrup, cold chicken nuggets served with soy vermicelli, breaded trout, and the hot meal was a curried beef and potato dish with white rice.

The meal from Pyongyang-Beijing was a little less exciting, a sandwich made from a sugared bun with a lettuce leaf and a chicken mince patty. 

The in-flight entertainment on the Tupolev was the ceiling TV types, and it showed footage from the Korean Central Television channel. On the journey over it showed some documentary about foreign kids visiting the DPRK; on the way back it was showing karaoke. I was slightly disappointed that no one broke out into song.

So some of the things worth noting compared to what I read on Skytrax
  •  We were all mixed - the Westerners, the Chinese and the North Koreans were not separated into sections.
  • The flight attendants were all seated for take off and landing, though I have heard that on the Ilyushins the flight attendants have to stand in the galley holding onto handles for the critical phases of flight.
  • I have heard rumours of both operating pilots leaving the cockpit at the same time, and on the flight from Pyongyang to Beijing you could imagine my reaction when I saw, what looked like, both pilots walking through the cabin talking to passengers. There was a Chinese man in front of me and one of the 'pilots' spoke Mandarin, and it was only then that I saw on their ID that they were in fact cabin crew, to my relief. No wonder passengers get confused - the male cabin crew also wear stripes on their shoulders, 3 and 4 stripes, which would normally designate the First Officer and Captain respectively.

Up until the landing into Beijing I would have been the first to boast about feeling very safe flying with Air Koryo, however well into the descent stage the call bell went off in my row - I certainly didn't push it, and the guy in the window seat was asleep. The stewardess came over and asked what the call was for, we woke the guy up and he said it was a mistake. He still didn't move his elbow and the bell kept going off, so the stewardess kept coming up to our row to tell him to stop. This must have happened 5 times, and it wasn't until we were actually above Beijing Capital Airport (ie. you can see hangars, cross runway approach lights, the airport perimeter etc. from the windows) that she went back down to her seat. Surely if you know the call bell is a mistake the first 4 times you would simply remain seated for a crucial part of the flight and worry about your own safety rather than an annoying chime? At least for our airline we do a mental safety review for each landing and take off, I guess this is something they're still to adapt at Air Koryo.

Having said that, I was still pleasantly surprised with the airline. I honestly don't believe it would it be worthy of its reputation as the only 1 star airline in the world. 2 stars, maybe :-)

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