Air China Resumes Flights To North Korea (With One Day Notice)

Filed Under: Air China

Last November Air China abruptly canceled flights between Beijing, China, and Pyongyang, North Korea. Air China was the only foreign airline flying to North Korea at the time, and they canceled their flight with very little notice. They claimed the route cancelation was due to lack of demand, though reading between the lines it sure seems like it may have been a political move, given growing tensions with North Korea.

Now with just one day notice, Air China has announced that they’re resuming flights to Pyongyang. An Air China representative told Reuters that the resumption was due to “market reasons.”

The new flight will operate 3x weekly (on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays) with the following schedule:

CA121 Beijing to Pyongyang departing 1:25PM arriving 4:20PM
CA122 Pyongyang to Beijing departing 5:20PM arriving 6:15PM

Air China will use a Boeing 737-700 for the short 487 mile flight.

What I find most interesting here is that just as the airline canceled the flight without any notice, they’re also resuming the flight with virtually no notice. The route is being announced a day before it’s launching. While I can’t access the seatmap for tomorrow’s flight, here’s what the seatmap for Friday’s flight looks like (the seats with an “x” are blocked, not occupied):

While Air China operated their flight to Pyongyang year-round last year, prior to that the route was largely only seasonal, at least dating back as far as 2008. So as such it’s not surprising to see the route resumed around summer, though it once again seems like the resumption may be political, as no route will ever be resumed with one day notice if the intention is to maximize profits.

Relations between China and North Korea have been getting better recently, given the meetings between the countries’ two leaders in recent months. That doesn’t necessarily mean that the route is being resumed for political reasons, though I do still find the whole concept of brigning back a route with one day notice to be interesting.

What do you make of Air China returning to North Korea?

  1. Anyone who thinks this is due to “market reasons” is delusional. Obviously their PR folks aren’t going to straight out say, “we’re restarting this flight as a sign that the PRC wholeheartedly supports the DPRK in their upcoming negotiations.”

  2. And U.S. airlines complain about Middle Eastern airlines receiving subsidies. United partner Air China is controlled by the communist Chinese regime and is a direct extension of its foreign ministry. No 100% privately-run airline could have resumed flights that quickly. Obviously, someone in the Politburo told Air China to get the flights going ASAP.

  3. Yea cuz these flights have ZERO business reason for existing and are purely there (or gone again) for political reasons. Thus no need to plan/pre-announce anything.

  4. Great! Now I should be able to redeem miles for my next visit in november. Looking forward going back.

  5. Interesting anecdote – when I was running the airport in Mogadishu, we once had a pair of passengers with Somali passports who were flying MGQ-JIB-IST-PVG-PEK-FNJ on a single TK/CA ticket and using the 24-hour Chinese TWOV concession.

    Quite probably the only time anyone has ever used the Chinese TWOV to fly between Mogadishu and Pyongyang. And the only single alliance routing between the two cities.

  6. To anyone looking to redeem miles on this flight, it’s explicitly not allowed in the Mileageplus terms.

    IDK about other *A airlines though.

  7. That’s me in 20J.

    Great story Sean. What do you think those two Somalis were doing in North Korea??

  8. Now if only the US govt would return to Americans the freedom to travel! North Korea gets at least 10 times more Chinese tourist than westerners and the summer season is by far the busiest so this probably does make business sense.
    Even if could redeem miles, it would be nearly impossible given that you have to book a tour through an approved agency.
    In any case who would not prefer to fly Air Koryo. I flew from Beijing and departed to Vladivostok.

  9. @Cmorgan I know someone that actually did a tour in the North. I heard it was interesting, but you have to be careful and not do stupid stuff.

  10. @mike I doubt we will see a review only because US citizens are explicitly banned from visiting NK. Oh wait. Maybe James could visit.

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