FASCINATING: Review Of The World’s 1-Star Airline, Air Koryo!

Filed Under: Other Airlines

Skytrax ranks Air Koryo, the national airline of North Korea, as the world’s worst airline. It’s the only airline to get a 1-star rating, though in fairness Skytrax doesn’t rate all airlines. So while I think Skytrax generally gets airline ratings right, I don’t think 5-star equals “world’s best airline” and 1-star equals “world’s worst airline.” Instead I think it’s safe to assume a 5-star carrier is pretty darn good, and a 1-star airline is pretty darn not good.

My friend Sam Chui is one of the biggest plane geeks I know. While I love planes, Sam loves planes. The older and more obscure the plane, the more Sam wants to fly it. That’s why I took special interest in his recent trip to North Korea to attend the Wonson Air Festival, which is the first ever air festival in North Korea.

He wrote a fascinating trip report about his flight from Beijing to Pyongyang on Air Koryo, the air festival itself, and then a review of the airport’s new terminal and lounge. Here are the installments:

If you have the time, I highly recommend reading all three installments.

Business class on the Tupolev 204 he flew actually looks quite good, as does the service.


It’s interesting that they’ve changed uniforms at the airline a couple of years ago:

Air Koryo have a uniform change since 2014 with the advice from great leader Kim Jong-Un, they’ve done away with the red jacket


Kim Jong Un really seems to be an airplane geek. When he’s not flying the Antonov An-148, he’s advising the airline on uniform changes!

The new terminal and lounge in Pyongyang look quite decent as well.


What a fascinating review!

  1. hah true @keitherson it does look better than AA’s domestic product, I don’t understand how most american carrier’s domestic products are so worn/drab considering domestic fares are by percentage a lot more expensive than international flights

  2. FAs are dressed too casually now. That FA in the pic looks like she should be sipping sangria on a patio somewhere. Come on Air Koryo, what happened to professionalism?

  3. I”ve always suspected that 1 Star Rating had to do more with Politics than reality. It truly doesn’t look bad at all, certainly better than the low-cost Carriers in the US and Europe.

  4. Air Koryo does not allow photography on their flights.

    They made an exception for Sam, and what you’re reading is a perfect example of North Korea putting on a show.

  5. I’ve actually flew Air Koryo several times from Beijing to Pyongyang in economy. It’s certainly way better than most carriers in the US. I think the Skytrax 1 star most has something to do with its somewhat limited route network and outdated aircraft, but definitely not comfort, seat width or service.

  6. I was surprised at the photos. There are others in the background with big cameras as well. It would hardly be shocking to discover they put on their best show for Westerners. I know groups going with tours are told strictly when and when NOT to take pictures. And with reports of starvation in the countryside I wonder what it took to get that canned apricot and pineapples there?

  7. @ keitherson — Definitely looks better than the crap I flew yesterday ATL-DFW-SFO. The legacy US A320 seat on the ATL-DFW segment was the most unconformable first class seat I have ever sat in (and I have flown well over 1,000 segments in domestic first class, so that is saying a lot). If the flight had been one that was scheduled for 4+ hours, I would have deplaned and asked for a refund. It was only two hours, so with a couple of blankets to fill the collapsing, ancient seat cushion, I tolerated it. The crew on this segment was excellent, although the hard product is a total piece of garbage.

    The seat on the DFW-SFO segment was also uncomfortable, but only because it barely reclined (reminds me of AS’s horrible F seats). I think our FA must have issues (to put in nicely) because it took her about an hour to serve 16 drinks in first class. She was pleasant enough, but something was not quite right.

    After my experience yesterday, I will never complain about legacy AA equipment again, and I do not regret my decision to mostly stop flying AA. Too bad we still have 3 million + AA miles to burn and that most of them will likely be for similar domestic crap.

  8. I’ve flown Air Koryo in economy, PEK-FNJ and FNJ-PEK. The Skytrax rating is a joke. They were easily better than RyanAir and Spirit which somehow have two stars.

  9. The author is a guy who has been to the DPRK multiple times and seems to be leading tours there. He knows what to say in order to keep his access. I don’t think I have ever read a review of Farnborough or Paris that was as positive as this review. It is not a problem but represents a clear bias that was not disclosed.

  10. I’ve flown Air Koryo several times. They’re a fine airline. Considering that the typical flight lasts about 90 minutes, you have to set the right expectations anyway – they’re not going to serve caviar. The one star rating is absurd, they do a fine job and operate modern aircraft internationally. (Although I loved to fly the Tu-154 back in the day.)

    Incidentally Air Koryo is more reliable than Air China, which tends to cancel flights on a regular basis.

    The linked blog post says: “While I didn’t stay long in the lounge but it is certainly a huge improvement in Pyongyang. (There was never a lounge in the past).” That’s technically incorrect, there used to be a lounge in the old airport. But there wasn’t one in the temporary terminal that was in operation for 5+ years.

    I’m hoping to use the new airport very soon.

  11. @Dave – why is it that when someone likes something it’s “bias.” The dude likes vintage aviation and unique planes. I’ve read plenty of his other reviews as well. Sam Chui is an asset to the avgeek community. You should read about his recent “bias” towards private jets. Clearly on the take with Hawker (and air koryo) by your flawed logic.

    @Dave -are you biased towards sunny days? Biased towards pizza? Biased towards puppies, heaven forbid?

    Dave might have more in common with North Korea than most.

  12. Wow, all the nice things about AIr Koryo that this piece began with! Impressive. But then I wised up when Sam made reference to the “Great Leader” Kim . . . . I stopped reading immediately and jumped to the comments, as I knew at that point that this was just a fawning propaganda piece. Please, please don’t post any more links to Mr. Sam’s “fascinating” reviews. Thanks.

  13. That’s by all standards 3* atleast. Or, you should downgrade most other airlines to 0.3*..

  14. seems your good friend has been brain washed. How can one describe North Korea as an charming and well established country?

  15. John – I’m not sure why Skytrax would have such a keen interest in politics that they’d specifically break their rating system and lie about a North Korean airline that the majority of the planet have never heard of. Or why they single out North Korea and not the numerous other oppressive regimes.

  16. Crack a book. “Great Leader” is not a term of approbation. It is the title of the office of the ruler of North Korea. Just like the name of the country is the “Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.” He isn’t “great” and the country isn’t “Democratic.” You might not like England, but the leader is still known as the “Queen.”

  17. If you’ve read the comments above, most people posting negative comments are the ones who’ve never flown the airline or been to North Korea. US mainstream media brain wash is sometimes sad.

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