According to global airline ranking site Skytrax, there is but a solitary one-star carrier
in the world. No, it's not American Airlines
(NYSE:AMR) or Southwest
(NYSE:LUV). It's North Korea’s Air Koryo.
While Air Malawi, Sudan Airways, and Turkmenistan Airlines rest comfortably in the two-star category, the star awarded the North Korean flag carrier “represents
a very poor Quality performance -- falling below the industry average in the different competitive rankings of Product and Service standards,” according to Skytrax.
So, what does a barely functioning airline like Air Koryo need most? A barely functioning website, what else?
North Koreans themselves won’t have access to the site, of course -- the country doesn’t allow the citizenry to access to the Internet. For now, reports NK News
, only foreign travelers will be able to book flights between Pyongyang and Air Koryo’s three destinations -- Beijing, Shenyang, and Vladivostok.
Or will they?
From NK news:
But while the new online booking system might come as welcome news for some, tests conducted by NK News reveal no flights currently available for booking, even on days they are known to exist. To make things worse, even if tickets will ever be available, credit card payments are currently not possible, with would-be passengers required to make cumbersome deposits using the international wire transfer system.
And here’s North Korea expert Dr. Leonid Petrov:
North Korea's Cruise Ship
The new Air Koryo web site remains as dysfunctional as the rest of North Korean economy….Clearly, this web site is created with the purpose to impress the people who have never thought of traveling to Pyongyang. Those who have been to North Korea know that booking a ticket with Air Koryo is the easiest part of such trip: obtaining the DPRK visa is the real challenge. But even accredited diplomats and regular business travelers, who are welcome in Pyongyang and have open visas, will not find this new website particularly useful because it is not accessible from South Korea, it functions like a primitive database of flights but does not book anything, and nobody would feel safe to entrust his or her personal information to it.
North Korea has been forging ahead, full steam, on bringing its tourism sector into the 21st century. Unfortunately, missteps have largely taken the place of momentum.
As we reported
last year, the vacation for those willing to forgo the usual cruise ship amenities -- working toilets, valid insurance, a captain with an internationally recognized license – had finally arrived.
Yes, the first-ever North Korean cruise set sail from "the rundown northeastern port city of Rajin to the scenic resort of Mount Kumgang," according to France 24. The Associated Press, which recently opened its first bureau in Pyongyang
, reported that "Some 500 North Koreans, about half dressed in dark workers' clothes and the others in office and traditional attire, waved off the ship in a choreographed performance on the potholed dock."
From the looks of things, the spectators on hand to bid the tourists bon voyage, were equally as thrilled as the foreign journalists invited along must have been:
"It's either this or a labor camp."
Reporters bask in the luxurious on-board accommodations
The ship itself is called the Mangyongbong-92, which was built in 1992
to celebrate "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung's 80th birthday, and was described
by the Telegraph
as boasting "rusty portholes and musty cabins," serving "simple meals... cafeteria-style on metal trays."
The Jakarta Globe
's Marianne Barriaux, who was along for the ride, wrote that
"the bathrooms on the lower decks [were] out of water" and "when available, was brown."
Not to worry -- guests could simply take their minds off things with a little on-board karaoke:
Before it was pressed into passenger service, the vessel was used for "trafficking drugs, counterfeit money and other contraband goods," points out DPRK expert Curtis Melvin of NK Econ Watch
Oh, and Sony
(NYSE:SNE) video game consoles.
From the Washington Times
Their bags crammed with shiny new electronic goods, the passengers on the battered North Korean ferry looked like any other tourists returning from a shopping trip in the malls of Tokyo.
But the PlayStations and other gadgets carried onto the Mangyongbong-92 ferry ended up not as children's gifts but as components in Pyongyang's military hardware.
Japanese officials said North Korean spies have trawled electronic retail outlets in Tokyo for many years as part of a covert operation to exploit their neighbor's technological know-how.
Seemingly innocent consumer goods, including games consoles and camera lenses, were openly carried out of the country to the communist regime, their components finding their way into missiles now aimed back at Japan.
The Kim regime has also relied on the Mangyongbong-92 to keep itself swaddled in luxury while North Korean citizens starve.
As per Japan Probe
Most of the cars driven by Pyongyang's leadership are Japanese cars (with the company markings cleverly removed). Much of this wealth and material is shipped back to North Korea on the Mangyongbong-92.
Park Chol Su, vice chairman of the North Korean government agency behind the cruises, told reporters to expect a “more luxurious” ship with a possible capacity of 900, "perhaps next year."
Well, Park’s promise wasn’t kept -- and Carnival
(NYSE:CCL), Royal Caribbean
(NYSE:RCL), et al can continue to breathe easy. As for Air Koryo? If you do decide to spend Christmas in Pyongyang, your flight to an ostensibly “classless” society comes with your choice of two classes:
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