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New Route Opens to North Korea

Looking for a way to redeem those Star Alliance member airline miles?  Does Pyongyang, North Korea, sound good?  If so, you’re in luck:  Star member Air China has launched new service from Beijing to Pyongyang, making it the only foreign carrier to serve the hermit nation.  Air China will make the trip 3x a week.

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  1. It will be interesting to see how these flights do beyond the Chinese market.

    First, Western visitors need to visit through tour operators. Those already have deals with Air Koryo, and presumably the tour operators are able to secure the needed permissions from the North Korean government through the hard currency they bring to North Korea. If they start booking via Air China they’ll face recriminations from Pyongyang.

    Second, tour operators are likely to favor Air Koryo anyway. Their customers get to begin the North Korea experience immediately upon boarding in Beijing. (Oddly enough, Air Koryo offers both economy and business class. Hmmph.) Second because Air Koryo is actually quite responsive to customers and capacity needs, since they don’t do any sort of economic analysis — overbooked plane? plane sitting around Pyongyang? Send an extra plane to Beijing! Doesn’t matter whether it makes economic sense or not.

    And Air Koryo should instill plenty of confidence on the part of passengers, since China has more or less taken responsibility for its safety. They’ve insisted that Air Koryo upgrade its fleet, and so they’ve taken delivery of newer Tupolov aircraft and are operating those to Beijing in place of the ancient Ilyushins they’d been flying.

    Anyway, my guess is that tour operators stick with Air Koryo. And that the median frequent flyer won’t really have the chance to redeem their miles on the Air China operated flights to Pyongyang since it isn’t possible for most people to enter the country outside of those organized tours.

  2. Gary’s point is legitimate – I don’t expect too many westerners to be using their points on this route. But Chinese are travelling overseas (including to N. Korean) in greater numbers than ever before, so I’m sure there’ll be some traffic here.

    I also appreciate your point about the safety of Air Koryo — so many people assume that just because an airline is from a country they consider obscure, that there must be safety issues. This is, of course, ridiculous, not least of which because many US airlines get maintenance work done in El Salvador.

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