North Korea's propaganda war is not just a ground campaign. The totalitarian state has also taken its crusade to the skies in order to impress tourists travelling to the isolated nation.
Amid reports of Kim Jong-un's reign being in serious trouble, as well as famine-like conditions across the Hermit Kingdom, in-flight food continues to play a big part in the regime's PR strategy. But despite the Supreme Leader's best efforts, the state-owned Air Koryo is not doing very much to win over the hearts and minds—or stomachs—of the global airline industry.
The Democratic People's Republic of North Korea's (DPRK) airline has been voted the worst in the world for the fourth year in a row, and a big part of that harsh verdict was food. UK-based consulting firm Skytrax looks at over 600 airlines worldwide and ranks them on a number of factors ranging from in-flight meals, to service and onboard entertainment. Skytrax was not impressed with the DPRK's attempts to offer a high-end air travel experience, and put Air Koryo at the bottom of it global ranking, which it describes as "the Oscars of the aviation industry."
As soon as a traveler steps into a state-owned Air Koryo airliner, they enter a strange microcosm of the reclusive Asian country, with in-flight screens and magazines toeing the party line, while being served copious amounts of food.
In fact, Air Koryo is the only airline on the planet to earn a 1-star rating from the review aggregator, which represents "poor quality of product delivered across the assessment sectors, combining with low and/or inconsistent standards of front-line staff" both onboard and at the home-base airport.
Despite North Korea's own history of famine, there is no lack of food on Air Koryo. If anything, in-flight meals appear to be quite abundant, even by Western standards. But the issue, with both Skytrax and its online reviewers, was the quality of the food.
"We had a reasonable amount of space and the staff were smartly dressed and friendly. The food was a burger with a mystery meat inside which was not very nice and I did not finish it," one Skytrax reviewer writes. "The food is best left alone which I now do—Air Koryo supply outbound and inbound flights from Pyongyang, and cuisine standards there are certainly not the best."
Even more forgiving reviewers couldn't overlook the bad food. "New uniforms for the stewardesses, friendly faces, good beer, lousy food, clean plane, reasonable seats, and good old-style music." But it wasn't all bad. There was also some praise for Air Koryo signature dish. "Their famous Air Koryo burger was a very tasty snack and I would have eaten another," one reviewer from the UK wrote.
Flyers also noted an abundance of beer, which is not surprising, considering that the DPRK has a big beer culture, and according to certain accounts, more breweries than its more modern and Westernized arch-enemy South Korea.
Most of Air Koryo's fleet is made up of old Soviet airliners which make direct flights to Beijing, Vladivostok, and Shenyang but are not even allowed over European airspace because of safety concerns.
And despite so much of the nation's scarce food being used to woo outsiders, it doesn't sound like jetsetters are very enamored with North Korea's mystery meat burgers, bland noodles, or dog penis.