Of Air Koryo and Turkish Airlines, despots and dictators

Air Koryo - North Korea's airline - and Turkish Airlines share some similarities.

Air Koryo, North Korea's airline (photo credit: DAMIR SAGOLJ/ REUTERS)
Air Koryo, North Korea's airline
(photo credit: DAMIR SAGOLJ/ REUTERS)
Let’s imagine you’re planning an exotic vacation.
Let’s assume you want an island vacation spot where you can relax in splendor and catch up on your summer reading.
You’ve gallivanted through Greece, shimmied in the Seychelles, hung loose in Hawaii, knocked around on Koh Samui, took time off on Tahiti. Your island destination this time is situated in Oceania, the largest island in Micronesia. Bonus for those shopaholics – it’s an unincorporated United States territory with plenty of Costco stores. We’re talking about Guam.
It’s no wonder Guam receives more than a million visitors a year. White sandy beaches, clear turquoise waters, and a gentle ocean breeze welcome visitors from Korea, Japan, Russian, China and the US. Yet with the entire spectrum of first-world amenities Guam offers, it’s surprising mellow.
That is until their Homeland Security Department issued new guidelines for both residents and tourists.
The fact sheet included such tips as: “Do not look at the flash or fireball – it can blind you” and “Take cover behind anything that offer protection” if outside at the time of a radioactive blast. Government officials stated it would take 14 minutes for a deadly weapon to reach the island but of course those at the site of a nuclear impact would be killed instantly and all structures would disintegrate from the power of the blast and intense fire. That’s what is a called a major buzz kill.
This originates in the wake of North Korea’s threat to launch a missile attack against Guam. The cherubic dictator of North Korea, Kim Jong-un, who consolidated power by executing his Uncle and assassinating his brother, is hell-bent on putting his stamp on the world. While a total failure in economy reforms, his success in developing nuclear weapons can no longer be ignored and his threats on Guam have led to a war of words with US President Donald Trump.
While Kim Jong-un wants to unleash a nuclear holocaust on Guam, another strong man, Turkish President Recep Erdogan, who salivates to could control his opposition like the North Korean leader, has urged Muslims across the world to “visit” and “protect” Jerusalem, slamming what he said was an “unacceptable” infringement on Palestinians’ rights to a holy site. One despot wants to destroy tourism while another one appears to be encouraging it.
It’s an axiom of the travel industry that politics and tourism make strange bedfellows. Let’s be clear – you have to be a lunatic to travel to North Korea. The fact that 5,000 Westerners – with almost 800 Americans – visit North Korea every year shows that lunacy, while not rampant, does exist. In fact it took the death of an American citizen, who died after suffering from a mysterious brain injury while in detention in North Korea for the US State Department to ban Americans from traveling to the country. The crime committed by the young American who succumbed to his brain injuries: he was accused of stealing a propaganda poster from a hotel.
AIR KORYO is the national airline of North Korea, headquartered in Pyongyang. Its fleet of 18 planes consists primarily of Soviet-made planes such as the Tupolev Tu-204. Air Koryo has offices in only a few countries, primarily China, Russia & Thailand. Its sole office in Europe is situated in Berlin.
Turkish Airlines is the national airline of Turkey, headquartered on the grounds of Ataturk Airport in Istanbul.
Turkish Airlines flies to 119 countries, more than any other airline. Its fleet of 339 aircraft, not surprisingly, has no Russian-made planes. It is a member of the Star Alliance, which is a loose consortium of 28 airlines purportedly working in tandem. Each airline maintains its own individual style and cultural identity, bringing the richness of diversity and multiculturalism to the alliance. At the same time each airline shares a common dedication to the highest standards of safety and customer service.
Air Koryo is not a member of any of the airline alliances and has the dubious honor of having received some of the worst reviews of any operating airline.
Skytrax is a United Kingdom-based consultancy company that runs an airline review site. Skytrax conducts research for commercial airlines, as well as taking surveys from international travelers to rate airports, airlines, cabin staff and several other elements of air travel.
Their methodology is transparent, with the upshot that their World Airline Awards are held in high esteem for clarity of process and independence, with no outside sponsorship or external influence. Qatar Airways has been named the 2017 World’s Best Airline with Singapore Airlines coming in as the bridesmaid.
The top 12 airlines of 2017 are as follows: 1.Qatar Airways 2.Singapore Airlines 3ANA All Nippon Airways 4.Emirates 5.Cathay Pacific 6.EVA Air 7.Lufthansa 8.Etihad Airways 9.Hainan Airlines 10. Garuda Indonesia 11. Thai Airways 12. Turkish Airlines Israel’s main airport, Ben-Gurion, welcomes a quarter of this list to its runways: Cathay Pacific, Lufthansa, Hainan Airlines and Turkish Airlines. Sadly, the world’s air travelers after ranking 100 Top Airlines have not found a place for El Al or any other Israeli airline.
Air Koryo does appear on a Skytrax list; in fact it holds the number one spot for the World’s Worst Airline.
It’s the only airline with a paltry one-star rating.
To be equitable, reviewers comment on a clean aircraft with polite cabin attendants. In-flight entertainment consisted of North Korean military-type music. Food is usually a cold burger with a choice of water, coffee, tea or a soft drink.
I’VE WRITTEN in the past about the ethical dilemma of flying Turkish Airlines, with a tin-pot wanna-be despot spouting antisemitic remarks too often, couched as anti-Israel assertions, but when Turkish Airlines invited me on a flight to Luxembourg, my curiosity overrode my ethics. It was my first time on what’s been considered for many years the Best Airline in Europe along with a visit to one of the largest and busiest airports in the world. This, coupled with my insatiable desire to see one of the best lounges in the world, had me acquiescing for a 24-hour sojourn.
My flight plan was simple: Tel Aviv- Istanbul- Luxembourg, and 12 hours later the reverse. The flights themselves were quintessentially perfect. The planes, both Boeing and Airbus equipment were clean and spacious. The crew was both courteous and competent.
Once airborne, our flight attendants offered a hot towel service to all passengers. Newspapers and magazines were also made available and even on the short flight from Tel Aviv to Istanbul a complete meal was served. Turkish Airlines economy service comes with a nice over-sized pillow.
Arrival in Istanbul was security conscious and as I was transferring flights, there was no passport control for me to enter, simply a body scan and X-ray of my carry-on luggage. It was a good 10-minute walk from security to the end of the airport where my own Turkish Delight was waiting.
Turkish Airlines lounge at Ataturk Airport in Istanbul is simply an amazing adventure. Eligible for all business class clients as well as any Star Alliance Gold member, the Turkish carrier has the biggest flight network of any airline in the world and therefore Istanbul is a big hub for transit passengers who appreciate a good lounge. When it comes to food the lounge offers a lot, Turkish specialties, a Chinese kitchen, Western food and also a fruit bar, all spread over two floors.
You won’t starve, that is for sure. Also the quality of the food is super fresh – it’s not even a buffet, it’s like a real chef is constantly preparing.
Wondering what else you can do at the lounge? Here is a nice list of how to pass your time: • Enjoy a real cinema with a fancy popcorn machine.
• Play some pool.
• Try a few new books at the library.
• Play Golf (Yes a real Golf Simulator!) • Take a shower or two.
• Play the latest Play Station games such as FIFA or Formula 1.
• Experience a Carrera racetrack, those with a remote control.
• Play in a kids’ corner, with heaps of toys! The lounge also providers lockers to put away your bag. You have a few nice couches to nap on while following news channels from around the globe or live sport events. Of course I don’t need to mention that fast Internet and a business center are also available.
On my flight to Luxembourg, the same detail of quality service was repeated. The dining part was what stood out most for me. I’m always in awe these days – with airlines cutting out food options or charging a king’s ransom for a soggy sandwich – when an airline makes an effort to offer a full-service meal. Be it kosher or vegan, everyone was able to enjoy a quite edible repast. Upon my return to Istanbul Airport, I again was able to while away the layover in their airport lounge before boarding an Airbus A-330-300. This next-generation aircraft features both flat-bed business seats as well as 219 economy-class seats. Never have I stretched out so luxuriously, and I fell asleep the moment we reached cruising altitude.
IN LATE October, as El Al introduces her 787 Dreamliner on flights to Newark, Delta will be switching from its 747 to this beauty. With United Airlines flying a 777, the transatlantic competition on nonstop flights will become a whole new ball game. Don’t count out the European airlines as they fight hard to keep their market share, but when flying to JFK or Newark, the Big Three will easily dominate the skies.
I can make one more promise: One airline you won’t be seeing at any US airport in the short or long term is Air Koryo. Or, as they say in whispers throughout North Korea: even a monkey sometimes falls from the tree.
The writer is the CEO of Ziontours, Jerusalem. For questions and comments email him at mark.feldman@ ziontours.co.il