Review | Air China Economy (Pyongyang – Beijing)

The conclusion of a week in the world’s most infamous country, involving a speedy escape with a more ‘sophisticated’ airline…

This is the 8th component of the November trip.

Flight Details:

Carrier: Air China (CA)
Flight Number: CA 122
Route: Pyongyang (FNJ) – Beijing (PEK)
Duration: 1h 40m
Aircraft: Boeing 737-700
Registration: B-5043
Cabin Class: Economy Class
Seat Number: 17C
Date: 16/11/15

Upon arriving at Pyongyang International Airport, there were very few people in the terminal, and most of the lights were switched off. Only after a while did the terminal lights come on, and officials and staff started showing up. This was because our flight was one of two international flights departing for the whole day. Strangely, the departure board displayed 3 flights to: Vladivostok, Beijing and Pyongyang. Yes, there was a flight scheduled to fly to the city that it departed from…

3 flights today
Very old-style ticket


During check-in, luggage was placed on the belt, as usual, but we found the belt to be horribly off, and it seemed to display “13.5 kg” for all bags, no matter the actual weight. Not complaining! I also tried to ask the agent to add my Singapore Airlines KrisFlyer number to the booking, seeing as we were flying Air China, a Star Alliance member. She was rather confused, and I don’t think she did in the end.


After checking-in early, and promptly clearing security and immigration, we were able to explore the newly built terminal. There were huge glass façades, and many stores open. Staff attended each store, even though there was just one flight departing. The ‘duty free’ store strangely sold all sorts of designer goods, with the likes of MontBlanc and Gucci. They were at Western prices, but who knows about the authenticity.

We also noticed the Air Koryo “Business Class Lounge” which was not open today.


Boarding commenced about 30 minutes prior to scheduled departure and was a very speedy process due the extremely light load. After boarding finished, it was clear that less than half the 737 was occupied. It was really nice to see friendly, fluent English speaking crew again!

Being Air China, I wasn’t expecting much at all. The aircraft seemed very, very old, with dated lighting and carpet, as well as old-style seat cover designs. As the flight was turned around very quickly from the inbound, pillows and blankets still lay around in some seats, and there had been little to no cleaning carried out.

Air China commences their flights with an automated announcement accompanying the crew providing limited manual safety information, including Emergency Exits, life-vests and oxygen masks. The announcements were made in Chinese and English, with the English component voiced by an Australian! Following this, a full safety video was shown from drop-down screens, which played all through take off.

The seat-belt signs were kept on for pretty much the entire flight. Soon after take-off, though, the crew began a refreshment service, consisting of a tiny sandwich as well as an offer of drinks. The sandwich was hand-wrapped in cling-wrap and was almost certainly prepared in Pyongyang.

It was around this point that the Russian folk nearby decided to open their own bottle of alcohol, and started drinking away. They also asked me to assist them in giving the alcohol to their friend across the aisle, and offered me some as a thank you! I politely declined…

Seeing as the rest of the aircraft was empty, I moved back a few rows to a window seat. It was very spacious, and the seat offered surprisingly generous recline. The crew were also very adamant about keeping phones OFF, not just in airplane mode. No idea why.

Following the refreshment service, a duty free cart was brought through. I wouldn’t expect such a service on this flight, and it was surprising to see people actually purchase stuff.

As it was for the outbound, the route involved several turns left and right, with some very sharp. Because there was no flight map, I couldn’t quite figure out what airspaces we were avoiding or staying within, but it was an interesting routing.

The route allowed for a spectacular sunset, which was very difficult to capture on camera.

Following a smooth touchdown in Beijing and an arrival at Terminal 3, it was a relief to be back in the 21st century.


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