Macau Airport Announces Twice Weekly Flights to North Korea, as China Demand to Visit Hermit Kingdom Increases

Posted on: July 25, 2019, 10:30h. 

Last updated on: July 25, 2019, 10:34h.

The Macau airport will soon begin welcoming two flights a week from North Korea’s state-owned Air Koryo airlines, with direct service to the Hermit Kingdom’s Pyongyang capital.

Macau North Korea flight casinos
North Korea leader Kim Jong Un is readying to welcome more visitors from China by way of the Special Administrative Region Macau. (Image: Reuters)

North Koreans are barred from leaving their country without the explicit consent from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the regime controlled by controversial Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un. The new route will connect the world’s richest gaming hub to one of the world’s poorest countries.

Reports have surfaced recently that demand for Chinese citizens to visit the Joint Security Area within the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) has greatly increased. North Korea News – a news outlet based in Seoul, South Korea, that’s focused on its neighbor to the north – says Chinese-operated tour groups are bringing as many as 1,000 people a day to the safe border area. Thousands more are venturing into the country capital.

The Civil Aviation Authority of Macau says the Air Koryo flights will begin August 2 and run through October 26, at which time the airline will need to apply for an operating extension. The North Korean government currently allows Chinese citizens to come and go.

North Korea Casino

Chinese tour groups that currently put passengers on Air Koryo flights from Beijing say booking hotels in Pyongyang is becoming increasingly difficult.

Gambling is outlawed for North Koreans, but foreigners can access a casino at the capital’s Yanggakdo International Hotel – said to be the country’s largest and first luxury hotel. Casino Pyongyang, as the gaming space is known, is operated by Macau “Founding Father” Stanley Ho’s gaming empire SJM Holdings.

I did visit the casino one night,” a Tripadvisor reviewer explains. “All Chinese dealers, cashiers and pit bosses, no locals allowed in, whether as players or employees.”

Ho and North Korea have a relationship that dates back decades. The 97-year-old, who held a gaming monopoly on Macau for decades, has been accused of associating with organized triad societies throughout Asia, and is said to have close ties to the Kim family in North Korea.

About Air Koryo

North Korea’s airline fleet consists of 18 aircraft, all of which were purchased from Russia. Reviews posted to online airline site SkyTrax are good at 6/10 based on 53 reviews.

“Beijing to Pyongyang. Comparing an intra-European flight of two hours and this flight, practically no differences: clean aircraft, nice stewardesses, punctual, simple food, good and attentive service, a normal standard,” one verified review explained. Another said the aircraft was “clean with immaculately presented and polite cabin attendants.”

However, others questioned security with the “ancient” airplanes, and fact that attendants didn’t require passengers to turn off their electronics or even be in their seats during takeoff and landing.

Air Koryo currently has regularly scheduled flights to China’s Beijing, Shanghai, and Shenyang, and Russia’s Vladivostok.

The airline previously operated to Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, but that route was canceled after the February 2017 assassination of Kim Jong Nam – the half-brother of Kim Jong Un and eldest son of former Supreme Leader Kim Jong Il.

It is widely believed that his murder was directed by his half-brother. Nam, known for fancying Macau’s casinos, was attacked by two women at Kuala Lumpur who covered his face with a rag soaked in a nerve agent.