All jokes aside, the newest adventure for North Korean visitors are aviation enthusiast tours to ride Air Koryo's stunningly well-maintained fleet. With planes straight from the Mad Men era, passengers can enjoy time traveling in old turboprops - with cockpits that somehow operate without a single digital display. Like Cubans who've kept their 49' DeSotos running, Air Koryo keeps its 59' Antonov An-24's looking showroom - new, with fresh coats of Dear Leader's Turtle Wax to hide the metal fatigue cracks. The fact that these planes still get off the ground at all is admittedly a testament to the North Korean people, working like MacGyver, fashioning engine parts out of scrap. I suppose that's part of the thrill of a DPRK aviation tour: Will I get to finish my fruit cocktail before one of the propellers snaps off, taking out hydraulics in the tail section? Whatever the case, if the stewardess serves you enough Kim Jong-Ale, you won't give a damn how rough the landing is - or whether your traveling companions got sucked out a window like Goldfinger. God knows that your pilot probably feels the same.
The Soviet Ilyushins are amazing machines, the airplane equivalent of a 64' Buick Electra. Yes, the interior is awash in Corinthian Leather - but the fuselage was designed in the mid 1960s, with cutting-edge technology from the Kennedy administration. We all know that Air Force One is a state-of-the-art 747, and that even in it's incredible present state, it's still going to be replaced by an a newer 747-8 within a couple of years. As an American, I don't mean to brag ; I understand that leaders of several other countries are probably riding in James Bond planes as we speak. But that being said - in keeping with my ongoing observation of North Korea - who else chuckles that Kim Jong-Un flies circles around Pyongyang's apartments in a quad-tail engine Soviet-era plane? Especially when it's trailing a banner: "Please send us FOOD & JET FUEL ... but don't you dare balloon us copies of "The Interview," otherwise you'll endure the wrath of merciless repercussions."
Again, I love air travel. I love everything about the experience. I love finding tickets online, getting up early to make a morning flight, and I love sitting by the window, watching the engines roar - and the wings find lift. Modern air travel is one of the things that makes me proud to be alive, and after watching 15 seasons of Air Crash Investigation, I'm confident that - whenever I board a plane - I'll arrive at my destination intact, rested, and holding a baggage voucher. I don't have the courage to attempt an Air Koyro "aviation enthusiast" airplane tour, but I definitely don't mind booking a Southwest flight...and enjoying a bag of pretzels, and an $8 glass of Gallo Chardonnay.
Air travel is amazing. And I can't wait to experience how it evolves within the next 20 years. Boeing is introducing both the Dreamliner and 747-8, and Airbus has its A380 - a plane even bigger than Boeing's.
But when it all comes down to it, air travel has become a staple of modern life. We can travel to New York or Hong Kong or Moscow in hours, and the only thing shorter is an Enterprise transporter - which is still a few years away. The world is getting smaller. And with each flight we realize that our world itself is a very small place. I look forward to the day when the departure screen says "To Infinity and Beyond," with destinations far away from Kubrick's 2001.
I'm even willing to fly an Air Koryo Stratocruiser, if it promises an aviation enthusiast's journey to the stars.