Eight interesting facts about North Korea’s airline

What do you know about Air Koryo? Probably not much. The state-run airline for North Korea, it’s the only realistic way you can fly into the country, unless you have some sort of crazy commando resources at your disposal. Of course, there’s a lot you have to do before booking your ticket, and getting a visa can be quite difficult for Americans and other westerners. If you do make it through the red tape though, you’ll find yourself with more options than you realized.

So, ready to book your trip to Arirang and sample the beer and pizza of the most reclusive nation on the planet? Here’s what you need to know about the airline that will take you there:

%Gallery-105693%1. More destinations than you’d expect: the Beijing-Pyongyang route is the one for which Air Koryo is “famous,” but the state-sponsored airline actually connects to eight other cities: Moscow Khabarovsk, Vladivostok, Shenyang, Shanghai, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Kuwait City. Of course, if you want to use these cities to enter North Korea, you’ll still need to jump through the many hoops necessary to secure a visa.

2. Road warriors don’t get squat: are you a frequent flier to North Korea? Well, don’t expect much in exchange for your loyalty. While airlines around the world offer rewards programs, a mileage run on Air Koryo is worthless, as the carrier doesn’t have a program, according to a comment it made on its Facebook page.

3. A new home: as of July 15, 2011, the airline’s new terminal at Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang is open for business! The airline claims on Facebook, “The new terminal features modernised facilities for luggage, security, customs, border control and the list goes on to an extent.”

4. Mongolia may be next: it’s always hard to tell when Air Koryo is going to add a route, but this comment to a prospective customer offers some hope: “Flights to Uanbator have been tossed up for a while now, since there is a decent amount of DPRK citizens traveling to Mongolia for a number of reasons. Also vice versa. We havn’t [sic] heard of any flights for August, but we will make some inquiries.”

5. Kuwait’s on the map for a reason: it may not be as busy as the New York-to-London route, but Pyongyang and Kuwait City seem to comprise an important city-pair for Air Koryo. According to the person operating the Air Koryo Facebook page, “Between 5 and 10,000 North Korean workers currently reside in Kuwait. These numbers change weekly with the flights by Air Koryo now enabling the DPR Korean direct flights to Pyongyang.”

6. True dialogue in social media: social media marketers have always discussed the importance of “dialogue” via social media, rather than generating revenue. Well, Air Koryo is a fantastic model. A user responded to the above claim about North Koreans living in Kuwait, “‎between 5 and 10000″ … Wow, that is an accurate answer !” The airline’s intended range was probably “between 5,000 and 10,000,” but the fan appears to have a fetish for the exact. Showing a bit of style, Air Koryo replied, “We’re [not] exactly demographers here, so exact figures are beyond us. Sorry.” The missing word in the response makes the whole exchange even funnier.

7. Online check-in: okay, this is not in Air Koryo’s future, probably because the carrier has a different set of priorities. According to SFGate: “‘You kidding right?’ Air Koryo responded. “There are many things to do before even looking at ‘Online check-in’ such as actually creating a website.'”

8. Don’t expect much love from the cabin crew: in the United States, you only need to worry about bad serviceand the occasional meltdown. In North Korea, the flight attendants will great you with such pleasantries as “I hate America!” But, they do follow it with, “What would you like to drink today, sir?”

Sir?! Now that’s service!

[photos via Wikipedia]

Five chilling facts about Cyber Monday Shopping

cyber mondayOkay, your goal should be NOT to conform to what you see below. The travel industry, riding something of a recovery this year, is set to come out with some solid sales on Cyber Monday, the biggest online shopping day of the year. So, as you click among hotel, airline and online travel agency sites, it will pay for you to be aware of the biggest risks you face.

Despite the many risks associated with online shopping – and the fact that they have been shoved in the public’s face since the early days of internet commercialization – people still roll the dice with their financial security. When you get excited about cheap tickets or a real bargain on the excursion of a lifetime, take a moment to make sure you aren’t getting scammed. Your savviest purchase may be the one you never make.

So, what are the risks? Let’s take a look at five scary facts from web security firm Webroot:1. Don’t trust page one: a high placement in Google search results shouldn’t be a sign of trust. According to Webroot, 59 percent of survey respondents trust the results they get in the first few pages, up from 39 percent last year. Unfortunately, this placement is “a target for malicious links.” Interestingly, the number of people using search engines is falling: “48 percent of online shoppers frequently if not always use search engines to find gifts online, compared to 52 percent in 2009,” Webroot reports.

Solution: Watch brand. If you recognize the company’s brand, you can be more comfortable with the purchase. Also, watch where the link sends you. For an extra layer of protection, enter the company’s address into the browser yourself instead of clicking the link in Google.

2. Risky wifi behavior: 18 percent of shoppers are likely to use public wifi for holiday shopping, Webroot reports, up from 12 percent in 2009. This can be risky, especially with 23 percent of respondents feeling comfortable using free public wifi.

Solution: Do your online shopping at home or at work. Stealing wifi from your neighbor so you can toss your credit card number onto the web is probably pretty stupid.

3. New site, new password: are you planning to jump on a deal from a company you haven’t used before? Well, this is the point of many of the Cyber Monday travel deals you’ll see: companies want to lure you away from your ol’ stand-by sites. Do take advantage of the hot promotions, but be smart. Using the same password everywhere is like hiding a house key under your doormat.

Solution: Use a new password every time you create an account with a travel website. Also, be one of the 72 percent of online shoppers who uses a “complex” password – i.e., a mix of letters, numbers and symbols.

4. Social should be personal: 26 percent of respondents to the Webroot survey indicated that someone else had used their social media or email accounts to send friends messages in their names. With travel companies increasingly turning to social media platforms to market their deals and bolster their brands, expect a lot more interaction this year … which brings hefty doses of risk with it.

Solution: Take a look at your sent messages from time to time, and look at your Twitter stream from the perspective of another user. Make sure you recognize everything you’re putting out into the world.

5. Look for safety: 52 percent of Webroot’s respondents don’t check to see if a site uses SSL, and 50 percent don’t look for the padlock in the lower right corner of the web browser. This is like not twisting the doorknob after you lock it.

Solution: pay attention to where you make purchases online. In addition to getting comfortable with the company website, you also want to be aware of the security in place. If something feels off, play it safe: don’t buy. No deal is worth the consequences of risky online purchasing behavior.

[Via Insurance Information Institute, photo by InfoMofo via Flickr]

NYC marathon runners urged to focus on the race, fight the urge to tweet

You’d think running 26.2 miles would demand all your attention, right? Apparently, the lure of connectedness is so great that a runners’ group is putting the word out to resist temptation. Sean Haubert, who manages social media for the New York Road Runners, which organizes the ING New York City Marathon, told the NY Daily News:

“People need to focus on the race,” Haubert said. “There are people running ahead of you, tying a shoelace or someone may throw a cup your way.”

This is good advice, since some runners are already planning their status updates. Arturo Barcenas, for example, told the NY Daily News:

“I’m already thinking about my updates like ‘NYC Marathon, here I go again’ or ‘I’m in one piece,'” Barcenas said of his Facebook page. “Maybe if I get a quick break I can tell my friends ‘I hope I do better than last year.'”

So, how hardcore are you? Would you be able to run a marathon without letting your friends on Facebook and followers on Twitter know where you are and how you’re doing? Leave a comment to let us know!

[photo by Randy Lemoine via Flickr]

Airlines not alone in poor customer service studies

The Airline Quality Rating report was released last week, exposing the five worst airlines in the United States. It’s fun to beat up on the airlines … as it is to beat up on other companies and industries notorious for poor customer service. So, this made me wonder just how the airlines stack up against everyone else.

Back in August, the American Customer Satisfaction Index rated hundreds of companies and came out with the results. Some airlines are in there, of course, but they aren’t alone. I took a look at the bottom of the barrel – 18 companies featured by Business Insider – and saw that the airlines were well-represented but far from dominant.

Telecommunications companies led the pack, accounting for a third of the list, with airlines next – four companies accounting for 22 percent. Banking followed with 17 percent. Strangely, social networking contributed two companies, with both Facebook and MySpace getting poor marks for customer service. Insurance, restaurants and utilities each contributed a company.

The airlines that got the nod will look pretty familiar: in fact, they’re four of the five identified in the Airline Quality Rating report. American Airlines took the #12 spot, immediately behind Facebook and MySapce. Delta and US Airways took the next two positions, with United Airlines at #17.

The worst company for customer service was AT&T Mobility, with DirecTV and Citibank behind it.

Free Montreal travel in three simple steps

Do you like Montreal? I have to admit, I’ve been there three times in the past two years, and I just can’t get enough of it. The minute I hit the streets of Old Montreal, I find myself craving a hotdog at the St-Denis Pool Hall before dashing over to the art galleries on St-Paul Ouest. Even with winter approaching rapidly, I’m feeling the pull up north.

So, I was pretty excited by a cool contest that just hit the web from CheapOair, and the social media junkie in me was drawn in. The upside is pretty exciting: two roundtrip tickets to Montreal from Air Canada, two luxurious nights at the Montreal Marriott Chateau and tickets to a variety of local attractions around the city from Tourism Montreal.

If you win, I strongly suggest you go hang out with local foodie Katerine Rollet for a while. Ask her about the local hotdogs, and she’ll probably know I put you up to it.

So, how do score this getaway? Well, you have to click around to three sites … and maybe do a little typing. There are three simple steps:

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1. Head over to Facebook – assuming you’re already one of the 500 million users of the site. “Like” the Montreal Buzz page.

2. While you’re in Facebook, click over to CheapOair’s page and “like” that, too.

3. Finally, you’ll have to leave Facebook (don’t worry, you can – and probably will – wind up back there at some point during the day). Visit the Tourism Montreal blog and leave a comment telling everyone why you want to head up there. You won’t get extra points for mentioning the hotdogs in town, but I haven’t heard that doing so will hurt.

The contest kicks off November 1, 2010 and ends on November 5, 2010. The winner will be announced on November 8, 2010. Fortunately, you won’t have to wait long to see if you’ll get to hit the road.

Click here to see what else there is to do in Montreal!