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Since when do US airlines fly over North Korea?

Didn't realize US airlines are allowed to fly over North-Korea

I regularly fly the China-USA route over the Pacific. Most of the time the planes I’m on fly from Shanghai to Tokyo and then start the ocean crossing from there. But depending on wind and weather planes sometimes take a different route, for example when flying from New York you sometimes fly straight North over Canada to the North Pole, and from there to Siberia. Nice views in summer if you have a window seat!

Didn't realize US airlines are allowed to fly over North-Korea

Today I was on a plane from San Francisco to Shanghai and I wasn’t really paying attention to the route we were flying. I noticed at the start that we took a Northern route over Alaska, but did not look on the in-flight screen until an hour before landing. And then I noticed that we had just flown over North Korea! I had no idea that planes are allowed to fly over the DPRK – let alone US planes (I was on a United Airlines flight). Is this route something new? Or did I just never notice it before?

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  1. I had the same thing while flying from Schiphol to Helsinki and then Osaka, but I watched the screen a couple of times during flight. I guess there are two things in play here:
    1) The red line doesn’t show the actual flight, but just the relative position of the airplane with respect to the airport where the plane departed.
    2) The map is flat, so if e.g. you fly over the North Pole, the red line will not show you that after the plane has already left the North Pole.

  2. Nils, in the close up screen you could see that the flight really flew over N-Korea. I only took pictures of the screen after we left N-Korean air space, but you can still see it in the top picture in the post.

  3. Spy mission? Or the USA promised N.Korea something in exchange for which they are allowed to fly over N.Korean airspace. However, it still seems odd. I can still remenber the Korean Air jet that was shot down over Russia. Maybe they just wanted to test the N.Korean air defense system. If that’s the case that is really scary.

  4. There’s been international flights over North Korean airspace for years. Its a source of revenue for the Government and saves airlines on costly diversions. But occasionally the DPRK suspends the route tot South Korean airlines. IATA doesn’t have any directive at present to avoid DPRK airspace.

  5. @Mark, ah I guess that my flight just for some reason (maybe what Chris says) flew to around Beijing and then a bit south before going through South Korea.

  6. I was part of the IATA team that established the new air-route structure through North Korean airspace as an integral part of the International Air Services Transit Agreement. This agreement allows access to all airlines and a User Charge is levied for provision of air traffic control services. This Charge is levied on a global basis as agreed between the ICAO and IATA and reviewed from time-to-time.
    This Polar access route through the Russian Far East has been open for some 15 years. Enjoy the ride.

  7. Nils’ first point is correct: the red line on United maps is the great circle route between the airport of departure and the plane’s position. (United’s old maps were better, as the yellow line showed the actual route.) You’ll notice that the line changes position throughout your flight if the plane doesn’t follow the most direct path. So you probably did not fly over North Korea.

  8. The red line is the ACTUAL flight path. The yellow is simply the direct path from your current position to your destination. So yes, he did fly over North Korea.