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In your loving memory

Flight to Port Moresby - A review of Air Niugini

BERNIE LEIGHTON | Airline Reporter

An Air Niugini 767 at Brisbane Airport (Leighton)SO, YOU’RE dumb enough to decide you want to go to Port Moresby on holiday? Well, first off, you are pretty dumb. Do you know how dangerous Port Moresby is?

The American government clearly knows; they’re building a new fortress-embassy on the highway to the airport. This embassy construction site also houses all its workers behind three 20-foot high fences and a small contingent of Marines.

Having said that, it is still safer than Lae! So, if you have to pick between the two…

It’s not an organised sort of crime, or resistance. It’s something more like a zombie movie. One target sees an opportunity and then, almost like a wave, the rest follows. From what I’ve seen, cricket bats are a popular weapon of late.

I suppose muggings and general mischief do take the edge off after the national pastime, chewing buai, was banned this year. Not that the other three activities were not popular before- they’re just all rather hard to do with buai, and some mustard, turning your teeth and saliva bright red!

It is the most bizarre dichotomy, because at the same time, I have never met any people more welcoming, helpful, and friendly as the general Melanesians in the very same place.

I guess, you just have to remember strange things when in Moresby. Christmas/New Years is hold-up season, so never drive alone. Don’t go out at night, just don’t. Remember that the roundabout by the J-Mart is the carjacking centre of Moresby. Things like that. Also, sometimes the power goes out - but the backup generator will kick in sooner or later.

Enough about how stupid I am for going on a holiday in what some call the most dangerous city in the world. It’s not, not even close, but let them have their fun. You probably want to know how I got there, don’t you?

I started my voyage with Qantas. Which I can summarise very glibly. Horrendous on the ground, stunning in the air. Better than the other way around, true.

I flew them from Sydney to Brisbane, aboard their newest, and last, 737-838 (VH-XZK). Full in-flight entertainment (IFE)and Boeing Sky Interior. I love Qantas, so I thought that they’d beat Air Nuigini (PX) – their partner airline on services from Eastern Australia to Port Moresby – hands down.

I was wrong!

Not wanting to spend $1,900 for a two-hour flight in business, I booked an economy fare for substantially less. I had heard that PX economy was pretty dire. I had also been told business class was not that much better.

So, with low expectations, I hopped aboard P2-PXW to be blown away. I was not expecting what I saw. Nor was I expecting it to be so premium-heavy.

I will admit the configuration is bizarre, but that is partially because of the fact that when SAS purchased the aircraft (to withdraw it in 2002) they chose to have an extremely large aft galley and lavatories down the side.

So strange is the configuration of cabin that the entire economy class is left with only two lavs adjacent to rows 12 and 13. Furthermore, woe is the poor soul in the last business class seat. It may offer direct aisle access from two sides, but all it offers is a lovely view of two of the J lavs! Apparently, those feature blue LED lighting.

I was seated in row 8, which offers 70″ of seat pitch. No, I am not joking, there is just so much space between you and the bulkhead.

PX also uses an entertainment solution that is somewhat sparse in content. Having said that, PX’s longest 767 flight is to Narita in Japan (and lately it has used a leased 737-79L), so it is not as if passengers will be left wanting. The seats themselves appear brand-new, but are almost 100% refurbished.

One more general PX fact. P2-PXV, another Air Niugini 767, was also recently refurbished in China, but it has a different lav configuration.

I was coming into Moresby, intentionally, on a Friday afternoon to get a low seat factor. I didn’t expect it to be 40%. I was, therefore, surprised that the safety demonstration was delivered both manually and via the IFE.

The PX Economy service is, in all honesty, similar to a domestic business/first class level.

After take-off, there was a drink service. I opted for a Sprite, my equally-crazy-and-stupid friend opted for a PNG-made Coke.

On the two-hour-and-fifty-minute flight, there is not much time to separate the services. So lunch started soon after.

Lunch was, again, extremely high quality. Chicken with couscous and some carrots. It was more like business class catering, without the presentation, than standard economy fare. The chocolate cake desert after was also pretty great.

I spent the rest of the flight talking to the crew about what working for Air Niugini was like, their fleet, and where they like to fly the most. PX crew are extremely motivated and proud of their airline. They are also proud of their country, but still would like some parts to change.

I then remembered that I should check out the lavs.

They are, bizarrely, swanky. Again, I have seen business class lavs with much sparser fixtures.

International ramp at Jacksons Airport (Leighton)Landing at Jacksons International Airport (POM) was exciting. They only have one runway, and it is almost due north/south. It is situated in a valley, and routinely generates strong crosswinds.

In our case, we were landing with a 12-knot one. Not exactly mind-blowing, but enough to give you a good jolt when landing on the left main first.

Jacksons itself is basic. Very, very, basic. I will discuss that more later when I start to cover domestic flying. In the interim, I will close with the fact that tourist visas no longer cost K100. They are free!


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Matthew Mati

Ah, Papua New Guinea the land of the unexpected, no matter what I still call it home.

Nothing beats an export lager and Air Niugini is surely the best airline in the world! :)

Peter Kranz

Re the delayed flight from Lae to POM. We arrived at POM around 10 pm on a Friday night, and I had no way of getting home (as my intended lift has departed hours before).

Not good.

I wandered out of the terminal and found a battered old taxi with no windows driven by a Hagen man who knew me from a previous trip.

He drove me home safely and we shared an SP or two together for his kindness.

PNG - the land of the unexpected.

Peter Kranz

I remember being stuck at Nazdab for four hours due to a delayed flight back to Port Moresby.

The Air Niugini staff took pity on us and sent someone back to town and bought Big Rooster chook and chips for all the stranded passengers!

Bet Qantas never did that.

Rob Suang

Yes, very beautiful piece, love the article, so intriguing, and yes PX is one of the safest airlines in the world.... It records speak volumes....

Michael Dom

An intersting and amusing article. I'm looking forward to the next installment.

I do love to see the Bird of Paradise pull into the airport when I'm on international flights.

And the service, despite our grumblings, I feel is quite good.

Heck, what other airline serves a six time gold medal winning beer as an ordainary beverage? Love it or leave it.

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