Thursday, January 16, 2014

Flying Around the World - A Review: Air Niugini

Air Niugini - a review
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Air Niugini is the national airline of Papua New Guinea (PNG) and is the only airline that flies to/from Papua New Guinea and other international destinations besides Australia (Hong Kong, Manila, Singapore, and Fiji).  Air Niugini has a codeshare with Qantas meaning that if you are booked on a Qantas flight to PNG it will be operated by Air Niugini (except to Cairns which is operated by Qantas).  I was booked on Air Niugini as a Qantas codeshare, which allowed for an easy baggage transfer and allowed for collection of my boarding pass from Qantas once I arrived into Brisbane (meaning I did not have to go through customs and recheck my bags, as I did in Hong Kong as Air Niugini and Cathay Pacific do not have such codeshare).  I had previously flown this sector – Brisbane to Port Moresby – but then I checked in with Air Niugini at 9am for the 10:40am departure (the counters were manned by Brisbane Airport personnel, which was the case in Hong Kong where the Air Niugini counters were manned by Hong Kong Airport personnel).  As I had a seamless transfer, I was able to stroll through Brisbane International Airport (and duty free).  We were instructed to be at the gate no later than 10am and we started boarding immediately as the plane and crew were ready.  When I had previously flown the sector, the operating aircraft was a Fokker 100 for the 3 hour journey; however this time the operating aircraft was one of Air Niugini’s three Boeing 767s.  The plane was only 50-60% full thus boarded happened quickly, but we still had a late push back and were finally in the air by 11am. 

Air Niugini is a full-service airline so the plane contained both business and economy section (although no one was in the business section) and had a 2-4-2 layout in economy.  All of Air Niugini’s Boeing 767’s are used planes, many former Iceland Air planes, and their age and sound are well apparent.  In spite of that, Air Niugini has refurbished all the planes with new seating and interiors to make the journey pleasant (also a plus is that the older planes have more legroom and bigger overhead bins).  Once airborne, the in-flight service commenced which first included a beverage (alcohol is available and free on all Air Niugini international flights) followed by lunch – a choice of either chicken or pork.  I choose the chicken which consisted of 3 pieces of chicken (with bones), rice, vegetables, bread, cheese and crackers.  The chicken was bland did not look appealing so I stuck to the side dishes.  Dessert was also present, but as none of the passengers could figure out what it was, I left it to the side. After serving the main meal, the flight attendants came around to offer tea or coffee and also came back to refresh any alcoholic beverages (choice of beer or wine).  To pass the flight time, a movie was shown on the main screen (no personal IFE) or you can read the in-flight magazine (which also contains duty free options).  We landed in Port Moresby right on schedule at 13:45.

There is a process if you are connecting to a domestic flight within Papua New Guinea: once you clear immigration and customs, collect your bags, go through security, exit out of the international terminal and walk to the domestic terminal (about a 5 minute walk), and then go through security again and stand in line to check your bags for the domestic flight.  This can be a hassle, especially if you are unfamiliar with the layout or with the procedure, and can definitely be a hassle if enough time has not been allotted for the transfer.  The luggage allowance for domestic flights is 16kg but if you are coming off an international flight then the domestic counter will honor the international allowances.  (Side note:  when flying within PNG, even though you have an electronic ticket the passenger must hold and keep a paper copy of your itinerary with you as that is what is utilized for check-in).

After I checked-in my baggage and received my domestic boarding pass, I went through security and waited in the lounge for my flight.  Because of delays in flights, Air Niugini usually allots a long layover at Jacksons Airport, Port Moresby (POM) to ensure passengers make their connections (90% of the flights are to/from Port Moresby).  In spite of the long layovers, there is very little to do while waiting for your flight.  Cushioned chairs (not in the best condition but still comfortable) are available to sit and there is a kiosk that sells soft drinks, water, tea, and light snacks in the back of the waiting area (they only accept PNG currency, but there is a bank kiosk located in the international terminal which will exchange foreign currency).   Roads are not very accessible within PNG so to get from one domestic city to the other is done mostly through flying (in spite of this, domestic fares are relatively expensive).  Most flights within PNG are about 1 hour (the longest being about 1.5 hours) and because of the short distances most planes utilized by Air Niugini are either a mix of new and older Fokker 100’s, Dash 8’s, or Q400’s (they recently required a brand new Boeing 737 to be utilized on domestic markets and for special international flights).  All domestic flights have both business and economy class, with business class usually contains a bigger seat (similar to a lazy boy in feel and size) and passengers are served a light snack/meal.  In economy class, the seats are smaller (but equally comfortable and this 6’1 author fits in comfortably) and you are served only juice and a biscuit (on early morning flights coffee or tea is also offered).  Given the short duration of flights, the flight attendants are quick and efficient in serving all passengers and collecting all trash and still have time to relax before landing.  

For my flight to Madang, the domestic lounge has a TV screen to show which flights are boarding but most people just wait to listen for airline representatives to yell out the flight number and destination before they start heading to the gate.  There are no bridges for any domestic flights so all passengers must board and deplane via stairs and this is how we boarded the flight.  I have flown Air Niugini many times many times passengers have been called to board the plane well before schedule, but the plane will not depart until the scheduled time.  We departed on time from Port Moresby, received our biscuits and juice, and 1 hour later landed in Madang (most Air Niugini flights have a short turnaround time within the city before it heads back to Port Moresby).    

While Air Niuginis is the only international carrier, there are three domestic carriers: Air Niugini, Airlines PNG, and Travel Air.  Air Niugini has the biggest and most extensive domestic network, consistently flies to these destinations, and has not had a crash or fatality in its 40+ years of flying.  The other two – Airlines PNG and Travel Air – do not have as extensive network, do not fly consistently to their destinations, and are constantly delaying or cancelling flights (Airlines PNG also had a fatal crash in 2011 killing all passengers on board).  This is the main reason why many people choose to fly Air Niugini and overall Air Niugini’s service is pretty good, but more importantly its reliable.  This is especially important in a country where reliability and efficiency is not always present.  Given the relative monopoly Air Niugini has on the PNG aviation sector, the fact that they maintain a decent level of service (and have an excellent safety record) is a testament to Air Niugini.  While the fares are high (due to the monopoly, flights in and out of PNG to any destination besides Australia are very expensive), and sometimes flights are cancelled, what you find on Air Niugini is a scheduled flight that will eventually get you there and will provide decent service on route.   

1 comment:

  1. check out the review of the hotel in POM: http://www.tripadvisor.com/members-citypage/0504Traveller/g294118

    ReplyDelete