Transit in Port Moresby is something you will have to do if you are traveling on to the main diving locations.
PNG’s capital suffers from such a bad reputation that most travelers try to minimize their time there and arrange flights to get to their on-going destination on the same day as they arrive and depart.
Often this is feasible as international flights, particularly from Australia, arrive about 13.00 and many of the on-going internal flights depart between 15.00 and 17.00
The domestic terminal is a 5 minute walk from the international one, so it is definitely possible to make the connection, but my experience is that 2 hours is the minimum transit time because of delays getting through both terminals.
The first delay is at immigration, so try and get seated towards the front of the plane so you are off first and nearer to the front of the queue.
There are 4 queues at immigration, one each for PNG residents, diplomatic and APEC, foreigners with visa and visa on arrival.
The visa on arrival (VOA) works well if you are eligible, but it is one more thing to do when you are already probably a bit flustered and nervous about making your connection…
So applying in advance for your visa is a good idea, especially on your first trip to PNG.
Baggage collection and customs are immediately after immigration, plus there is a bank and ATM to change money, which is what I personally do as you get fleeced on the exchange rate outside of PNG – particularly so at Brisbane airport!
Collecting your baggage is usually straightforward these days. Customs is also pretty easy, providing of course you are not doing anything wrong, as the officers are used to divers with a lot of luggage and are quite friendly overall. Personally I have never had any real problems on the way in or out of PNG.
OK, so that was the easy bit… Emerging from customs in to the reality of Port Moresby can be a little daunting – very much so the first time as you will have no doubt read all sorts of bad stuff about it.
As I was writing this it dawned on me that I have actually never had a scary moment at the airport – lots of frustrating ones because of late and cancelled flights no doubt.
But never one where I have actually been scared or intimidated.
What does make you nervous are the number of people that seem to be just milling about without a purpose and often watch you as you make your way towards the domestic terminal. In reality this is probably because you have a lot of luggage and look a bit flustered, but in your mind it will be because they are planning to rob you of your expensive dive gear and cameras!
Having survived the short transfer you enter the often chaotic domestic terminal, which is usually full of lots of local people going back to their homes with enough supplies to feed an army, interspersed with divers, birders and trekkers also loaded down with lots of stuff.
Stating the obvious – you are going to have baggage weight issues, both with your check-in and your carry-on.
The best bet is to check in as much as you can and pay the excess baggage – but, if you are flying Air Nuigini, don’t forget to ask for the 30kg standard plus 15kg “divers baggage allowance”.
If you don’t ask, you will be charged as the staff at the desk won’t ask you if you are a diver…
You can expect to be challenged about your carry-on – sometimes they are really difficult and sometimes not… but once through that check there is a security check and you are through to the departure lounge and the “wait”…
This is the moment of truth as you never know if the plane will come in on time, turnaround and depart for your destination before night fall.
Of the many times I have been to PNG in the last 16 years I would estimate that 20% of the internal flights had problems. Often you will not know till the very last minute and the flight will be cancelled, at which point there will be a scramble to get accommodation for the night!
In fairness to Air Nuigini, who are the major domestic carrier, I have never failed to get to my final destination.
Plus, in my opinion, there has been a quite noticeable improvement in recent years.
The basic problem is that PNG is a large and rugged country and Air Nuigini (like most airlines) has a fixed number of planes.
So when there is a problem, and there seem to be many, the system backs up and the plane you are waiting for either does not arrive, or does so too late to turnaround.
That means an extra flight has to be scheduled for early the following morning, which entails getting back to the airport in the middle of the night so that the flight can take off without disrupting the day’s schedule.
Often chaotic, very frustrating when it happens, but it usually works out in the end and there is no point in taking out on the poor ground staff who always try there best to sort things out.
It’s Papua New Guinea – Expect the Unexpected…
Or plan on staying overnight in Port Moresby and take the morning flight to your final destination as the early domestic flights are usually much more reliable than the late afternoon ones.
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