Airline review: Air Niugini economy Port Moresby to Sydney

THE ROUTE

Port Moresby to Sydney

THE PLANE

Boeing 737-800; the airline has two of this aircraft in its fleet.

THE LOYALTY SCHEME

Destinations (points also count towards Qantas Frequent Flyer Program)

CLASS

Economy, seat 20A

DURATION

3 hours 55 minutes

FREQUENCY

The flight operates twice a week.

SEAT

The economy seat pitch is your standard 31 inches (79cm) with a 17-inch (43cm) width and a recline of 4 inches (10cm). The 737-800 has 3-aisle-3 configuration plus a slightly weird emergency row of two-plus-two up front. The latter (row 8) has a stellar amount of space that seems to out-perform even the lie-flat business class seats.

BAGGAGE

Two checked pieces (30kg total) plus one carry-on bag.

COMFORT FACTOR

Air Niugini gets a bad rap, probably owing to delays (which put nobody in a good mood) and pricing that makes it one of the most expensive airlines in the world (shop online for succour). But right from the get-go, the good people of PX surprised with a modern, efficient service.

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All of the airline's 737s and 767s were refurbished in 2014, so the cabin is clean, bright and fetching in its burgundy and grey trim. The economy squeeze is nothing we haven't experienced on most other airlines, and since the Air Niugini routes are relatively short (Moresby to Tokyo is the longest) there aren't many grounds for complaint.

THAT'S ENTERTAINMENT

Surprise No. 2: we have a back-of-seat touch-screen inflight entertainment system! There's not a huge choice, and oddly the bespoke menu conceals more movies than are apparent at first glance, but flicks such as Southpaw and Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation ease the passage right up to the gate. There's also a reasonable library of TV programs and games. Papuan modesty means passengers like their carrier to appear polite, so loutish producers have had their language censored to suit PG13.

The inflight magazine Paradise is very substantial and rather good: local PNG features are given savvy twists, lifting them above the usual bland fare.

THE SERVICE

The crew on PX001 prove to be prompt, obliging and attentive. After the meal service, I ask a stewardess the name of the Australian red wine that had been served (without, of course, declaring I was a reviewer); she returns a little while later having hand-written the economy wine list, complete with variety and vintage.

If I have one complaint, it's that announcements are made only in English. Would love to hear the "safety tok-tok" in local pidgin.

FEEDING TIME

The food isn't going to win any prizes, but there are two choices, with a vegetarian option if it had been requested before flying. I have fish with rice and 22-calibre bullet peas, plus a nice Australian red – which, it turns out, is a De Bortoli Gulf Station 2010 Shiraz Viognier.

ONE MORE THING

Nothing to do with this flight, but I just have to share: on an earlier Air Niugini flight, a nervous stewardess immediately endeared herself when she announced the breakfast options for economy passengers: "In economy you only have the choice of omelette. We are sorry if your choice is not available."

THE VERDICT

Don't believe everything you may have heard about Air Niugini. It punches above its weight.

THE FREQUENCY

Tested by Max Anderson, who flew courtesy of Air Niugini.

See also: PNG - the untamed paradise on our doorstep

See also: Airline review: Hawaiian Airlines extra comfort class

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