Chaos as PNG airlines cancel flights with majority of staff off sick

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Chaos at Nadzab Airport in Lae, PNG
Chaos at Nadzab Airport in Papua New Guinea's second largest city Lae yesterday. Image: Scott Waide

By Melisha Yafoi in Port Moresby

Air travellers were left stranded and fuming country-wide as airlines Air Niugini and PNG Air hit a rough patch in operations due to wet weather and a large number of their key staff falling sick and unable to be at work.

Flight cancellations were the order of the day yesterday at many airports with passenger backlogs and frustrations growing.

Air Niugini, especially, has had flight cancellations since last November.

The airline has issued an apology saying wet weather conditions and staff absenteeism had caused the situation.

In a media release, both airlines apologised for a number of flights in recent days which have been disrupted due to a much higher number of crew than usual falling sick, as well as the current bad weather conditions across the country impacting on the airlines’ operations.

Both airlines say they are doing everything they can to manage the situation, but will not compromise safety operations.

Stranded passengers had to rebook flights and spend extra money for accommodation and transport.

Backlog mostly tertiary students
Most on the backlog of passengers are tertiary students and parents who have been asked to rebook flights for four to five days as of last Wednesday.

While the airlines have not publicly stated if staff were infected with covid-19, reliable sources from within companies have informed the Post-Courier that a majority of those sick and absent from work were infected with the virus.

They included aircraft engineers, high-end ground staff, pilots, cabin crews and protocol staff.

One of the stranded passengers from Lae, former EMTV senior journalist Scott Waide took to social media to comment on the crisis, which attracted a lot of responses and complaints from passengers who were in a similar situation.

They describing the customer service by the airlines as poor.

Waide was asked to rebook his flight more than once and finally made it into Port Moresby late yesterday evening.

An unfortunate incident happened at Nadzab Airport in Lae yesterday when an airline staff member allegedly insulted a female passenger.

Staff member ‘tears up’ boarding passes
Josephine Kawage claimed the staff member tore up her and her child’s boarding passes.

Kawage said in a video recording that they had been stranded for four days and were finally put on the flight yesterday. However, the check-in officer was only able to produce two boarding passes for Kawage and her son.

She said that she was humiliated when she asked for the boarding passes for her other family members.

A disappointed husband, Captain Henry Nilkare from the North Coast Aviation, condemned the alleged actions of the airline staff member when he spoke to Post-Courier last night.

He said he would take the matter up with Air Niugini to have the officer penalised.

“I do work in the airline industry and understand the nature of his job at situations like this, but his actions were uncalled for and no passenger, or any woman with an infant, should be treated as such in front of many people,” he said.

“That is a bad image for Air Niugini and I do not wish to see this happen to any other passengers.

“If he can do this to my wife and child, who knows how many people he may have treated badly.”

Captain Nilkare said he would be flying to Lae himself to pick up his family today.

Melisha Yafoi is a PNG Post-Courier reporter. Republished with permission.

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