Can you leave the airport when transiting Jackson International Airport (Port Moresby)?
A few weeks previously I was subjected to 6 hours in purgatory that is Jackson International Airport, the main international airport servicing Port Moresby and Papua New Guinea.
It is quite hard to pinpoint exactly what makes this airport so awful but I will try to summarise. First, I had an open pack of cigarettes taken from me, the reasoning is so I wouldn’t smoke in the airport. I could accept this if it was real, but not only did they sell single packs after I got through, but I was even allowed to keep my lighter. This was good old-fashioned corruption.
Secondly, there is genuinely nothing to do here. The wifi does not work, there’s a cafe and bar, that are horrendously expensive, and even the lounge (at $40/entry) leaves a fair old bit to be desired.
So why not leave the airport right? Well, to qualify for the “visa on arrival”, you have to be transiting for at least 8 hours. On my second trip here, it would only be 6 hours, not enough. But I wanted to leave Jackson International Airport, and be able to tick PNG off my visited countries list, without having to actually a holiday here (traveling to the Solomon Islands was close enough).
A friend had visited a few days before (and actually stayed the night), and informed me that when you go through immigration they are somewhat lax, and do not ask for an ongoing ticket. I thus spent the 4 hours from Port Vila to Port Moresby (via a smoke break in Honiara) contemplating what my tactic would be.
My plan was to go through immigration under the pretense of my flight being the next day, get the stamp, realise my mistake, before happily passing back through immigration and thus joining the flight from Port Moresby to Manila, all in time for a quick GrabTaxi and cocktails in LA Cafe by 9pm. Like all plans, it started out well.
The immigration at Jackson was indeed somewhat lax and uncaring, and I passed through very quickly. Greeting me at arrivals were lots of boards for travel agents meeting customers (Port Moresby is hardly backpacker friendly), a man dressed in warrior attire (who wanted $5 for a photo), and very little else. I immediately did what any refined gentleman would do under these circumstances and went to smoke, pretty much non stop, as it appeared there was very little else to do.
Still having some Aussie $ left on me I felt that whilst the YPT rules of engagement state that merely passing customs is enough to qualify as visited, I should at least engage a bit in the country. I went for a walk for an hour, grabbed a coke, smoked some more, and as the city of Port Moresby started to look more sketchy, I grabbed a cab and headed back to the airport, still with 3 hours before boarding, and 4 before my flight. Officially there’s WIFI at Jackson International Airport, but actually, there isn’t. I saw that the cafe at departures offered WIFI, so thought I could grab a drink there and kill a few more hours. Being smart I checked if the WIFI was working, it was not. Even with it being a non-smoking airport, the chance of a plug and a seat won (and my worry about getting through), so I headed to departures.
Security all good, initial banter with immigration all good. Then they couldn’t find me on the system. But, hey, where there’s a will, there’s a way! The friendly officer offered me two alternatives, one go to immigration, which might take 3-4 days to fix, two he could use his discretion. Blondie once sang that “dreaming is free”, discretion isn’t. If you are staying in PNG for less than 8 hours, I suggest heading through transit, grinning and bearing it, unless you’re rich, and really want that visa.