The joys of staff travel

Travelling as airline staff on free or discounted tickets was fabulous, but oh was it fraught with drama!

Tim had obtained tickets for 6 of us to travel on the cruise ship “Society Explorer” which was to sail to New Guinea in early March from Cairns, Australia. We all managed to wangle the right amount of time off work. It didn’t hurt that my manager was one of the 6! So that was sorted.

The first fly in the ointment was that one of the 6 held a Polish passport, his citizenship having not yet come through. This was a problem for the Australian authorities who told him “mate this could take 6 weeks.” In fact, he received that visa 6 months later, long after we had returned from the trip.

But where there’s a will, there’s a way. Our Polish friend was able to get the visa for New Guinea, so we arranged that he would join the ship when it docked at Rabaul a few days after leaving Australia. And somehow Tim managed to obtain for him a ticket from Air Niugini. It was all terribly complicated, but Tim enjoyed these challenges!

Now, all we had to do was get to Cairns.

Qantas kindly delivered us to Sydney. It’s a long way from New York, whichever direction you set off in. We had United tickets to Honolulu where we left our Polish friend with strict instructions on how he was to obtain his ticket to Rabaul, and we boarded the Qantas flight to Sydney.

Splendid. So far. We still had some 36 hours to reach Cairns. Except:

The airline we had tickets for was fully booked, so we dragged our terminally jet-lagged bodies around to their competitor and begged and pleaded. With mixed results. We got as far as Brisbane and had to stand by for another flight.

As the airline closed the flight out, they could offer us only three seats.

We were 3 girls and 2 guys, so someone made the decision that the ladies should go, leaving the guys with a decreasing number of hours to reach Cairns. There was a train, but it would arrive too late. Their only hope was for no-shows next morning. We boarded the airplane, waving encouragingly to the guys and promptly discovered that there were, in fact, empty seats on board. But we were in no position to protest.

The availability of seats on an aircraft is not always the defining factor in the issuance of a boarding card. In our case, it turned out that the defining criteria was a shortage of meals. So basically, it was a matter of four chicken legs that left our companions on the tarmac in Brisbane. At that point, the very last thing any of us wanted was a chicken leg!

The three of us arrived feeling very shattered and slightly unhappy to be missing our chaps, but we knew them to be extremely resourceful, so we decided not to waste time worrying.

We took a room at the designated hotel, and collapsed into bed. The next thing I remember is being awakened by the raucous cries of the numerous crimson rosella parrots that seemed to be everywhere:

Worrying is totally pointless. This I know, although all my life it’s been the thing I seem to do best. I was confident that the chaps would show up, however, which they did in time for a fabulous celebration lunch next day. And all that worrying would have been a total waste, because, as it turned out, the ship was delayed!

Sufficiently so, that we had time to go out and have a look at the Great Barrier Reef and also take the scenic railway journey up to Kuranda.

The delay was a matter of the Australian dock workers.

We were quite happy for the cruise line to be sorting issues out, until the decision was made that the passengers would be flown to Port Moresby, putting it squarely back in our lap, unless we could cough up the price of five full fare tickets.

How Tim fixed it, I have no idea, but as usual he did, and in due course we arrived in Port Moresby to await the ship.


A very faded photograph of the harbor at Port Moresby.

It was hot and sticky as we explored the market:

1983 Port Moresby wasn’t a place you needed to spend much time in.


The next question was…..will Bill be waiting for us in Rabaul…..

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