This is another excellent guest trip report from James, about his trip from Fiji to San Francisco.
Avid readers of the Ginger Travel Guru will have seen some previous guest blogs from me, concentrating on a few less frequently flown or smaller airlines. Continuing that theme today I’m writing about a recent trip on Fiji Airways between Nadi (the capital of Fiji) and San Francisco., California. Fiji Airways has a code-share arrangement with One World carrier Qantas, so we were actually travelling on a Qantas booking, meaning we were able to earn and credit Avios and Tier points to BA Executive Club.
We live on the east coast of Australia, about one hour’s drive south of Brisbane, in Queensland. We have the option of flying from Gold Coast (OOL) or Brisbane (BNE) Airports, my general preference is Gold Coast because it’s smaller, less hassle, closer to home, and has cheap and easy public transport options. However, on this occasion, we headed to Brisbane to catch a Virgin Australia Boeing 737 to Nadi.
Now, Fiji Airways does fly this route and you’d have thought it made sense to fly with them the whole way, but the we intended staying in Fiji for a few days on the return journey and didn’t fancy being at the airport for 6am on our last day to fly home as was required with the Fiji flight, the VA flight was preferable with us needing to get to the airport for a much more reasonable 2pm. Both Virgin and Fiji fly the 737 and their business class offerings are nothing amazing, so we opted to fly in economy for the short 3.5hr flight.
The VA175 took off on time, we were served with a tasty breakfast frittata and free flowing fruit juice, water and tea/coffee (no alcohol) for the flight. The crew were proactive in offering top ups, but the flight was quite empty, so it would have been harder for them to do that with a full load. Arriving at Nadi International airport just after lunch local time.
The check in desks for Fiji Airways flights are located in a brand-new terminal – it is bright and fresh, and as it’s a small airport still in walking distance of all the older facilities. Unfortunately, they only accept bags from three hours prior to departure, despite the desk being staffed the whole time. So we were directed to the airport baggage office in the arrivals area, which was staffed by one of the friendliest men I’ve ever met. He was very jolly and was a proud Fijian – clearly keen to welcome us to his country. The baggage charge was a reasonable FJD9.50 (£3.50) per bag, we left with tips on things to do in Nadi, including a guide on how much the taxi fare should be (No Uber in Fiji!), for the four or so hours we had until we were due back at the airport.
We went to Port Denarau, a 25 minute drive from the airport, for cocktails and dinner (although our body clocks thought it was a late lunch). This is a pleasant, if slightly manufactured, destination that’s perfect for tourists. A number of the major hotel chains are close by and there are activities and restaurants to keep yourself busy for a few days. We had a relatively swift dinner and jumped back in our taxi to the airport, the driver was insistent on waiting to take us whilst we ate, which actually was quite convenient and we paid the same going rate for the ride.
Back in the terminal, we were checked in efficiently at the premium counter and directed to the temporary Fiji Airways lounge. The terminal has only just been finished and it seems that the lounge was part of a second phase of works, at time of writing the new lounge has recently opened and by all accounts seems to be much better than the temporary one. I’ll briefly describe our lounge experience but bear in mind things are different now.
The lounge was really just a plain room with some sofa’s shoved in any possible space. There was an area where hot and cold food was available – chicken and rice or veggie lasagne being the hot options. An array of standard spirits were available (Bombay Sapphire, Absolut vodka, Jack Daniels etc.), as well as local beer and the obligatory Fiji bottled water.
I always try to shower before getting on a long haul flight, I find it makes me feel an awful lot better at the other end, so I enquired at the lounge reception desk. I was expecting a lower standard of service due to the lounge construction, but not quite what was offered …. The receptionist told me that there was no hot water for the shower, so if I wanted a shower it would be cold, but that would be OK “because Fiji is a tropical country, so the water will not be too cold”. Against my better judgement, I took a towel and complimentary toiletries and investigated …. The shower room was within the toilet block, and it was indeed quite “fresh”. I had a Navy style shower and returned to the lounge for a beer prior to the flight.
The service to San Francisco is operated by an Airbus A330-200, with a two-class layout. The business class cabin has a 2-2-2 configuration, four rows deep, with almost lie flat beds – angled at maybe 15 degrees, with leather seat covers and 15 inch screens. There are a couple of little compartments in the seat back, but they are too small to be much use, I did manage to secrete my iPad mini, but you’d struggle with a laptop or similar. We were assigned 2J and 2K.
The welcome on board was genuine and warm – smiles all round. We were offered a pre-take-off drink, we both opted for the Signature drink – a Laucala Sour, which was very nice. The crew handed out amenity kits, which were pretty standard fare although the eyeshade was clearly designed for small heads – I had to use my spare BA First one that sits in my headphone case for bright hotel rooms. The was a small item in the amenity kit that peaked my interest – a wooden toothbrush, I loved the look and thought it was a lovely Fijian touch.
The food service started, I had prawns, herb encrusted chicken and green tea tiramisu. The menu says that it’s dessert or cheese and biscuits, but the crew were happy to oblige a little taste of both for me. I accompanied the meal with a glass of the Champagne at first, moving on to the Merlot. The food was nice enough, but had the presentation of having been lifted straight out of a box (which no doubt, it had). I can’t really complain about the food quality, it was all fine, but it reminded me of a corporate dinner at a 3* hotel – the only stand out item being the green tea tiramisu, which was delicious (and it seems I liked it so much I forgot to take a photo before gobbling it down!).
I didn’t really use the inflight entertainment except to list to music as we came in for landing, as my aim was to get some sleep before arriving in San Francisco, as we would be arriving mid-afternoon and I needed a few hours to enable me to last through to the evening and attempt to counter jet lag. It was a large screen, with a fair selection of films, if slightly dated. The noise cancelling headphones seemed to be the generic airline type that are used by many European carriers, so I used my own ones which are more effective and comfortable.
I manged to get about five hours sleep on the angle flat bed. It was quite comfortable, surprisingly so, but not as good as the AirAsiaX angle flat I wrote about last time. As we approached SFO the crew started a breakfast service, it was a chicken sausage, with spiced potatoes, croissant and yogurt/granola/fruit mix. The sausage was bland and tasteless, the potatoes tasty and the yogurt mix excellent. It was all washed down by orange juice, Fiji water and a cup of tea that looked like dishwater, but actually tasted fine.
We landed a few minutes early, had to wait almost an hour for the bags to be offloaded from the plane. Once we had our bags, we went through to the Global Entry area of border control, to find no queue (literally just us) and a two minute process to get through and off to the Hyatt Regency. In the second half of this blog entry, I’ll talk about our return journey and the three nights we spent at the Intercontinental resort in Fiji.