A few weeks ago when I booked this ticket, there were two flights from Nadi to Suva that would connect to the Funafuti flight. One left at 6:30 and the other left at 7:30. The 7:30 gave only about one hour to connect in Suva, and not knowing how big that airport was I wasn’t willing to risk it. Remember, I’d heard Fiji Airways was a nightmare, so I figured sacrificing an hour of sleep to the travel Gods in order to ensure my flight was drama free was a small price to pay.
The night before, when I was on the Bula Bus headed to dinner, my phone rang. “Unknown Caller” was calling me, so I sent it to voicemail. Whee, $3 down the drain. I checked the message shortly after, and guess who? Fiji Airways. Seems my flight had been retimed from 7:30 to 7:00. Um, my flight leaves at 6:30? WTF. I opted to get to the airport at 5:30 in time for the 6:30 just in case.
Got to check-in, and my flight, flight 3 was nowhere to be found on the departure monitors. However, flight 7, the 7:30 departure was there, but with a time of 7:00. Yes, turns out they’d canceled one of the flights and consolidated everyone onto one plane halfway in between times. Ok, that’s not major drama. They only could check me in to Suva, but assured me the airport was small and I would have plenty of time to check in for my flight to Funafuti. Ok, fair enough.
Fiji Airways Flight 7
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 7:00, Arrive 7:30, Flight Time 30 minutes
Aerospatiale ATR 42-500, Registration DQ-PSB Manufactured 1997, Seat 12A
We boarded via a walk to the plane (finally) at 7:15, and ended up taking off at 7:30 for an 8:00 arrival. Flight time was a grand total of 22 minutes in the air, but due to clouds there was nothing to see. A small moist towel and bottle of water was passed out to each passenger on the completely full flight, and newspapers were offered as well. Rather impressive for just 22 minutes!
Waited about 10 minutes for my bag to come onto the baggage belt, but managed to check in by 8:05 for my 8:45 flight. Except it was no longer an 8:45 flight…it was now “expected” to leave at 10:30. Uh, ok. It would be the same plane that just brought us from Nadi, but it had to do another trip back to Nadi first. Bags were tagged, and despite the small delays, the bags were at least, um, “having fun.” (Yes, bad joke, deal with it!)
With over two hours to kill now, and having not had breakfast, I went to the one cafe in the check-in area to get something to eat. It was rather tasty, and a grand total of about $4, most of which was the Diet Coke.
About 9:45 they called everyone over the intercom, and told us to proceed through immigration and security. Shortly after that, we saw the plan arrive outside at about 10:00 and looked like we might actually get out of there by 10:30 or so. As a side note, I also purchased a couple bottles of wine in Duty Free, figuring there wouldn’t be too much to do during the evenings in Tuvalu, so wine and movies on the iPad would be a good way to pass some time. Make note of this detail, it will come back…
10:30 came, 10:30 went. The plane was still sitting there, as were we. At 11, an agent came over the intercom. There was a “technical situation” with the plane, and they hoped to depart now at approximately 12. Hmm…ok. Around 11:45, we saw the crew get off the plane, get their bags, head towards the waiting area…see the angry mob, and then head another direction. At this point, I’d started chatting to an Australian couple who live in Tuvalu. We all agreed that the departure of the crew was likely not a good sign. They said there are three flights a week, or 12-13 a month, and maybe 1-2 times a month there’s serious drama with this flight. Ugh, ok.
Shortly after noon, the Fiji Airways agent walked into the departures lounge and announced she was sorry for the delay. They will be providing drinks and snacks shortly. One rather surley Australian guy demanded beer. She said she’d see what she could do. About 10 minutes later, she came back. “Your snacks, including your beer sir, will be here shortly. But unfortunately, once they arrive, you will need to go back through immigration. The flight is being canceled.” Uhhh, WHAT.
She “wasn’t sure” when we would be able to go to Tuvalu, as the next flight was in two days and it was completely sold out. Um, ok. But don’t worry she said, they will add a second flight. Maybe even tomorrow, but certainly in two days. No clue what time, but after you go through immigration and security they will take you to a hotel for the next couple of days. Several of the Tuvaluans on the flight actually cheered. I guess two days in Fiji with your hotel and meals paid was an unexpected bonus for them. (Later, the agent told me this is due to the fact the flight often cancels, and when it does the local working girls find out about it and do a brisk business proving “entertainment” at the hotel.)
We were informed that due to our duty free (remember those two bottles of wine?) being “illegal” customs would hold onto it until we left in a couple of days. I figured I’d never see it again – we didn’t get a receipt. I figured there would be a giant customs party that night. Checked my wine, back through immigration to have my departure stamp canceled, and to the check-in counter to see about getting that flight back to Nadi.
Rather than spend two nights in the No-Tell Motel, where you can check out any time you like (but you can never leave) I asked them to send me back to Nadi and I’d take care of my own accommodations. They resisted. I convinced them that me taking up an empty seat would cost Fiji Airways less than two nights hotel plus meals. They finally agreed. They promised they would e-mail or call me with the new flight time. I wrote down my e-mail and phone number.
In three days, I was headed to Vanuatu so going to Tuvalu in 2 days and coming back in 4 wouldn’t be an option. I told her if they did end up operating two flights that Thursday, and they were reasonably spaced out, I would go to Tuvalu for 4 or 5 hours, have lunch, then come right back. She thought this was crazy, but certainly doable. At least I got my bag back. I modified the bag tag accordingly:
A few minutes later, I got a message from Fiji Airways:
I was provided with a food voucher for the airport snack shop while I waited for my flight back to Nadi. Best thing about Fiji Airways, when they cancel your flight you get cake. Chocolate cake. Delicious chocolate cake!
Back through security, and time to board my flight back to Nadi:
Load was light, maybe 15 total passengers for this mid-afternoon flight.
Fiji Airways Flight 12
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 14:00, Arrive 14:30, Flight Time 30 minutes
Aerospatiale ATR 42-600, Registration DQ-FJY Manufactured 1997, Seat 12A
Wow things were looking up, a brand new plane which had only been delivered to Fiji Airways just a month prior. Quick 24 minute flight, same water/towel/newspaper service as the way over to Suva, and we were back in Nadi. Bags showed up in just a couple minutes, and I decided to head to the Fiji Airways reservations office to make sure they understand my plans. Yes yes, they did. The agent in Nadi even called Suva, they promised to get in touch with me with the new details. Key words:
“Just show up at 6:30 on Thursday, come to Suva, and we will take care of you. You will get to spend a few hours in Tuvalu. We will make sure it happens.”
Famous last words.