May 102016

I had decided the night before to prioritize sleep over possible time in the lounge/etc, and learned that the check-in cutoff for Fiji Airways was 45 minutes, so I was comfortable cutting it closer than I usually would. I arrived at the airport about 80 minutes before the flight due to no traffic at all, and check-in took under a minute, then it was time for security, then immigration.

The security line was maybe five minutes, and no wait at all for immigration, so maybe 10 minutes after setting foot in the airport I was already in the departures hall. Guess there would be a little lounge time after all! Nadi International terminal is under heavy construction, which is expected to finish in a couple more months. The lounge, however, seemed finished. It was rather teeming this morning with all the international departures, but finding a seat wasn’t hard. Decent selection of drinks and snacks – all self serve. I grabbed a can of Diet Coke and a chocolate muffin since I hadn’t had breakfast, and soon our flight was called.

Short walk upstairs from the lounge, and boarding was already underway.

Fiji Airways flight 911
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Sydney, Australia (SYD)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:45, Flight Time: 4:45
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 63,625
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,253,150

If these seats look familiar, it’s because it’s the exact same aircraft I took from LA to Fiji just a few days prior…now that there’s daylight I can get a few decent pictures!



Breakfast flights usually don’t interest me too much, but since all I had was a muffin let’s see what’s to eat:



Breakfast flight with a wine list…now we’re talking!


Fruit, cereal, and make-your-own mimosas:


Bread…on it’s own…as a second course. This is right before tragedy struck…some of the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced. We were shaking all over the place, repeated sudden drops in altitude. But more seriously…right after this my entire mimosa ended up on the floor. Flight attendants had to be seated for nearly an hour at this point…


Eventually I did get an omelette…but it was boring and flavourless, so after two bites I was done.


Watched a couple of hours of terrible movies, and since noon was approaching (well, in fairness it was after noon without the time change) I decided to try their “signature Fijian rum cocktail.” It was basically smashed up cherries, soda water, and rum. Um, pass. Later, I found out he forgot the orange juice.


Landed in Fiji a full 35 minutes ahead of schedule, and had a couple of days to just veg and enjoy. Took the airport train, which was a rather poor value at nearly 19 Australian dollars, and still required a walk to my hotel – the Four Points by Sheraton Darling Harbour. They offered me an upgraded “premium deluxe” room, and I asked if perhaps they had any suites available. The rather nice young gentleman working check-in was eager to please…and found me a “corner harbourview maritime penthouse suite” on the top floor! Yowzers!

How’s that for a view:



Not a half bad room at all:



A few more words on the hotel. It’s undergoing an extensive remodel in the lobby area, so things were closed off everywhere. The bar and restaurant were clearly in a makeshift space, so I didn’t spend any time in them. Beyond that, the staff were fantastic and the room was super nice and comfortable, so I would definitely return again!

So, not much to report on my two days in Sydney. Hung out with some friends I hadn’t seen in a while, walked a ton since the weather was absolutely perfect. Around 22C/72F the entire time, strong sun, and gorgeous days to be outside. Although I’d been to Sydney before, had to take the obligatory tourist photos. Opera House:


Harbour Bridge:


Sunset from the Penthouse Suite:


On my final day, woke up and went out to get coffee, and started coughing immediately. Seems the government was doing controlled burns outside the city, and the wind suddenly changed direction and surprised them…blowing all the smoke into the city. You could tell it was bad from this picture:


More walking all day, more hanging out with friends, and a pizza…with crocodile, emu, and kangaroo. I  mean, when in Australia…I highly recommend checking out the Australian Heritage Hotel for lunch or dinner…plus they have a great craft beer menu too!


With that my two days in Sydney were done, and it was time to begin the truly luxury part of this trip…off to Thailand next!

May 102016

Slept in a bit, and had one final walk around the town before getting ready to head to the airport. It was maybe a 90 second walk from my hotel to the terminal at Funafuti…the terminal which is huge:


Went to the airport at 9:30 to check-in three hours before the flight as recommend, which was maybe a 90 second walk…if that. I was ticked off the list of passengers they had, they checked my bag, and I got to choose my seat from one of those sticker seatmaps. Then, I was asked to complete immigration…which took about 5 seconds. After immigration…we were free to go. Yes, we had technically left the country, but they didn’t care if we left the airport. To quote the immigration guy “small country, we can find you!” Hahaha, guess there’s not a big problem here with people getting stamped out of the country and then deciding not to leave…

My hotel had a 10a checkout policy, and I really didn’t want to wait around in the hot and sticky airport terminal for 2.5 hours. They offered 11a checkout for an extra 20 Australian dollars, and I was sold. Small price to pay for an hour of air conditioning!

Finally at 11, I walked over to the Hotel Filomena, which is right next to the terminal, and does a brisk business on its patio selling drinks to waiting passengers. Right beyond the patio fence, you see the runway:


Plane arrived right on time, and we boarded about 20 minutes before scheduled takeoff. Quick boarding, and doors were closed 10 minutes early. Every seat was taken today, except the one next to me! Everything was going right this trip. It’s easier they said to take a full plane back to Fiji, since there are other diversion options near Suva.  However, if they get near Funafuti and can’t land, it requires going almost all the way back to Fiji!

Fiji Airways flight 280 – Operated by FijiLink
Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 12:20, Arrive 14:50, Flight Time: 2:30
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,579
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,104

View just after takeoff of Funafuti Atoll. See the wide part on the “corner?” That’s where the airport and “city” of Funafuti are located:


Full lunch offered, beef or chicken. Went with the beef, and it was surprisingly good!


Landed in Suva right on time, and had a nearly three hour wait for my connection to Nadi. I decided since the Tuvalu jinx was now broken to hit the cafe in the Suva airport, and enjoy a slice of their now-famous chocolate cake. It was just as tasty as I remembered!


Time actually passed rather quickly, and soon it was time to board the final leg.

Fiji Airways flight 18 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 18:00, Arrive 18:30, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 42-600, Registration DQ-FJY, Manufactured 2014, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 61,655
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,251,180

Boarding our ATR at twilight made for cool views of the plane:


Nothing to say – very uneventful 30 minute flight. Sat next to a Fiji Airways employee and discussed the challenges they’ve had in the past and how they’re really working hard to overcome past problems. I have to say, my experience was night and day better compared to my previous attempt 18 months before, and it looks like Fiji Airways, formerly aka Air Hot Mess, might actually be improving!

Grabbed a taxi back to the Sheraton, where I had an incredibly honest driver who told me the fare was $25 when I asked him to confirm it was $30. It’s always nice getting honest taxi drivers!

The Sheraton, however, was a mess. The first room they gave me the AC didn’t work, and it took three visits from maintenance before they would admit it. All this time, I was also waiting for a room service menu in the room, since it didn’t have one, and it took them over an hour to bring it. Two hours after check-in, they finally agreed the AC would never work and reluctantly agreed to let me move rooms. The second room was perfect, and I have no idea why they were so reluctant.

Overall, this stay really left me with a sour taste in my mouth. There was no warmth or desire to help from the employees, and they acted as if they were being annoyed when you asked for things. To top it off, when I checked out it took 10 minutes of arguing about the rate despite me having a printed confirmation. Overall, while Fiji Airways seems to be well on the road to improvement the Sheraton is definitely going the other direction. Next time, I would definitely look elsewhere on Denarau.

I’d originally planned three nights in Fiji in case I had to try to go to Tuvalu a second or third try, but since I made it on the first I cut my stay in Fiji short and instead of heading directly to Hong Kong, I decided to head to Sydney for a couple days in between. Next up: Nadi to Sydney on the Fiji Airways A330.

May 092016

So, this was it. The whole reason for this trip – my second attempt at making it to Tuvalu. If it didn’t work out this time, I was faced with trying to make an immediate out and back on Thursday since the flight only goes twice a week. I’m not sure why I had such fear of this flight, but given how Fiji Airways behaved last time I tried to get there, I feel like the worry is justified.

I had arranged a cab with the Sheraton the night before, and of course when I got to the front desk to check out at 6am it was nowhere to be found. They did manage to scare one up around 615, however, and I was still at the airport nearly an hour before the flight. The Fiji Airways domestic terminal in Nadi is extremely small, so arriving 45 minutes before the flight is absolutely no problem at all – as long as nothing goes wrong! You can only get seat assignments at check-in, but let’s be honest on these little regional planes seats are the same anyways.

I saw we had the ATR72 this morning, which supposedly has two rows of “business class.” It’s the exact same seats as economy, and on domestic flights they’re the last to be given away. I had to ask really nicely and point out that I had booked business class on the onwards flight, and they reluctantly ended up giving me 1A.

Fiji Airways flight 7 – Operated by FijiLink
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 8:00, Flight Time: 30 minutes
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1A
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,267
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,792

Small bottle of water handed out to all passengers right before takeoff, and not much else to say for the 25 minute flight. I was the only one in the eight seats up front, and got to chat with the flight attendant a bit. Seems a typical day for this plane (and crew) on Tuesday and Thursday is go to Suva-Nadi-Suva-Funafuti-Suva. That was good news, since if you get on the plane out of Nadi apparently you know your plane has arrived to leave for Tuvalu too!

Upon arrival went back to the check-in counter, as they can’t do check-in for the Tuvalu flight from Nadi. Met the same agent that had worked there last time I tried this, and sure assured me the flight was just fine, and would be on time today. I was less optimistic given past performance, but hey, at least the plane and crew were there…

Fiji Airways flight 281 – Operated by FijiLink
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Funafuti, Tuvalu (FUN)
Depart 9:00, Arrive 11:35, Flight Time: 2:35
ATR 72-600, Registration DQ-FJZ, Manufactured 2014, Seat 1D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,923
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,250,488

Small bit of drama, however. It seemed that there was “quite some weather en route” so they were going to have to offload 18 passengers. Priority was given to business class and Tuvaluans returning home, so I have no idea how they chose which 18 would not be able to go. Despite that, boarding was on time, the door closed 10 minutes before departure time, and soon we were taxiing for takeoff! About 20 seats empty in coach and we were only four of eight in business, meaning I had an empty seat next to me.

Breakfast was offered – french toast or omelette. Nothing super fancy, but definite the fanciest I’ve ever had on a prop plane:


Flight time was nearly 2.5 hour, and soon we had our first views of Funafuti Atoll and we were descending into my 192nd country visited! Of course deplaning was via the plane stairs (seriously, jetways in a country that only gets two flights a week?) and I was there! One room airport building, where agents were stamping passports on a card table:


The plane that finally got me to Tuvalu:


There was a van waiting from my hotel, the Hotel Vaiaku Lagi, said to really be the only hotel of any standards at all in Tuvalu – with a whole 16 rooms. I don’t know why we needed to take a van as the hotel is literally a 90 second walk from the terminal, but it is what it is! More on that when I leave…checked in, was assured I was (as requested when I booked) given the room with the absolute best air conditioning out of the 16. Super fancy 1.5 star room, complete with a vase of flowers:


It was clean, moderately comfortable, and the AC was arctic. Overall, I was pleased. It wasn’t cheap at nearly $100 a night, but for being clean, cool, and safe I wasn’t about to complain. I checked out a couple of the guesthouses in town, and they were pretty grim. No way they even qualify as 0.5 stars….


By the time I checked in, it was just after noon, and when I asked the desk agent for suggestions on places to see she laughed at me. Seems from about 12-4 is time for what they call “Pacific Exercise” in Tuvalu, where basically people lay around and hide from the fierce afternoon heat and humidity. I joined the other 15 guests in the hotel restaurant, where there were three lunch options: chicken chow mein, stir fried prawns, or ham and cheese sandwich. I decided the sandwich was safest, but ham apparently means Spam! Mmmm grilled spam and cheese:


As it started to get reasonably cooler, I headed out to Tuvalu Telecom to buy a wifi access card. It took four trips back to get it to work, because even when you scratch off the code the number/password are pretty much illegible. Hooray for high-quality Chinese manufacturing. Eventually it worked, and it was just fast enough to read some emails and check facebook…kinda.

I decided then to head for a walk. Down the main road in Funafuti, which other than a three “block” stretch is all residential like this:


Then, I headed over to the airport runway, which is the hub of social activity for about an hour before sunset. It’s the one time of day it’s not too hot to be outside, and since the runway is the biggest stretch of open land in the whole country it’s used for hanging out and recreation, and some families even SLEEP on the runway at night because there’s a reasonable breeze!

Kids playing football behind me on the runway:



Back to the hotel, and again for dinner there were three choices. I went for the grilled tuna steak, and it was actually phenomenal…and hey, frozen veggies are better than none at all!


Slept in a little bit, and headed out for a morning walk before it got too hot again. A block from my hotel, and next to the airport, was the central government building. I’d heard it was possible to just walk in, so I did. Security wasn’t a concept, and of all people I ended up meeting the Prime Minister! I was so surprised by actually meeting him I didn’t think to ask if I could take a picture, but I told him why I was in Tuvalu and he seemed super pleased and impressed with the story!


Continued my walk down a residential road, and politics, Tuvalu-style:


Tuvalu House, which I believe might be the residence of the Prime Minister?


Next stop was the post office to buy stamps. Yes, they were able to sell them, but seemed completely uninterested in doing any work. I guess there’s not much call for stamps in Tuvalu. They had lots of commemorative ones, as well as post cards, so I bought some to send to family and friends. There’s not too much to do in Tuvalu, so writing postcards would be a nice diversion. Hundreds of commemorative stamps on sale all at face value. Some of the more interesting ones:



The super-fancy Tuvalu Post office:


Just down the street was the Tuvalu National Library and Archives. Please take off your flip flops when entering:


Went back to my hotel and wrote postcards, then a walk back to the post office to mail them. They promised the would go on tomorrow’s flight…or maybe next week if the plane is full. We will see if they ever arrive!

Back to the hotel for lunch and Pacific Exercise. “Chili Chicken” was the lunch of the day, and it was reasonable. All the meals were between six and eight US dollars plus drinks, so extremely cheap, and reasonably large portions. Pacific Exercise takes lots of energy!


After exercising (aka reading in a hammock and napping) I went for another walk. Tuvalu Telecom, where you go to buy wifi cards:


Then on the other side of the runway, I found the Tuvalu Sports Ground, where a rugby game was in progress:



For a little “real” exercise, I took a walk down the entire length of the runway:


On the way back to the hotel, I passed the Development Bank of Tuvalu. Maybe I should apply for a job…


Sunset from the coral “beach” behind my hotel:


Another shot of the “beach” where land reclamation is underway. Considering the whole country is eight feet above sea level I’m not sure the point of doing reclamation when the whole country is projected to be underwater by 2050 thanks to climate change:



Back to the hotel, where tonight’s dinner was “stir fry chicken.” Again, reasonable.


With that, it was time to head to bed and pray my plane would arrive in the morning to take me home. Tuvalu was pretty much exactly what I expected, maybe even a slight bit smaller. You can see everything there is to “see” in a couple of hours, so bring plenty of things to read and plan on doing relaxing. It was actually quite nice to have the downtime without the pressure of having to be go go go and see things.

Two days was the perfect amount of time in Tuvalu – I think the only other option would be two or more weeks so you could try and get a boat to some of the outer islands (where there are no hotels) and spend some time seeing really authentic rural life and villages. Now, will the plane come back…

May 072016

Flight landed just a few minutes ahead of schedule at the Nadi airport, which I found out after boarding was under major major construction. Two good things about landing just after 5am: no immigration lines, and the normally super hot and humid outdoor terminal was still pleasant and breezy at this hour.

Immigration was a snap, no questions, and I was off through baggage claim to get a taxi. Two taxi drivers were waiting, and I picked the first one. Asked him “it’s still $25 to the Sheraton, right?” “Oh no, it hasn’t been that in 10 years, it’s $35 now.” Hmmm, I was starting to smell a scam, so I went over to the other driver…same thing even though he hadn’t heard me talking to the first. Sigh, at this hour there wasn’t much choice. (As a side note, I did confirm later that $25 is the correct fare – grrr!)

Rather short 20 minutes or so ride to the Sheraton since it was Sunday morning and there was still no traffic. Got to the Sheraton, checked in, but was told unfortunately my room wasn’t ready yet. Given it was 6am I shouldn’t have been surprised, but I was tired, cranky, and sweaty, and when she suggested “maybe you can go get some breakfast and wait by the pool. Maybe it will be ready by 12 I was less than thrilled.

I asked if perhaps there was ANY room ready now – it didn’t need to be the ocean view suite they had upgraded me to. After going in back and checking – yes – there was another room I could have until mine was ready. Woo hoo! Got a rather boring garden-view room with two beds, but the AC worked and I was able to get a couple hours of solid sleep so that was fantastic!

Shortly afterwards, around 11am they called and told me my new room was ready, and the buggy would come and pick me up and drive me over. That’s the service I remember from this hotel. Not only was it a suite, but it was at the corner of the beach – probably the best of all the ocean view suites the property has based on location. Can’t argue with the view:


See, here’s where I could pretend I did anything the rest of the day, but… I grabbed lunch at the beach-side restaurant, plopped down by the pool, and pretty much spent the afternoon on and off dozing and reading. Considering I normally suck at relaxing while on vacation, I was pretty proud of myself for doing absolutely nothing. Before I knew it, it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting. Not a bad view from the beach right outside my room:



That evening, I took the Bula Bus to the Denarau Port for dinner. The Bula Bus makes a loop through all the resorts on Denarau Island (Westin, Sheraton, Radisson, Sofitel, Hilton, etc) as well as the port. The port is filled with restaurants and shops, and probably the best place to go for a bite if you want to get away from the resorts.

I had dinner at the Nadina Fijian Restaurant which I had eaten at a couple years prior. It was just as delicious as I remembered from before, but I don’t think I was able to fully enjoy it because I was so exhausted. I recommend the Kokoda which is a Fijian version of ceviche – basically cubes of raw fish and veggies served in a lime and coconut broth. It’s delicious!

Took the Bula Bus back to the hotel, and promptly passed out for nearly 10 hours – guess I needed it!

Next morning, I got up and grabbed a coffee just outside the front of the resort at Bulaccino. No, it’s not amazing coffee, but given the location it’s a huge step up from the awful drip coffee you get in hotel restaurants, and almost as good as you’d get in a small independent coffee shop in the US or Europe. Highly recommended – and their iced americanos are like rocket fuel – not something that can usually be said for coffee in developing countries! Also, they made a mean eggs benedict for breakfast.

Got back to my room after some breakfast and heard music coming from outside. Turns out the hotel wedding chapel was also right outside my room, and a Chinese couple were having a “traditional” Fijian wedding:


That was my cue to head back to the pool and read for a bit, before I got hungry again and headed back to the port for lunch. Decided this time to try a new restaurant called The Rhum-Ba which gets great reviews on TripAdvisor. Can’t argue with the view, as the restaurant is housed in the yacht club:


You can, however, argue with the service and the portions. I had kokoda again, and it was literally three spoonfulls…for US$10. Also, there was a strong wind which actually picked up my glass of cider and sent it flying all over. I suggested MAYBE they could get me another…and he had to “check with the manager if that’s ok.” Service and portions were severely lacking, and although what I did have was tasty, I’m not sure I’d go back.


After this, I discovered a place that will be my potential downfall in the future. New Zealand Natural ice cream. Supposedly this is a chain ice cream shop, and maybe it’s not that special, but I ordered rum raisin and another flavour called Hokey Pokey. What’s hokey pokey? Basically vanilla ice cream with little chunks of crystallized toffee and honey. It was out of this world…and I might be addicted now!

Back to the resort, where I spent the rest of the afternoon on the beach reading:


Followed by another absolutely amazing sunset:


Just after sunset, the power went out. Fortunately, the generators for the hotel kicked back on. But, it was the weirdest thing. They only powered some things, but it seemed like the strangest subset. In the room, all lights worked, but nothing else. No power outlets, no internet, no AC. So, I headed to the Port to get dinner. Unfortunately, the port also had no power, so all the restaurants had closed.

Went back to the Sheraton, and still no power, but fortunately the kitchen was powered by the generator, so the bar was hopping, and I was able to get a sandwich. Not sure powering the band at the bar should take priority over AC, but it was what it was. I was exhausted again, so fortunately had no trouble falling asleep without AC – and fortunately the fan did work, however. I was woken up about 2am when power finally came back on and the AC/TV/etc all kicked back on, but can’t really blame the hotel for the poor power situation. I guess rolling brownouts have become a fact of life in Nadi in recent months.

With that, my two super relaxing days had come to a close, and it was time for my third try at getting to Tuvalu!

May 052016

The last six months of work had been incredibly busy, some of the longest weeks I’d ever worked. That was combined with planning the end of my plans to visit every country, which was really two parts logistically: first, how to get to the remaining countries and when, and secondly beginning to organize the final country party for family and friends.

I knew the hardest of the countries remaining would be Tuvalu, and for that reason knew that when time allowed it was the one to finish first. Flights to Tuvalu only go three times a week, on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. I decided it was best to do at the beginning of my trip, because if anything went wrong I would have the rest of the trip to keep trying. So, the plan was set. Fly from Fiji to Tuvalu on a Tuesday, inshallah, and return on Thursday. If something went wrong, I would try Thursday, return Saturday.

With those plans, I planned to arrive in Fiji on a Sunday (to give a cushion on the front side) and fly out on a Sunday – leaving me two real chances to get to Tuvalu. If those plans went tits up, I had a full extra week on the trip that I could start changing. However, should things go right, what should I do with Sunday to Sunday the second week? With American miles about to be devalued them, I found a way to redeem them for three of the coolest OneWorld experiences out there: Cathay Pacific First Class, Etihad First Class, and the Etihad Apartments.

Of course, just over a week before the trip began Fiji Airways eliminated the Saturday flight to Tuvalu – so there was no reason to stick around until Sunday. I replanned the back-end of Tuvalu, and planned to leave Fiji on Friday – giving me two extra days. That gave me a chance to go to Sydney, and then use some miles for a Thai Airways First award from Sydney to Hong Kong. I was really hoping this time Tuvalu would go much smoother, so that I could take all these awesome flights I had planned.

The day of the trip finally dawned, and I worked a half day before a leisurely trip to DCA for the initial flight. Short stop by the Admirals Club for some water and snacks:


Also had a perfect view of my plane for the first flight from the lounge:


Then, it was time to fly!

American flight 1533
Washington, DC, National (DCA) to Miami, Florida (MIA)
Depart 12:55, Arrive 15:34, Flight Time: 2:39
Boeing 737-800, Registration N931NN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 5E
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 52,330
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,241,855

Pre-departure beverages were offered and I took a glass of water. Shortly before departure, the seat beside me was still empty, and someone was beckoned up from economy as a last-minute upgrade. We ended up chatting a bit, and it turned out to be someone I had chatted with online before in a frequent flier group. What are the odds!

Lunch service began with mixed nuts, featuring cashews from Smisek’s Split-Cashew farm and a passable glass of red wine:


Choice for lunch was a cold bbq chicken salad or lentil chili. I don’t think lentils or chili have any plane on a plane, and I’m opposed to airlines and their desire to push “brown meals” on us where the plate has no colour at all, so I went with the chicken salad. Perfect temperature, crisp lettuce, overall not bad fora $5 domestic meal!


Since this was vacation – and I left my work laptop at home to prove it, I even took the chocolate chip cookie when offered for dessert. It went perfectly with another glass of red:


Other than that, perfectly boring flight and we arrived a few minutes early. I had just over an hour connection in Miami, and fortunately not only were my gates only a one minute walk apart but they were separated by the AmEx Centurion Lounge! Just enough time to stop in for a glass…or two…of Veuve…


Then, it was time to board my connection to LA.

American flight 275
Miami, Florida (MIA) to Los Angeles, California (LAX)
Depart 17:00, Arrive 19:34, Flight Time: 5:34
Boeing 777-300ER, Registration N726AN, Manufactured 2013, Seat 1J
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 54,672
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,244,197

This was my first time on American’s 777-300ER, and the business seats were pretty impressive. The flight had been showing sold out in first for weeks, so I had no hope of my upgrade clearing. Once I saw this seat, however, I didn’t feel too bad about it:


Then, a full 20 minutes before departure, I noticed on the app my upgrade had supposedly cleared. This was too good to be true…I fully expected some sort of shenanigans where the app showed it but it wasn’t for real…but sure enough five minutes later the agent came on board with my new boarding pass for 1J! This trip was off to a fantastic start!

So, what’s to eat tonight?





This is where things got disappointing. Apparently, they had only loaded eight meals, and I got last choice because my name wasn’t on their original manifest. I decided not to push too hard (not knowing the formal “rules” for meal order in American first) and ended up with the chicken which was far from my first choice.

Three wine choices were on offer tonight, and I went with the Malbec which was reasonably good…and another serving of mixed nuts:


The duck starter was decent, but far from memorable:


I asked for the balsamic with the salad, but the flight attendant insisted on bringing me a side of the Fuji apple dressing as well. He was absolutely correct, and it was a great combo…one of the better in-flight salads I can remember:


The chicken was…well…chicken, and rather unmemorable as was the completely flavourless polenta. Honestly, the broccoli was the best part of the main:


The caramelized pecan and caramel sundae, however, was fantastic:


At that point…I passed out for a nearly three hour in-flight nap thanks to the comfy lie flat seats. I woke up to find not one but TWO chocolate chip cookies waiting for me. Not wanting to be rude, I of course had a few nibbles:


Landing in LA was right on time, and I stopped by the American First lounge for a bit since I had a long connection. A bit nicer than an Admirals Club, but far from impressive or of international airline standard. After catching up on emails I headed over to the Tom Bradley (TBIT) International Terminal to catch my Fiji Airways flight. Thank God the connector between American’s terminal and the TBIT had opened a few weeks earlier, because from the connector you can see how awful the security line was tonight. Thanks TSA!


I stopped in the Fiji Airways lounge for 5 minutes just to check it out, and it was rather crowded and unremarkable. The coolest part is it had an outside balcony that you could sit on which overlooked the terminal.

Shockingly, boarding for my Fiji Airways flight to Nadi was right on time!

Fiji Airways flight 811
Los Angeles, California (LAX) to Nadi, Fiji
Depart 23:30, Arrive 05:50 +2 days, Flight Time: 11:20
Airbus A330-200, Registration DQ-FJT, Manufactured 2013, Seat 2D
Miles Flown Year-to-Date: 60,191
Lifetime Miles Flown: 2,249,716

There were only two empty seats in business tonight, and I had the good fortune to have the seat next to me empty tonight. Sparkling wine, warm towels, and amenity kits were offered. The amenity kids were rather sad, and a cool towel would have been nice, but overall not bad:


Tonight’s route of flight:


The menu had a fun cover…it seems due to the late departure we had the “light menu” tonight:


Not bad for a light meal:


Tick the box breakfast orders:


The starter was odd and looked and smelled like it had been sitting around a while, so I gave it a pass. Anything with seafood and cream/mayo sauces that looks suspicious gets instantly avoided on planes by me:


Now THAT is a substantial piece of beef on the salad. Yes, it was way overcooked for my taste, but extremely nicely spiced with a pepper rub. Plus, a whole bowl of cheese. For a “light meal” this was pretty darn good!


The cheesecake for dessert was also quite good:


With that, I passed out for a relatively solid eight hours of sleep. Yes, the seat was sloped lie flat, but I managed to sleep pretty decently despite that. Plus, I always manage to sleep really well on westbound redeyes due to the fact I’m usually exhausted upon boarding. Fortunately, I woke up about 75 minutes out of Nadi with just enough time for breakfast.

Quite the impressive breakfast, and the raisin bran and omelette were exactly what sounded good to me:


With that said, I was in Nadi right on time and ready to unwind for 48 hours before heading to Tuvalu. Overall, Fiji Airways did a nice job of redeeming themselves in my eyes. Sure, the product was a bit dated, but I guess it’s all about expectations. My expectations were relatively low, and thus exceeded on this flight. Food was solid and substantial, crew was the Fijian version of United’s Old Longhaul Grannies, but nice and sweet, and most importantly the cabin was kept nice and cool. I had another longhaul Fiji A330 flight coming up on this trip to Sydney, and now I was looking forward to it. Sure, they’re no Cathay Pacific or Singapore, but they’re also not priced the same. Overall, a solid performance.

Now, bring on some relaxation in Fiji!

Nov 302014

The plan today was to fly from Tonga to Samoa via Nadi, Fiji. There was a nice route with a 90 minute connection in Nadi, and I booked all of this before I ever learnt that Fiji Airways and I were soon to enter into an abusive relationship. The first week of this trip I’d received an email from Expedia. It seems  Fiji Airways had decided to “retime” the onward connection to Samoa, and I would now have a 5.5 hour connection in Nadi. Instead of leaving at approximately 530pm we would now leave at 11pm and arrive at 230am. Ugh, not desirable at all, but if that was the worst drama I’d have this trip I’m not going to complain.

Unfortunately, three days before the flight, just after I got out of the shower on the Emirates A380, I checked my phone and there was an email. From Fiji Airways. I figured it was something about my Tuvalu refund.

Oh no, not at all. They had “retimed” my flight once again, and it was now going to leave a further 14 hours later – the NEXT DAY. Meaning I’d get stranded overnight in Fiji. UGH. There goes my first day in Samoa. Ok, breathe deeply. Water under the bridge. This is Fiji Airways. At least you get a nice relaxing nice in Fiji now. At least you won’t land in Samoa at 230am. Try and stay positive.

So I did.

Got to the airport, and check-in for Tonga took nearly 45 minutes. The ground handling company was clearly moving on island time, and there was a reasonable breeze in the terminal, so it wasn’t too bad. I asked about the exit row. She disappeared for about 10 minutes to “see if it is possible.” She came back, and without a word gave me a non exit row seat. I asked again. “No, not possible.” That was it.

Based on the flights departure board you’d think they’d be bored and looking for something to do:


Your medium sized wood carvings are ok for carry on, but your wooden knives are not…no matter which way you point them!


Shot of the bustling Nuku’Alofa airport from the passenger dropoff area:


It was a walk to the plane gate, and notice all the friends and relatives waving goodbye to us:


Pretty sure this is the first time I’ve ever boarded a plane through the rear. It was terrifying.


…but I still managed a smile.


Upon boarding, I asked the flight attendant if by chance the exit rows remained open, I could sit there when the door is closed. “Yes yes, of course.”

Fiji Airways flight 212
Nuku’alofa, Tonga (TBU) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 15:45, Arrive 17:15, Flight Time 1:30
Boeing 737-800, Registration DQ-FJG, Manufactured 1999, Seat 23D

I stalked the exit rows. I actually sat in 23D to deter people from getting the same idea. Nobody showed up. Score! Now really, how much work would it have been for the check-in agent to actually assign me this seat? Clearly too much. I had the entire row to myself!

In the approximately 10 days I’d been away, Fiji had also apparently gotten quite serious about Ebola:


Despite only being a 90  minute flight, Fiji Airways offered a small snack. Another scary sandwich slathered in mayo and mystery meat, and today there was a pasta salad as well. No thanks, not going to risk it. Fortunately it was biscuits and bitter to the rescue again!


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Nov 182014

So, Vanuatu. I wasn’t planning on coming to Vanuatu. I was there nearly ten years ago, and had checked that one off the country visiting list. But, yet, somehow this blog entry features Vanuatu. If you’re going to guess this has something to do with Fiji Airways, of course, you’re correct!

About two weeks before the trip started, I called Fiji Airways to enquire about making a change to my reservation. I had originally booked Nadi-Suva-Tuvalu on a Tuesday (which went tits up as you saw in previous posts) and the Tuvalu-Suva on a Thursday, followed by Suva-Nadi on Friday morning so I could spend a night checking out Suva. Little did I know at the time all the drama that would revolve around Tuvalu.

However, Fiji Airways referred me to Expedia to make the change since I’d booked with them. Expedia tried, but couldn’t…and they couldn’t figure out why. I called Fiji Airways back to ask why Expedia couldn’t. They didn’t even want to tell me…but finally I convinced them that I wasn’t asking them to touch the reservation, just to look and see if they could figure out why Expedia might be having trouble. Oh yes, after Fiji you are scheduled to fly to Honiara, Solomon Islands. We no longer operate that flight due to a trade dispute with the Solomon Islands.

This was two weeks before the trip started, and I was going to have to completely replan the middle two weeks of the trip. It took me about two days to reconfigure things, then, I had to call Expedia to book. Needless to say, I will never book with Expedia again. It took a total of 24 calls to Expedia, over 11 hours of total call time. 6 times, I worked with an agent or was on hold for more than an hour, before getting “disconnected.” What a coincidence, just when the agent was getting frustrated they disconnected me.

I also spoke to a woman with an Indian accent who claimed her name was Bubbles. Bubbles was helpful, until she hung up on me. I also spoke to a woman claiming to be “Diana Ross.” She was less helpful. This went on and on. One unhelpful chap, after nearly 90 minutes on the phone told me if I wanted a refund, it was all or nothing. The full ticket with all my Fiji segments. After days of fighting, this seemed like my best option even if the rebooking would cost me nearly $500 more. I called back to do this…no, you can only cancel the flight which is no longer operating. Escalate, escalate, get Tier 3 report. She goes back to “pull the recording” to see if he really told me that was an option. Two days later, she calls back. “I have granted your full refund.” Oh phew. All rebooked via Fiji Airways website, and going from Fiji to Solomon Islands via Vanuatu now.

I figured at least being booked directly with Fiji Airways, if something further went wrong (little did I know how much would go wrong with Fiji Airways) they would be empowered to touch the reservation. Did I mention I’m still waiting on that Tuvalu refund? Hah!

Ok, so Vanuatu. That’s why I’m going to Vanuatu!

Oh, one little detail I forgot earlier. When the Tuvalu mess finally got canned, I asked about the duty free which customs was holding. Nope, they wouldn’t release it. That’s illegal. But wait, you’re going to Vanuatu tomorrow, right? We will arrange with customs to transport it in secure transport to the customs facility at Nadi where you can pick it up inside security before you head to Vanuatu.

Uh, right, the chance of that happening is…

So, check-in for my flight. Fiji Airways check-in is pleasant, she even waives the 4 kilos of overweight baggage. Security, passport check, and then ask the guy at the customs desk about the wine. He seems surprised. “No, no, no such thing is possible. Well, maybe possible. But no, no, that would never happen.” Yeah, pretty much my thought when they told me that in Suva. “But let me call arrivals customs” Whoah, it’s in Nadi, and Customs has it. One problem: it’s in arrivals. After security. It’s liquid. My bags are checked, and even if they weren’t I’m not putting two bottles of red wine in my bags.

The customs agent is amused. He wants to solve this. It’s a quest now. He escorts me through back corridors of the airport, dismisses lowly security staff with the waive of a hand, and soon we’re in the arrivals area. Back in Fiji. Remember, I’d already been stamped out of Fiji. No matter. Mr Sharma is on a mission. Look what we got:


But we have a problem. We’re outside security. They won’t even let Mr Sharma past security with liquids. Never mind the fact it’s been in customs bonded control this whole time. Never mind the fact there’s a whole Duty Free store of liquids inside security, and if you can’t trust customs to bring them inside who can you trust. Oh, Mr Sharma knows who you can trust. Airline employees can go through security with any liquids they want. He finds a Fiji Airways agent outside security. Orders them to carry this through security for him. (Remember those questions you get about “have you packed your own bags?) The agent agrees, and says he’ll meet me on the other side of security. Mr. Sharma escorts me back out of Fiji, since I technically never left. Guess who’s on the other side? Yup, Fiji Airways agent with the Duty Free. It was a beautiful example of nonsensical bureaucratic security theatre. All’s well that ends well.

Well, not really. When I tried the wine later, it had gone off. Both bottles. Ugh. Hahahah.

Back to the flight. Parked on the tarmac was VP-BNZ a corporate jet belonging to Gazpromavia. Looks like some Russian oil billionaire was either relaxing in Fiji, or buying up a large part of Fiji. Hard to tell which.


Boarding, surprisingly, was pretty much on time, and away we go to Port Vila.

Fiji Airways Flight 263
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Port Vila, Vanuatu (VLI)
Depart 14:30, Arrive 16:00, Flight Time 2:30
Aerospatiale ATR 72, Registration DQ-FJZ Manufactured 2014, Seat 3D

We even got a snack and complimentary drinks. Had a can of Fiji Bitter, but the chicken sandwich smelled a bit off. I wasn’t going to risk it.


About 15 minutes after scheduled landing, we still weren’t descending. I’ve flown enough that my Fiji-Airways-Drama-Dar was going off big time. Something was up. I went to corner the flight attendants. “Yes, do not tell the other passengers, but the Captain informs me we may divert the plane to Santo.” Um, where is Santo? What country is that? It seems it’s Vanuatu, and there’s bad weather in Port Vila. You must be kidding me…yay for more Fiji Airways drama. In thousands of flights only my third ever in flight diversion…figures it would be Fiji Airways.

15 minutes later, the Captain confirms. We’re going to Santo. The rest of the passengers appear completely unsurprised. They’ve clearly flown Drama Airways before. Oh, did I mention 2/3 of the passengers were from Solomon Islands and doing the same thing I was? Dear stupid diplomats, get your shit sorted. You’re inconveniencing the very people you’re supposed to be working for.

Landed in Santo, where at least there was a bit of a rainbow awaiting us:


We sat on the plane for nearly an hour, slowly broiling in the tropical sun, until they finally let us off and into a waiting room. Some planes waiting around at Santo:



Another hour or so later, the weather in Port Vila had “cleared enough that we can try” so walked back through the big puddles on the tarmac to the plane.


Fiji Airways Flight 263
Espiritu Santo, Vanuatu (SON) to Port Vila, Vanuatu (VLI)
Depart 18:15, Arrive 19:10, Flight Time 55 minutes
Aerospatiale ATR 72, Registration DQ-FJZ Manufactured 2014, Seat 3D

Flight was bumpy, very bumpy, but not terribly eventful. We finally made it to Vanuatu a few hours later than planned (all said and done, I suppose that’s not bad for Fiji Airways) where it was through immigration and off to the hotel. If I was going to spend two nights there, at least I was going to get some diving in!

Nov 172014

Up nice and early once again, for what was becoming the all-too-familiar routine of flying to Suva in order to catch the flight to Funafuti. No drama with the taxi, and left my bags in the room at the Sheraton since it was just going to be a day trip.

Got to Nadi, and chatted with the counter agent. Yes, he had my reservation, and yes, I was on the 8:45 flight to Funafuti. However, he was “unable” to see what time they had scheduled the second return flight for, so I had no idea how many hours I’d get to spend in Tuvalu. Anyways, I’d come all this distance, I was going to get there!

Fiji Airways Flight 7
Nadi, Fiji (NAN) to Suva, Fiji (SUV)
Depart 7:30, Arrive 8:00, Flight Time 30 minutes
Aerospatiale ATR 42-500, Registration DQ-PSB Manufactured 1997, Seat 6F


Another packed flight to Suva, but right on time, and actually arrived a few minutes before schedule. No checked bags, so went straight out into arrivals and found the Air Fiji check-in desk to check in for the continuation to Funafuti.

Well…that’s funny…why is there nobody at the check in counter 45 minutes before the flight?

After a few minutes, an agent came out, and said…”oh, didn’t anybody call you? The flight has been delayed until 4pm today.” Um no, wait, surely there must be a misunderstanding. I’m on the first flight this morning, and I’ll be taking the later flight back. “Oh there is only one flight today. They combined both flights onto a bigger ATR-72 and it will be going at 4pm this afternoon.”


After all the times I called, all the assurances I’d received, nobody bothered to contact me and tell me the plans had changed. On top of assurances there would be two flights, on top of things seeming fine at check-in in Nadi, they had made this decision the night before. So many opportunities to let me know. But no, they had to fly me back to Suva first, and then tell me. Amazing. Well, it looked like I would have a 60 minute turnaround in Funafuti anyways, and the airport is so small that there was a good chance I could get my passport stamp, leave the airport for 15 minutes and see a bit of the town, then turn right around.

The other good news, is the ATR-72 would then come back and do the last Suva-Nadi flight late at night, so I could even get back to Nadi around midnight. Ugh. I guess it’s worth it.

Well, while you wait eight hours for your flight, may we provide you the Suva Special Delayed Passenger meal of chocolate cake and Diet Coke?


After an hour of sitting and eating cake, decided to head up to the counter. With an 8 hour delay I figured they might spring for a hotel or something for me to rest at for a few hours. Got to the counter, where a group of Chinese tourists were entertaining themselves by stepping on the scale and seeing who weight more than their baggage. They were hugely entertained by this for some reason.


Got to the counter to ask about a hotel. “Oh, there is some more news. The ATR pilots will not be rested enough, so will not be flying back to Nadi tonight. But don’t worry, whenever you land we will arrange a shared bus back to Nadi.” Um, what time are we expected back in Suva? “Around 11pm, maybe 11:30.” Isn’t it three hours back to Nadi? “Maybe 10 minutes less at that hour. So you’re telling me I get to wait here another 7 hours, you won’t pay for a hotel, then I get to fly to Tuvalu for a 15 minute stop, come back here, take the bus, and if I’m lucky I’ll be in bed by 3:30am when I just got up at 5am.

As I looked down to ponder my fate, the biggest cockroach I’ve ever seen scurried by. I’d place it at around 4.5-5 cm in length. It summed up my feelings towards Fiji Airways perfectly at this point:


Needless to say, I cut my losses. The Fiji-Tuvalu ticket alone was nearly $1000 (there are no through fares available) and it just felt like a waste. Purchased in advance it’s about $650, and who knows if I start planning another attempt a year out maybe I can even get it with miles.

I decided to say to hell with it, and head back to Nadi after being promised despite two Nadi-Suva roundtrips I would get a full refund.


Fiji Airways Flight 10
Suva, Fiji (SUV) to Nadi, Fiji (NAN)
Depart 10:50, Arrive 11:20, Flight Time 30 minutes
Aerospatiale ATR 42-500, Registration DQ-PSB Manufactured 1997, Seat 11F

I paged through the Fiji Airways magazine. The President of Fiji Link had a very nice article about how their new ATR would improve things including reliability. PSYCH! JUST KIDDING. Shaenaz will be getting a letter from me, telling me her staff are crazy friendly and do their best to help despite being given nothing to work with. They also need a huge course in communication. Maybe I’ll offer some consulting services in exchange for a trip to Tuvalu…


Back to Nadi, where I went straight to the Fiji Airways ticketing office, and after about 30 minutes they had processed a full refund. Of course, there’s no sign of it on my credit card yet, but I have a refund number and a promise. I mean, Fiji Airways always keeps its promises so I have absolutely no doubt things will be just peachy…

Decided to cab it straight from the airport to Denarau Port, and grab lunch. At least I had a relaxing afternoon, and weather was great:



Lunch was followed up by pool time, and another gorgeous Fiji sunset. One note to anyone booking SPG stays in Fiji: the views of sunset from the Westin are meh, but the Sheraton’s pool area has amazing sunsets:


Another unexpected bonus was another dinner in Fiji. The incredibly friendly waitress at Chime Bar at the Sheraton shared with me a great Fijian restaurant at the Port, so I headed to Nandina Fijian to give it a try for dinner. How can a restaurant with a drink called the “Baby Maker’ be bad? It’s almost as promising as the “Naughty and Pregnant” I had in St Kitts this summer.


Starter of Kokoda, a kind of FIjian ceviche of raw fish in coconut broth. It was absolutely amazing:


Since I’ve bored everyone with a thousand sunsets, here’s a moonrise during dinner:


Main course of octopus in a coconut curry broth. Absolutely amazing, with huge amounts of octopus:


Trio of deserts, bananas in fijian rum, a chocolate cake, and vanilla ice cream. How could you go wrong!


Up early the next morning to catch the flight to Vanuatu. Wait, Vanuatu? Why am I going to Vanuatu? I’ve already been there…I’m supposed to be going to the Solomon Islands.

Stay tuned for Chapter Three in the continuing saga of AIR MESS aka AIR MAYBE aka Air Pacific aka Air Pathetic aka Fiji Airways!

Walking to the check-out area, one last Fiji beach shot. The beach chapel at the Sheraton:


Off to Nadi Airport!

Nov 142014

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.

Nov 132014

Mary’s driver drove me back to the airport after breakfast, again at no charge. Considering the drive was nearly an hour each way, and the room was only like $85, Mary’s is a fantastic value as a place to stay! I decided to leave for the airport three hours before the flight, based on the idea that the airport was tiny, however, Fiji Airways had a reputation. People had warned me before the trip that “the plane go when the plane go” or sometimes not at all. With only two flights a week to Kiribati, I wanted to make sure I was at the front of the queue in case anything went wrong.

Queue? Yes, this is the bustling Tarawa International Airport check-in desk:


See the large coolers? Almost every one of my fellow passengers had at least one, some of them four or five. I asked a local, and she said they were all filled with fresh fish that people were bringing to Fiji either to sell or to give to family and friends. I wonder what the overweight baggage fees on that are…

The novel aspect of check-in was…the computers were down. So they had absolutely no way to verify who was on the flight. If you didn’t have something proving you were on that day’s flight, you weren’t going. Now, this was problematic, because there was absolutely no data roaming in Kiribati. My phone wouldn’t work, so I had to pray I could do something that would appease them. Lesson learnt: carry hard copies. Fortunately, the one thing I had printed out was the details on TripIt of my flights. It had a date, flight number, and eticket number, so that was good enough for them. For all they knew I could have canceled it, but I guess it was good enough…considering this flight goes for minimum of $600 one-way, they were really taking some chances!

Waiting for the plane to arrive. Hopefully.


There were some cute signs/cards in the departures area made by local schoolchildren for World Teacher’s Day. Is it teacher’s or teachers? On another note, why were these posted in the airport? Mysteries that may never be solved….



Fortunately, the plane not only showed up, but showed up on time!


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