Along the way, I flew on some of the world’s best airlines and shared my thoughts on the ground and in the air. The cash cost for the airfare alone would have been well more than $17,000. Using miles and points, however, I knocked the cost down to around $500. Learn how to travel like I do with PointsAway: The Definitive Guide To Free Flights & Nights.
It was just south of Christmas Island when the minor panic attack set in. I hadn’t really thought about the number of personal firsts this flight would mean until it was already well underway. This was my first trip below the equator, my first transpacific journey to a destination farther away than Hawaii, my first Business Class flight with a foreign carrier and my longest flight, at over ten hours in length.
About 40,000 feet above Christmas Island, I realized I was officially farther away from all of my family and friends than I had ever been before. I looked out the window and caught view of a single bright star against a dark blue sky, buttressed by a patchwork quilt of clouds scorched a dark shade of orange by the setting sun. I realized I’d never seen that star before, having never traveled so far south. This was oddly comforting, a reminder that adventure was afoot. I closed the shade and pressed one of the many buttons controlling my seat, converting it to its flattest position through the combined effort of untold gears and motors. I snuggled up under my Fijian comforter and took my second nap of the flight.
Settling In On Fiji Airways
This flight on Fiji Airways was far and away the most exceptional I’ve yet had the pleasure of taking. Walking into the cabin for the first time was sheer joy. I’d seen pictures and had a good idea of what to expect, and reality held up to the expectation. Fiji Airways’ Business Class cabin is extremely fresh in design, at once modern and tropical, and very inviting. Consisting of 24 total seats on its A330-200 aircraft, the largest in the Fiji fleet, seats are arranged in a 2-by-2-by-2 fashion, four rows deep.
Each seat featured a decorative pillow; comforters matching the pillow’s pattern were distributed later in the flight. Every seat also came equipped with one of the brilliant universal power plugs increasingly seen in flight. These same outlets should be standard in hotels.
A USB port was available for separate charging, but appeared to deliver just the minimum amount of power a USB device might request. iPads, for example, ask for more power than is standard for a USB port, so mine would not charge through the plug, requiring me to use its AC adapter in the universal outlet instead.
Ahead of the seat was a gorgeous 20″ display for the in-flight entertainment system. A number of curious cubbies and compartments were also available for passengers’ use. Along with the two cubbies below the video display, which could be locked into place using the latches to the righthand side, several additional container areas ringed around the middle of the center console and two bottle holders were placed below the pockets used to store flight literature and safety information. A coat hook was stationed to the side of the video display, though not far enough away to be useful without obstructing view of the screen.
To the interior side of the seat’s headrest was an LED lamp that could be adjusted in any direction for reading. The lamp would only activate if pushed into an angled position and would fade in and out slowly. A proprietary 3-jack headset port rested below, into which the noise-cancelling headphones the flight crew handed out could be plugged. A partition piece could also be pulled to create some privacy between passengers. In the center console, large meal tray tables were hidden away, while the other armrest concealed the controls for the seat.
It was possible to separately control the angle of the back of the seat, the seat’s lumbar, the position of the seat itself, the position of its reclining leg rest and the length of the leg rest, useful given the footrest that could be easily deployed.
A number of presets could also be selected by holding down on one of four options. The first put the seat into position for takeoff and landing. The second reclined while retaining a sitting position. The third came closer to lying flat while still propping a passenger’s head up high enough to watch a movie. The fourth stretched the seat to its limits and achieved a pitch of roughly 80º.
It’s really a shame that the seat is incapable of achieving a truly flat position, as it’s extremely comfortable. If it could have reclined just a few more degrees, I have no doubt I could have slept much of the flight away. As it was, I could only manage to curl up on my side and take a few short naps. It’s difficult for me to fall asleep for even a few minutes in even the best Economy seat, though, so I have no doubt that easier sleepers could make do with the slight angle just fine.
After boarding, I was offered champagne by one of the front cabin attendants. Free copies of USA Today and hot towels were also distributed. The purser came by to shake the hand of each Business Class passenger prior to take-off. An attendant offered to take pictures if anyone was interested. I took her up on the offer:
Soon enough, we were climbing.
I always forget how close LAX is to the ocean; seconds after takeoff, we were leaving the beaches of Southern California behind.
There were just nine Business Class passengers on the flight. Six were couples, presumably heading to Fiji as their final destination. The other three of us were sprinkled throughout the cabin. I had a window seat and no immediate companion, though an older woman traveling on her own was just a couple seats over, perfect for the occasional bit of conversation while retaining all the benefits of having a row to oneself.
Some rice snacks and a Fiji Gold were offered after takeoff.
Menus were distributed shortly thereafter.
A lighter meal was on the schedule early in the flight, followed by a more substantial dinner around the time dinner would be served in Nadi, to help passengers adjust to the time change. The first meal started with a tomato bisque and could be followed by a surf and turf of beef and shrimp with spinach and a sweet potato dauphinoise, a chicken curry with ghee rice and sautéed mushrooms and carrots or a mushroom and asparagus mix served with pesto sauce and parmesan. I went with the surf and turf.
The presentation of each course was a delight. It’s easy to forget that you’re flying when meals are served like this, in proper dishware with proper silverware. The tomato bisque was quite good. The bread was fine. The cheese was somewhat mysterious. I couldn’t pin down what kind of cheese each was, though I definitely liked one more than the other.
After I was done with the soup, the main course arrived. I wish there’d been just one more shrimp, as they were quite good. The beef tasted more like a hamburger than steak, but was still miles ahead of whatever was served in the back of the plane. The sweet potato concoction was pretty yummy, slathered as it was in cheese.
I checked out the movie options while eating. There was a mix of movies I’d already seen and enjoyed and movies I had no intention of seeing. I’d yet to see Muppets: Most Wanted, so I put that on while I ate. Later in the flight, I checked out some of the TV shows offered on the in-flight system, including a few on native food in Fiji and New Zealand that were fun.
Despite the quality of the huge display, I found myself switching off the in-flight entertainment system for large portions of the flight for a couple reasons. For one, the noise-canceling headsets were clearly made for someone without ears as large as mine; they began to ache whenever I wore the headset for more than an hour at a time. For two, I wish the system had just a few more movies available. The in-flight guide referenced a number of movies I hadn’t seen yet that would have been fun, but Fiji Airways constrains the availability of some titles based on the direction of a flight. I ended up keeping the airshow on most of the time:
After lunch, many passengers chose to pass out and shut all of the window shades. Knowing it was quite early at our destination, I did my best to stay up for a while. I alternated between writing, reading, playing a game and covertly opening my window shade from time to time, slowly so as to not disturb others who were sleeping. Beautiful clouds more often than not were the only sight to see when opening the window.
The Magic Curtain
It’s incredible how quickly one can get used to the extraordinary novelty of flying in the front of the plane. I ventured into Economy at one point in an effort to stretch my legs a bit.
It was clear that we were essentially on a cruise ship in the front while those in the back were in a flying refugee camp. Children were curled up on the floor in front of parents at the bulkhead seats; men too late to share adjacent seats were pressed up against each other in a war of inches and armrests. Thin pieces of cloth not terribly worthy of the name “blanket” provided no warmth to those huddled up within them.
I didn’t feel as thankful for my spot up front as I did bad that everyone else wasn’t receiving the same treatment. I retreated to Business Class and somewhat guiltily closed the curtain that made the packed Economy section fade into the distance.
The plight of my fellow passengers out of mine, I began to wonder if I’d heard correctly that a second meal would be served. A few minutes later, with about 2.5 hours left in the flight, our attendants emerged with new menus.
Default starters of a garden salad with ginger dressing and a raspberry-based dessert left only a main selection to be made. I passed on the grilled steak, figuring it was probably of the same ilk as the steak from earlier and went with the grilled salmon with lobster macaroni instead.
The salad appeared quickly. The ginger dressing was pleasingly strong; about half the container was more than enough to give the salad a good taste. The parmesan-based dip provided for the bread was also yummy.
A few minutes later, the attendant cleared my plate, and I was next faced with this:
I was embarrassed at first to ask where the salmon had gone. I thought perhaps they were serving the dessert first almost like a palette cleanser, or that perhaps they’d run out of the fish and forgot to tell me, or that there wasn’t enough time left in the flight for the main course and so they’d skipped ahead. A bite in, I determined I wasn’t much of a fan of the dessert. It turns out it had a base of chocolate. While most people obviously love chocolate, I’m a weirdo and loathe it.
Once I’d discovered the dessert’s dark secret, I definitely wanted the salmon. I asked the purser and she apologized profusely for the oversight. Two minutes later, the salmon was in front of me, the dessert whisked away to be kept fresh until after I’d had the main course.
The salmon was quite good, definitely the best element of either of the meal’s flights. It was very tender and the sauce it came basted with was a great pairing. The lobster macaroni and cheese was alright, though wasn’t the type of cheesy I was anticipating. The raspberry dish made a return once I was done with the main course and I took another couple bites from the top to be polite.
Touchdown In Nadi
Landing was close now. Not long after meal service was complete, lights began to come on across the cabin. Headsets were collected and announcements for final approach were made. I somewhat unwillingly return my seat to its full upright position, feeling the seat’s gears and motors once again dance back and forth. There weren’t many lights to see on approach, but even the few that dotted the black below were a reassuring sign that land was back under us for the first time in the better part of a day.
We were allowed to deplane before the Economy passengers, who understandably looked far more ready to evacuate than those of us up front. I hadn’t thought about how this would ease immigration; I waited perhaps two minutes before a customs agent waved me forward. A band made its best attempt at earning tips for a couple minutes by playing tropical-sounding music as passengers streamed by. I waited for my bag at the carousel before realizing a solid five minutes later it had already been pulled aside for me thanks to the priority label affixed by the American agent so many miles away in Orlando.
I expected to be nearly catatonic upon landing but was far from it. I’d been up for more than 24 hours straight at this point, with the exception of those quick naps, but wasn’t terribly tired. This was purely the result of top-class treatment all the way from Orlando I have no doubt that had I been in Economy, things would have been much different. I grabbed the shuttle and headed to Tokatoka Resort for the night; my next flight would leave about a dozen hours later, and it was time for some sleep.
This was the second of three segments on the same American award ticket. For 62,500 miles and $135.70, I traveled First Class from Orlando to Los Angeles on American and on to Nadi with Fiji Airways in Business Class. The final segment would come the next morning, from Nadi to Auckland again on Fiji Airways in Business Class.
The cost for the Los Angeles to Fiji to Auckland route in Business Class on Fiji Airways would have been a breathtaking $3,529.27 had I paid with cash.