My first trip to Fiji was off to a good start. After checking in at the Air Pacific counter in LAX on Saturday for my 11:30 p.m. flight to Fiji, I learned I’d been upgraded to Business Class. The 10-hour flight was going to be a breeze. The late departure was well-timed, allowing for a full night’s sleep before arriving at Nadi International Airport at dawn.
The entrance to Nadi International Airport at dawn.
Air Pacific calls their Business Class “Tabua” and their Economy Class “Pacific Voyager.” I was aboard a 747-400, the biggest plane in Air Pacific’s fleet, with 28 Tabua seats and 430 Pacific Voyager seats.
Once on board, the service started with champagne and a bottle of Fiji Water. Amenity kits were also handed out, containing the customary toothbrush and cabin socks, but with some premium additions, such as Pure Fiji Body Gel and Pure Fiji Body Butter.
Fijians are legendary for their friendliness. Before we even took off, I had a warm conversation with one of the flight attendants, Mili, an 18-year veteran of Air Pacific. When Mili learned I was writing about her country, she offered to take me to her village to meet her family and friends and to take part in a kava ceremony. Kava is a potent home brew made from a Fijian pepper plant, Piper methysticum. The travel writer Paul Theroux wrote about the elaborate communal drinking ritual built around kava in his excellent book, The Happy Isles of Oceania. Supposedly kava makes your mouth numb with the first bowl and eventually leads you into a mild psychedelic state. Later in the week, if I manage to take Mili up on her offer, I’ll let you know how I fared with Fiji’s magic potion.
The evening light meal service consisted of a choice of three entrees and a selection of wines, mostly vintages from New Zealand and Australia. I had the glazed chicken Teriyaki kebab with basmati rice and a glass of Monkey Bay sauvignon blanc.
There was an in-seat entertainment system loaded with a selection of movies, TV shows and music. I gave it a quick look and then turned it off, preferring to get some shut-eye. The seats didn’t recline completely flat, although they reclined to a sufficient degree to let me stretch out and sleep through the night.
In the morning we received a light breakfast service, which included juice and champagne, a fruit plate, cereal and yogurt; and a more substantial “Vaka Viti” breakfast which included the former with the addition of a cheese omelet, potatoes, chicken sausage, mushrooms and asparagus and grilled Canadian bacon. I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy eating on planes, even when the food is excellent, so I stuck to fruit and black coffee.
A mural at Nadi International Airport's baggage claim.
It was still dark as we made our approach into Nadi (pronounced “Nandee”). Immigration took mere minutes. As I waited for my suitcase in baggage claim, I heard birds chirping on the other side of the windows. Soon there were hundreds of unseen birds singing different birdsongs, really sounding excited to greet the day. Since waiting for your bags to show on the belt is one of those dreary existential moments all travelers have to face, the birds were a nice boost. My spirits were lifted even higher when I walked through the airport’s doors and saw the sunrise over green mountains. I was in an international airport but it already felt like I was entering a natural paradise.