Reborn at Age 62
Something more than the “new plane smell” captivated me on entering that pristine Fiji AirwaysA330-200 for its maiden voyage from Los Angeles: Beyond the soothing mood lighting and the spiffy electronics, this business-class cabin was swathed in masi, Fiji’s traditional textile known as “cloth of the gods.” Splayed across blankets, pillows, eyeshades and even flight attendants’ attire, then reaching out to the plane’s tailfin, the primitive-chic design transported me to the old South Pacific before even leaving the gate. The new planes, fresh livery and updated decor all coincide with the rebranding of this oceanic country’s national airline: Known as Air Pacific for the last few decades, it’s now returning to its 1951 name, Fiji Airways.
The South Seas atmosphere was so enchanting that we were midway through the 10-hour flight before it dawned on me that, in fact, this was simply a sleek business-class cabin, not really different from any other. Each of the 74-inch-long seats (24 in all) had a 60-inch pitch with ample articulation for dining, reclining and sleeping flat (albeit, on an eight-degree angle), as well as the same power plugs and USB ports that can be found in economy-class seats.
In-flight entertainment with Panasonic eX2 VOD was on 15.4-inch monitors that were excellent, but not airline record-breakers—although the lineup had some unexpectedly hip choices, like the Ricky Gervais–produced “An Idiot Abroad” and Australian garage rock from British India. If food is not Fiji Airways’ strong suit—our late-night post-takeoff choices of grilled beef, salmon with buerre blanc or lobster mac-and-cheese were not quite the promised “Light Meal”—the airline clearly understands that solid shut-eye is the first priority for every business traveler. The innovative Sleeper Service lets flyers decide whether to be awakened about 90 minutes before landing, for a full breakfast; 60 minutes ahead, for a Continental; or to lie abed until 45 minutes before touchdown, with just a “hot cuppa.”
Still, the flight was extraordinary for several reasons: Since everything was brand new, seats reclined with silky motion, the entertainment systems were seamlessly integrated and there were no wrestling matches with the tray tables. Under the hood of the plane itself, Rolls Royce Trent 700 engines specifically designed for these new A330s—soon to replace all of the 747s now flying this route—likely contributed to the near turbulence-free ride.
Still, the most memorable aspect of this journey was its humanity. There was a charming hesitancy to the crew announcements, as opposed to the larger airlines’ practiced script, including a few hiccups, such as calling the airline “Air Pacific” (the name change was just a few weeks old). Yet the coolest part of my journey had to be discovering that the seat next to mine was the pilot’s rest area: Not so bad, awakening every few hours next to a different handsome fellow. (When the youngest pilot seemed inclined to chat, I’m afraid I went all “mom” on him, advising that he go right to sleep, because in a few hours he was expected to land the plane!)
I’ll fly Fiji Airways again for the same reason I’ll revisit Fiji: for its folksy side. Flight attendants tend to passengers like aunties and uncles, the food is more hearty than refined French—I’m one that prefers thick cassava chips to smoked salmon with my drinks—and the entertainment offers local Fiji radio, even if the only thing I understand is the occasional bula bula. That all-purpose greeting means “hello,” “goodbye,” “love” and “glad to see you”—a promise of the openhearted welcome to come.
Courtesy : Premier Traveler