Thursday, May 4th: SKB (St. Kitts) – MIA (Miami), American Airlines
Row 2 – Business
Having worked and lived in the Caribbean for a while, we decided to move to the South Pacific islands, more in particular to Fiji, for a new project. We’d never been to that region of the world before, so it was quite a bit of an adventure. We had decided to fly to Miami first and relax a bit there, before continuing on to Fiji. On our last day in St Kitts, in the morning we had sealed the last of our boxes that would be picked up by the movers for separate transport to Fiji. What remained were 2 large suitcases, 1 large travel bag, 2 small travel bags, 1 roller/carry-on, a baby car seat for the plane, a stroller and 2 regular backpacks.
A major concern obviously was weight. Our 3 economy class tickets gave us the right to have a total of 6 checked bags, each weighing not more than 50 pounds (22 kg) each. That’s much better of course than the “20kg per person” that you often get, but when you’re moving the most essential household things it’s still quite a challenge.
After the movers left, we got some help from a friend to move all that luggage to the airport in St Kitts, and after we said farewell we checked in around 1PM. As we happened to be on Y-class tickets I had requested complimentary upgrades to business (being AA Gold). One for me and one for our son was confirmed, the one for my wife proved a bit difficult although she was also travelling on Y-class so it was possible to be upgraded with miles or cash. I offered to use upgrades I had on my account but in the end we got it for free. Thanks AA! The luggage was weighed, two of our 5 bags were slightly over the allowed weight but we got away with it as the rest was well under the limit. Once in Miami, we’d just have to rebalance things a bit and we’d be fine.
Photo © Ward Callens
Photo © Ward Callens
The flight was 80 to 90% full and left on time from St. Kitts. A bit later our son was sound asleep, and we had an excellent view on San Juan, Puerto Rico, followed by Turks and Caicos Islands and the Bahamas, and that was our farewell to the Caribbean. This was a relaxing flight, with great seats in business (much nicer seats than the business class section on the AA 757 for example).
This flight is just over 3 hours, with no time difference between the Caribbean and Miami. On board, we got a really nice meal with a desert and some good wine. I felt sorry for the economy class passengers, and their pretzel-only menu… They don’t even sell food on this flight in economy I think. Now that I’ve travelled a bit in the South Pacific meanwhile, where the standard is still that you get a warm breakfast in economy even on a 90-minute early-morning flight, it’s sad when you think about how in-flight catering has evolved in general…
The rest of the flight was nice and quiet, and so was our little one – yes ladies and gentlemen, so parents with children on a plane are actually quiet. Anyway, a bit ahead of schedule, we touched down in Miami and parked at the E-concourse, just 1 minute away from immigration. I’ve seen huge queues there before, but today, at 6:30PM, it was a very quick process, although I have to say I’ve never had my fingerprints taken by such an uninterested, bored-to-death gum-chewing officer as this one today... Welcome to the USA! Anyway, customs didn’t bother us as we tried to maneuver out with our cart with all our stuff on it. A few moments later we were on the hotel shuttle bus. Enough action for one day!
Friday, May 5th
No flight today… We took this as a day off to do some shopping. Oh, and I paid a very quick visit to the famous “Holes”, a great spotting location at Miami International Airport… Unfortunately, none of my masterpieces shot there have made it into the Airliners.net db so far
Saturday, May 6th: MIA – LAX, American Airlines
Seats 7DEF – bulkhead, economy
With our luggage a bit reorganised and just right on the weight allowances, we headed back to Miami International to check in at around 9.15AM. We were met by one of those AA Curbside Check-In agents. In a display of good sales tactics, he first showed us the queues inside. I wanted to try and get upgrades for this flight as well but they hadn’t been confirmed this time. So he explained that going through self-service check-in wouldn’t help. And the TSA screening queues were quite long so he quickly convinced me to try out curb-side check-in. Which basically means that you check in outside, and they take care of your bags. Even at $2 per bag, it seemed great. But, it turned out on the computer screen that we’d been “volunteered” for secondary security screening or something like that (ah, the strategy of keeping people scared of terrorist threats!), so suddenly curb-side became impossible. Luckily, this guy wanted to earn some money today, so he somehow managed to get us checked in without queueing anyway. The flight was completely full, so we didn’t get upgraded. But getting the first row in economy was fine as far as we were concerned.
Even though we’d continue on later that day from LAX to Nadi, Fiji on Air New Zealand, our bags were checked in all the way to Nadi. I had feared for a change of terminals in LAX with re-checking luggage etc, so this was great! There was still one bag slightly overweight, but there was again no penalty. The curb-side guy said he knew one bag was over the allowance just by lifiting it, and he was right! Anyway, I happily paid for this service. I have to say this part of the trip was my biggest concern, but the service we enjoyed was fantastic! (AA, can you now credit my mileage account please for this free advertising?)
Next was the security check, and given our SSSS status, that took a full 10 minutes. I am happy to report that TSA did not find any traces of explosives on our baby food and toys, stroller or child seat!
We first spent some time in the Admirals Club before continuing on to the gate area (one of the old cramped gate areas in terminal B, just awful). A bit later boarding started (yes, this family with small children was on board pretty quickly), and on-time, we were on our way for the transcontinental flight. This time, our son didn’t really enjoy the flight and he made quite some noise before finally settling in for his afternoon nap. He was woken up by the baby in the row behind us, can you imagine? Terrible
In-flight entertainment and food for purchase was far less impressive than the checking-in service. I hope the inventor of the “AA Snack box” (luckily they didn’t call it the SnAAckbox) has been forced to eat his invention for a year…
After plenty of sightseeing again on this flight, with nice views of Arizona’s meteor crater among the highlights, we arrived in LAX on time. As mentioned, all we had to do was get over from terminal 4 to terminal 2 to pick up our paper tickets and boarding passes for the Air New Zealand flight; our luggage was already checked in. We took the shuttle bus, were helped immediately by the Kiwis, registered our Star Alliance FF cards, and received our tickets after a short wait. We now had about 5 hours to kill, so we decided to take a cab up to Santa Monica for a quick visit to the pier and some nice non-airline food!
Saturday, May 6th: LAX – NAN (Nadi, Fiji), Air New Zealand
Arrival: 3:00AM, Monday May 8th (11 hours 45 minutes flight duration)
Seats 14DEF – middle section
Around 6PM (9PM Miami time) we were back at LAX and cleared security (much easier than on the morning flight). There was a bit of confusion about the exact gate for our flight, as a part of the gate area was closed off to serve as transit lounge. I was told there were some poor bastards that came in from London on the Air NZ flight, who would transfer to the LAX-NAN flight immediately afterwards. That’s almost 24 hours of flying… I was glad we didn’t have more than 17 in one day…
About an hour before the flight, a 767 was towed in at the gate. Meanwhile, we had checked with the gate staff to see if the flight was full. Turned out there were only going to be about 100 pax on this flight, and the gate people were checking to see what they could do for us. Once on board, the flight attendants actually offered us two rows a bit further to the back, which meant one of us could try to make a bed out of 3 seats. Thanks a lot, Air NZ! Another family with 2 small children was travelling on this plane as well, and again I can be hypocritical by complaining about the noise they made, haha! By this time our son had completely lost his sense of time, and out of the 12 hours he only really slept about 6 or 7. Us parents of course had much less than that… Well it took him a good few days after we eventually arrived, before he found his old rhythm again.
Travelling on NZ was new to me. I have to say I dislike 767’s in general with their 2-3-2 layout, it means we couldn’t get a window row and the ones I’ve been on weren’t exactly new neither. Same for this one, the seats are quite nice with good recline and footrests, and legspace is good, but the plane in general is just old. No PTV’s of course, but one of those ancient beamers projecting bad movies in bad quality on a screen in the front. The food was okay, but the service just excellent and very friendly. Of course the fact that only 100 people were on board would have helped, but I’d definitely travel on NZ again after this experience.
Photo © Ward Callens
As we travelled over the dateline and “lost” a day we prepared for arrival into Fiji with a middle-in-the-night breakfast. This plane would continue on to Auckland for another 3 hours after its one hour stop in Nadi, something I really wouldn’t have liked to do!
Upon arrival in the terminal in Nadi, regardless of the time of the day, you are greeted by Fijian musicians/singers with flowers in their hair and bula island shirts. Even after a trip like this, it’s all it takes to make you smile! Immigration was swift, our bags (all of them!) were ready on the belt, we made it through customs into a taxi, and a good hour after landing we were in our hotel. The end of a difficult, but after all very smooth trip. In a few months we’re doing a 24-hour trip to Europe (and back!), but if it goes like this, we’ll be fine!
EDITed for a few typos
[Edited 2006-06-19 08:11:54]