31 August 2006
We started off with the 190 km drive from our home in Suva, Fiji to the international airport in Nadi. We took it really easy, allowing plenty of time for stops along the beautiful road to Nadi, and got to the airport 4 or 5 hours ahead of the departure time (23.20), allowing us to have a decent meal, say hi to a few people living close by and relax.
Nadi airport is one of those quite advanced small international airports. It may not have many flight movements but it can still seem busy due to the small scale and relatively large number of long-haul passengers passing through it. This evening, next to our Air New Zealand flight (NZ20) to LAX (actually, this is an AKL-NAN-LAX flight), there was the Air Pacific (744) flight to LAX as well as an Air Vanuatu flight to Port Vila and Honiara. Not a lot, but with about 600 people in what is effectively a 3-gate terminal with a small but decent selection of shops, bars and facilities, it looks just like a busy major airport.
Photo © Snorre - VAP
Photo © Charles Villiger
Check-in took a while, this was quite a full flight and quite a number of people had shown up early, queuing up before check-in actually opened. After about 15 minutes we had our boarding passes for a middle block of 3 seats in the front coach section of the venerable 767-300. We ended up flying on 767’s on 5 of the 6 segments of this trip!
Photo © Ward Callens
Photo © Danny H. Masson (Flyskyward)
This trip took place during the first weeks after the “liquid bomb threat". We’ve hence had the pleasure of witnessing the then completely new security measures involving water bottles… In Nadi, it started with an additional screening between gate boarding pass checking and the actual jet bridge to the aircraft. My bag (laptop, camera etc.) was investigated and a half-empty bottle of Fiji water was confiscated but hardly anything else in my laptop bag even looked at… With about 15 minutes delay thanks to the added security, Flight NZ20 departed from Nadi around 23.30 for a 10 hour 50 minute journey into LAX. Crossing the dateline, we arrived on the same day as we left of course, earning back the day we lost when traveling westbound over the date line the first time...
Despite the late hour a full meal service was started shortly after departure, with the usual decent quality airplane food and simply great NZ service. Maybe they should rethink this though - if you serve a dinner after midnight, when it's already early morning at your destination airport, maybe they should do a light meal instead, and keep the main course until closer to arrival?
As I am writing this report, I’m trying very hard to remember anything unusual about this flight but it really was very uneventful (and very long). The lack of decent IFE (instead, you get to watch projected movies in awful quality on a screen 10 meters away), combined with my inability to sleep at all while sitting half-upright in an economy-class seat, made for a very boring flight – I can’t read all night! Our little boy was behaving quite well in his baby car seat which we put into the middle seat. Using this is on many airlines actually a requirement if you want to get a seat for a child under 2. The alternative was to keep him on your lap. Try that!
31 August 2006 - again!
We didn’t really make up the lost time and arrived in LAX around 3.30PM on August 31st and moved swiftly into a Terminal 2 gate. Everything was very quiet in T2, with the shortest immigration queues I’ve ever seen – 5 minutes tops and we were ready to collect our bags, which of course took much longer! In fact they rushed us through immigration as apparently two widebodies were to arrive immediately after our flight. Anyway, it was quite an easy arrivals procedure and soon thereafter we were unpacking at a local airport hotel. Our flights to ORD and onward to BRU would not be until the next morning, so we relaxed, did some very welcome mall shopping (spend a few months on any remote island and you’ll understand what a pleasure this can suddenly become!) and had a nice meal before trying to get some sleep. That was quite a problem – try to explain to a jetlagged toddler that he really has to try and sleep…
Photo © Brian Bartlett
1 September 2006
The next morning (I felt exhausted!), we made our way back to LAX, terminal 4 this time, for the AA flights to ORD and BRU. Thanks to my AA Gold card we could save quite some queuing time (check-in was very busy this morning and I was happy to see there was a dedicated TSA bag screening table next to the business class check-in (the regular bag screening queue must have been 100 meters long). Bags were checked through to Brussels, we had our boarding passes as well. I still fail to understand why bags have to be manually put on the table of a TSA inspector by the passenger him/herself, after having checked in…
Photo © Paul Spijkers
At security upstairs, our child’s water bottle had to be emptied (we filled it up in the Admirals Club afterwards...) and a very dangerous baby skin lotion was confiscated. We spent a few moments at the Admirals Club. I had tried to get AA Gold upgrades on this domestic section to ORD, which meant I had to split up our reservation as my wife does not have a Gold card and I couldn’t apply for upgrades with her in the reservation. As the flight was completely full we didn’t get the upgrade, but now we weren’t even sitting next to each other. A very helpful clerk at the Admirals Club sorted that out.
Boarding and departure was on time, once again we were in a middle section with 3 seats, on an AA 767-300. The flight was uneventful, food service a complete joke. The only thing “food for sale” was a muffin, I bought the last 2 and we were only about half way through the coach section. The complimentary coffee wasn't very good. Low-cost service on AA.
As we arrived at O’Hare, I realized we were going to continue on to BRU exactly on the same plane, as we parked at our departure gate and the connection time was only slightly over an hour. We were very close to the Admirals Club, where we got some late lunch and extra sandwiches for our transatlantic trip.
A bit later we boarded and found ourselves in the same plane indeed, but now in the bulkhead row at the front of the coach section. We felt home as the cabin announcements now suddenly changed from English and Spanish, to Dutch, English and French.
Photo © Sam Chui
Photo © Jerome Mervelet
We left a little late, and spent at least 15 minutes doing nothing somewhere on the way to the departure runway. What followed once airborne, was one of the less enjoyable transatlantic experiences. First, the food. Once again, shame on you, AA. Not even one free drink, on a long-haul international flight (except non-alcoholic)? Very mediocre food? A little bag of cookies instead of a small piece of cake for desert? What a miserable food service. I’d happily pay $10 more to get normal food, you know that? It can’t be that expensive, can it? Why are other top airlines capable of giving nice quality?
On the positive side, the part of the cabin we were in, is quite comfortable.
Photo © Timothy Hannan
The second aspect were very loud neighbours. Two ladies were chatting all through the night, and directly behind us was an elderly gentlemen with his grandson, literally yelling at each other as the grandfather couldn’t hear well. Never had so much “human noise” on a flight. On top though, the flight attendants (who are there for our safety rather than service, as we all know), rudely awakened people in the middle of the night as the fasten-seatbelts sign came on for a zone of turbulence. Armed with loud voices and flashlights, they came to inspect all sleeping passengers to ensure they were buckled up. I just couldn’t believe it, there are other ways of doing this!
After “breakfast” we arrived back in Brussels, of course at the end of the B-councourse which means another 10 minutes walking to baggage claim. Oh and yes it took of course a full 15 minutes before the bags showed up. Anyhow, I was really glad I was finally on the ground!
The way back - 15 September 2006
We arrived about 2 1/2 hours before departure at check in. Once again we could use Business Class check in with my AA card, but of course not before going through the “interview” and document control that is seemingly only necessary at European airports when traveling on US carriers. The check-in agent asked whether we would volunteer to travel back to LAX via JFK rather than ORD, as that would solve an overbooking issue. As we’d arrive in LAX around the same time as through ORD, we agreed and she rescheduled us, which due to some system issue took at least 15 minutes.
The lines at security were long, it was a very busy day at BRU. At the gate, then there was an additional security check again, with more waiting, which we could partly bypass thanks to our stroller and helpless family look . Not that it really helped of course, because once on board the plane we had to wait for everyone else anyway before departing, about 30 minutes late, to JFK.
Photo © Paul Jongeneelen
After a good flight (nothing special, but better than the ORD-BRU leg), we arrived at JFK in the early afternoon in very heavy rain. We had to wait before our gate was vacated, then deplaned on one of the furthest gates, number 10 in Terminal 8, which meant a long walk through an awful maze of windowless corridors, leaks in the roof everywhere, really unworthy of a major airport I must say. On the photo below, I think it is the gate at the end, opposite where the 777 is parked.
Photo © Michael F. McLaughlin
Immigration took quite some time as well, but at least our bags were ready for collection once we got through. We quickly proceeded through customs to put them on the belt again for our connecting flight (another fantastic feature of international travel involving the US of A…) and then continued on to gate 36 in terminal 9 for our connecting flight to LAX. I must say it’s not very well indicated how to get from one to the other. That whole terminal 8 looks really very shabby. Especially compared to 9 which seems brand new and was largely empty when we were there. Point to note, TSA allowed us to bring a bottle of water through security! On the picture below, T8 is on the right, with the new terminal still under construction in this picture.
Photo © Nick Onkow
Our flight to LAX was seriously delayed, apparently a guy has bumped his head on the previous flight, and there was quite some blood (!) to be cleaned up, or at least that was the official explanation. As usual, information given by the staff was very minimal, which is something I still fail to understand: I find it much worse to be lied at with “we’re boarding soon, it’s just 30 minutes delay”, which then becomes 60 minutes or 90 minutes, rather than being told the bad news right away. We could have spent quite some more quality time in the lounge if people had been honest about the delays.
The flight on the 3-class 767-200 was full until the last seat, so again we didn’t get any upgrades. Having just done a transatlantic flight, then walked through JFK and having waited for a delayed flight, this flight all the way in the back of this plane was really too much for me. The rain was terrible, only one runway seemed to be in use, and it took us almost one further hour to get from the gate to takeoff clearance. Once airborne the flight seemed to take ages before we finally got into LAX, close to 3 hours late, after dark. Luckily, the rest was smooth, with bags collected and a swift ride and check into another airport hotel. This time, I had a great night’s rest!
Photo © Matthew Lee - Contrails Aviation Photography
16 September 2006
Final part then, the trip back to Nadi. This flight, on FJ (Air Pacific, Fiji's international airline) left late at night from the TBIT terminal at LAX, but we still had a full day in front of us to relax. We decided to quickly rent a car, drive around LA and do some more shopping, and to check into another hotel for a day room (our Embassy Suites hotel was sold out completely). This then allowed us to go to TBIT for check-in early, get some food, return the rental car and get back to the airport again without stress… Check-in was very smooth thanks to my Tabua Club card I have for Air Pacific. Bag screening was equally hassle-free for a change.
Photo © Andrew Hunt - AirTeamImages
A few hours later we checked through security again – for a change, even our 18-month old son had to take off his shoes, and the bottle of water was confiscated… “I don’t care what TSA does in New York, but here I’m going to have to take it”. Well, so be it. We went to the JAL lounge, also used by QF and FJ, as there were apparently remodeling works going on in the proper QF lounge. It was quite small and full of people, elevators out of service etc., but of course much nicer than the rest of the terminal.
At departure time the B744 was nowhere to be seen, and of course there was absolutely no announcement made to explain, apologise or give any indication on departure time. Well after scheduled departure time the plane was towed in. Once on board, it became clear that we’d have further delays as the departure slot was gone of course by now. Total delay about one hour.
Photo © Stuart Lawson
We were upstairs in the upper deck economy section, quite nice as I’d never been in that section of the JumboJet, but a bunch of extremely idiotic US Citizens (sorry, not generalising) spoiled part of the experience with loud laughter, belching, singing and constant “WHOOOOAAAA DUUUUUUUDE” behaviour. Unbelievable. Add to that a very junior upper deck flight attendant who didn’t dare to say anything, and a crying baby close by and a restless toddler to look after, and this was once again almost a remedy for travel!
Air Pacific really offers good service, with personal TV screens, a nice meal and hot breakfast, small amenity bag and friendly service. That helps to prepare of course, for the hot and humid Nadi arrival at 5AM in the morning...
Sorry - no cabin shot showing the upper deck... But it's 3-3 economy class just like the seats shown below
Photo © Jorgos Tsambikakis
We were exhausted by the time we checked into one of the hotels close to Nadi airport. Luckily we got a decent rest before continuing on to home in Suva. By the afternoon we were settling in at home. The next day, I got to drive back to the airport (I slept all the way) for business travel taking me from Nadi to Auckland, then on to Wellington, and on to Apia in Samoa. That’s half of the globe in 3 days!
Bottom line? If you're travelling like this (i.e. without premium class possibilities) you really need to break up the trip, and elite status/lounge membership really helps to make check-in and wait time a little bit more enjoyable. Next time I'm on a trip like this though, I will try finding another combination of airlines and airports to check out the difference.
If you've read all the way through this, congratulations and thanks! Hope you enjoyed this report, and I hope next time I can take some more pictures myself, and try to remember seat and gate numbers, departure times etc...
[Edited 2007-01-12 04:52:38]