Aircraft Type: A330-200
Class: Business Class
Date: 6th February 2014
Best for: Savvy passengers who can afford to spend a little more to start their holiday early, and fight off the jetlag.
Most likely to sit next to: Anyone from a seasoned traveller top-to-toe in Linen luxury, to a marine biologist connecting on to Sydney.
Business or pleasure: This airline purely focusses on luxury leisure. A boutique product that doesn’t offer wifi or connectivity onboard, but a large TV screen and universal plug sockets in the seat mean you can charge your gadgets, if you can remember they are in your bag (harder that it seems after you are given a beautifully scented hot towel on getting to your seat).
Routes: The A330 is the cornerstone of the airline’s long haul destinations (currently only LAX and HKG) but you can also find the aircraft on short haul routes like Sydney too.
Frequent Flyer Programme: Tabua Club, which offers a variety of perks, but most passengers would benefit from using another airline card such as Qantas or American Airlines, as Fiji for most is an infrequent (sadly) visit.
Best bits: New plane smell. This plane makes most other planes look like they are headed for the scrap heap.
Worst bits: Just a couple more inches! If the seats were spread out a little more, the beds could go fully flat, which is a shame, but the sleep quality is still excellent. On both our flights, the cabin was full. The airline could afford to put a few more business class in the aircraft I am sure! Oh, and although the lounges are going through an upgrade, until they have, don’t expect a lot.
Fiji Airways Business Class Report
After reporting so much about the re-booted airline Fiji Airways, we thought it was about time we reported on the experience in a little more detail. For the sake of research (obviously), we picked up our bags and decided to peel ourselves away from the oh-so-delightful European weather and brave the tropical sunshine in Fiji. There are two ways for an international traveller to get to Fiji, especially for Europeans/Middle East/Africa, where it’s on the other side of the world. Hong Kong or Los Angeles. Both have excellent onward connections and partner airlines a-plenty.
We opted for Los Angeles, although in hindsight, Hong Kong would have been a better option, due to the arrival time. But more on that in a bit. As both international flights (both ways) are night flights, it makes sense to try to save up for a business class seat, so you arrive in paradise refreshed and relaxed (good to point out that although we didn’t experience economy, when walking through the cabin, we noticed there was plenty of space, amenities, and the cabin looked comfortable and passengers were sleeping soundly half way through the flight)
On the Ground
Fiji Airways (originally Air Pacific) flies from TBIT in LAX. That’s the terminal that is going through a huge renovation and now is lined with a variety of A380s at any one time. As we have used LAX so many times, TBIT fills us with a little dread, but we hadn’t experienced the new terminal at all, so it was good to try it out. On arrival, we made our way through the arrivals hall, which sadly still looks like an archaic crumbling relic that feels more at home in the film ‘Airplane’ than in 2014. Old semi-digital screens display a myriad of destinations and flight numbers, and thankfully it was easy enough to spot Nadi, and make our way to check in Zone A. Tucked in the right hand corner, and surrounded by temporary building works, it was a sigh of relief to nestle into the Fiji Airways check-in desks. We arrived approximately 2 hours before the flight. There wasn’t another person checking in, either in economy or business class, so we walked directly up to the desk.
The check-in staff were friendly, flowers adorned the counter, and bright colourful luggage tags were our first sign of the new brand that the airline is so wonderfully proud of. The bright colours were a welcome change, and you could tell the airline was making the most of a bad ‘retro’ environment. “Bula!” we were greeted, and as soon as passports were handed over, we were referred to by name, a nice touch. The ground staff in LAX wear bright coral coloured branded polo shirts, different from that of the cabin crew, but nice to see them in a relaxed and vibrant outfit.
Check-in took a matter of seconds, and before we knew it, our bags were on the way, and we were presented with boarding cards and lounge invitations. We opted for seats 4A and 4B. On seatguru, they mentioned the proximity of the galley could be bothersome, so being a stickler for detail and a sucker for punishment, we wanted to experience what were in theory, the worst business class seats in the house. After a brisk walk across the other side of the terminal, we went through the security checkpoint, utilising the business class lane.
Now here is a tip for arriving into Fiji, most people need to connect on to another island, and these connecting flights, with sea planes, helicopters and prop planes all need daylight to fly, meaning waiting in Nadi airport for around 3 hours before taking off again. There is a (basic) hotel called raffles just outside the airport car park, where you can grab a coffee and while away a few hours before anything opens in the airport.
The lounge at LAX is situated on the 4th floor (up one level) and positioned in the old part of the building. It’s a shared lounge, used by a variety of carriers, including Korean, Philippines and JAL I believe. It’s called the LAX International Lounge, and sadly, it wasn’t the jewel in Fiji’s branding crown. Whilst a totally normal lounge in all respects, (comfortable seating, wifi, self service bar) it was a little dated. There were no windows, and the layout wasn’t inductive to relaxation, but the food offering was adequate and there was plenty of seating available. The best element of this lounge by far is the staff however, who were incredibly helpful and very friendly.
It was only on leaving the lounge, and heading into the new portion of the terminal, we truly discovered how dated the lounge feels, especially considering the new Star Alliance lounge, Qantas Lounge and Emirates lounges that are being built in the terminal. Although we haven’t checked, and perhaps it is unfair to comment on this, we wouldn’t be surprised if Fiji Airways moves into the Qantas lounge when it fully opens this year in a similar move to the airline’s lounge access in Sydney. (Passengers currently flying Fiji Airways from Sydney are able to use Qantas’ International Business Class Lounge – partly due to the airline’s Qantas ownership)
We were the first business class passengers to board the aircraft, as we wanted to take a couple of snaps before everyone boarded, and managed to time our walk to the gate with perfection, slipping straight through to the walkway. Nice to see the airline uses two boarding gates at LAX, as business class passengers boarded from the 1st door, economy passengers from the door behind business class. We loved the ‘Bula’ element by the door on the outside of the aircraft, a lovely touch and a clever bit of livery design.
We were greeted by the head of the cabin crew, who was dressed head to toe in the new Masi print uniform in aqua and brown/grey. With a frangipani in her hair, it was the picture postcard of what we were expecting Fiji to be like. We could smell a wonderful fresh and tropical fragrance from the aircraft, and as we were escorted to our seat, and jackets taken, we couldn’t help but stop and take in the cabin design.
The business class cabin (and to most extents the economy cabin) is awash with neutral tones and a sense of serenity. The calm white and stone-coloured seats were clean and still looking like they are fresh out of their wrapping, mood lighting gently lit the walls with a warm sunset hue. Earthy toned carpets and clean white finishes on the walls made the aircraft felt as if heaven had an airline, this is was it. As we took in the cabin, smaller details started to surface, facing forward, the giant TV screens all showcased images of turquoise seas and sunsets over pacific islands, each time, the bright colourful images shifting the cabin’s mood. A giant ‘Welcome’ in the airlines new typeface (thanks FutureBrand) helped reinforce the new brand image. As we took to our seats, a member of the cabin crew came up. Suddenly the beautiful piercing aqua colour of their uniform makes sense. It’s the splash of colour that echoes the Fijian cultural roots… It’s all about the people. They stand out, and so they should. The elements of aqua continue through to the socks in the amenity kits and even the earplugs. It’s these tiny details that pull the whole thing together.
The seats are comfortable, there is no doubting that. As soon as you sit, you are surrounded in white leather and technology. The seat design means for privacy, even in a 2 x 2 x 2 seating configuration, as the wings of the chairs cleverly help block out the view of the person next to you. Between you and your companion is a pull out privacy screen, which would help the solo traveller. There is also a reading light situated beside your head, and obviously one above you too, making spot lighting a good book, or the inflight magazine FijiTime super easy. On your outer armrest, is a fold out panel, which has a variety of seat controls, allowing you to position the seat in an infinite amount of positions, and a ‘rotating icon’ button, which at first excited us thinking it was a massage function, but was instead the lumbar support for the chair.
The bed? Amazing, OK, so it’s lie flat, and is a few degrees off a true flat bed, and with the seat design, there are a few lumps and bumps when it reclines, but we managed to get about 7 hours uninterrupted sleep, and we didn’t wake up in a messed up heap at the bottom of the seat in the morning and that in itself is a great achievement. The seat has 60″ pitch, and there is plenty of space for you to climb over the person in front, although here is a tip… careful where you put your shoes, if the seat when reclining decides to munch on your favourite loafers, the seat can go into protest and refuse to work again, so a logical place to put your shoes is in between the two seats. This then proves difficult for window-seat passengers to navigate their way to the aisle.
The seat offers a 15 inch hi-res screen (not touchscreen, but no point as the screens are pretty far ahead of you) and in-seat power and a USB port, perfectly suited for charging your iPhone, or keeping your iPad from dying. The AVOD offers a variety of movies, (not a huge selection) but their TV programs are great, and there are plenty to chose from. We have read certain comments on the fact the IFE isn’t brilliant, but as these A330s only fly overnight, or on short 3 hour trips to NZ or Sydney, there isn’t a great need for a huge selection of Hollywood blockbusters, as most passengers will be trying to sleep, and only need one or two movies to keep them going for whilst they are awake. So no complaints from us!
The best bits of programming we found, and well worth a look, are the Fiji Airways documentaries, on how the airline was formed, the branding and how the uniforms were created. They really help give an insight into the depth of research and thought that was used in creating this new brand.
As it was a night flight, we started with a dinner, and enjoyed breakfast before landing. We were pleasantly surprised with the menu. The service of the food and presentation was up to standard for business class, although smaller, more delicate elements could have been a nice touch, such as an amuse bouche or a house cocktail offered to give a further sense of the islands.
Before we had our dinner, we were asked to fill in a breakfast order card, so they could serve us food without needing to wake us early, and the card offered 3 options, a full breakfast including fresh fruit, just the fruit and pastries, which bought you a further 15 minutes sleep, or a quick snack, which enabled a 30 minute extra lie-in.
The dinner itself was tasty, and surprisingly so. There were fish offerings including a prawn and plantain curry, a chicken dish, a filet of beef and vegetarian pastas were all on the menu. We started off with a warm coconut soup, which was so good, one of the passengers in the cabin had 3 bowls. Deciding to test the airline on something difficult, we went for the prawns and chicken dishes. (Filet of beef is pretty standard across the airline industry, which a few notable exceptions) The prawns were so large, fresh and tender they had a nice firm bite to them, and the curry sauce was delightful. It was a true Fijian dish, and tasted of the Pacific. The desert was lovely, and as were the wine pairings, offering the best of Australian and New Zealand regions.
As for breakfast, this was an amazing spread of food. Fresh fruit, yogurt with muesli, and pastries and toast that wasn’t soggy or stale. Then came the full breakfast, omelette with bacon, sausage, potatoes, tomatoes and mushrooms, and the alternative, which was also delightful, were pancakes with bananas.
The airline offers a variety of little extras, from Fiji Water a plenty to welcome drinks, through to real active noise cancelling headsets that work. There are more hot towels than you can count and the best extra is the service of the cabin crew. They really go above and beyond to make you feel at home. We loved the Fiji products in the bathroom, and the airline even offer two bathrooms for the business class passengers, one in the front and one of the ones behind the cabin. (although there was a handmade sign on the door saying ‘for business class passengers only’ – which seemed a little… handmade) The amenity kits are a little basic… no moisturiser etc, but the design more than compensates – it’s as cool as the G.O.D. Cathay Pacific premium economy ones. Masi-print eyemasks, wooden toothbrushes and bright aqua socks are all you really need.
This is one airline that through our recent experience reinforced itself as one of our Cool Airline Brands 2014. Whilst the ground side of the airline still needs investment (which is already being addressed), the actual aircraft experience is excellent, and brilliant way of crossing the pacific – even connecting on to Australia or NZ. The business class seats are comfortable, elegant and modern. The new brand is slick and effortless and the cabin crew are friendly and welcoming. This product in all ways is well worth the money and the perfect way to start any trip to Fiji, and comparing to Qantas or Air New Zealand or Hawaiian, a very good way of getting yourself across the pacific – with the perfect excuse to spend a couple of days in paradise.
Do yourself a favour. Book your flight with www.fijiairways.com