Airbus A330-300, the biggest plane in the airline's fleet. The A330-300, Island of Rotuma, is the only aircraft in the airline's fleet to feature an economy quiet zone for customers aged 18 years and over.
Sydney to Nadi.
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Tabua Club, Fiji Airways rewards program ($FJ499 a year), offers priority check-in, extra baggage allowance etc. Membership allows you entry to the Qantas lounge in Australian airports.
The captain's pre take-off estimate of three hours 37 minutes was spot on.
Twice daily from Sydney. Fiji Airways also flies daily from Brisbane, five times a week from Melbourne and twice a week from Adelaide. The airline also has flights onwards to Los Angeles, San Francisco and Honolulu, making a Fijian stopover a viable option if you have business in the US. (It also recently launched flights to Tokyo.)
The business cabin contains 24 seats in a 2-2-2 configuration. My leather-upholstered aisle seat with its ample pitch of 60 inches (152 centimetres), USB points and substantial storage was extremely comfortable, aided by the fact no one was occupying the neighbouring seat. Had there been a neighbour, I would have used the privacy screen had I found it (it comes out horizontally from the central panel, not vertically as I was expecting). The seat reclines into an eight-degree "lie-flat" bed – little used on a four-hour flight, but much more valuable on longer flights.
Check-in baggage of 40 kilograms, two pieces of cabin luggage of seven kilogram or under, plus a laptop bag or case.
There is an hour's delay getting away from the gate. The captain explains the delay is out of his hands (a baggage-handling issue at Sydney), but says the cabin crew will do their best to make us comfortable. Meanwhile, the entertainment system is already working. I'm listening to Pink's latest album when the flight attendant asks if I would like to try a pre-flight cocktail. Purely in the interests of research, I try a Laucala sour, one of the airline's two alternating "signature" cocktails (Fijian rum liqueur, Fijian rum, honey, lemon syrup and apple juice – invented at Laucala Resort). And we haven't even got to take-off yet.
The 15.4-inch screen occupies most of the seat in front. At first, the options seem limited. The in-flight magazine lists just eight movies and a handful of TV series, though it does say there are more than 550 full-length albums across 12 musical categories. I only have time for one movie anyway so opt for Baby Driver (God, it's weird seeing Kevin Spacey in a movie now). Only on landing do I discover the entertainment system actually contained far more movies and TV shows. This my one gripe: the airline would serve its passengers better by spelling out everything that is on offer (as the elite airlines do in their in-flight guides).
According to the Fiji Sun, all airline employees are rewarded according to the airline's profitability (and 2017 was a record year). That may account for the level of attention, but probably not. Fijians are naturally hospitable and patriotic – except when they are playing for the All Blacks or the Wallabies!
The cabin staff were excellent (easily the equal of many international airlines much higher in the awards pecking order), but I'd also like to thank the flight crew.
Too often – like railway station announcers or airline check-in staff – they leave you in the dark. On this flight, the captain explained in simple terms there was a problem with departure and that he would get back to us as soon as he had an update – which he did. I'd settle for that over a celebrity signature ice-cream any time.
By the time you might fly, the menu will have changed. Robert Oliver, a "Kiwi celebrity chef" – yes, it sounds like an oxymoron – took over direction of the in-flight menu in January 2018. So I can't vouch for it. My pre-Oliver lamb shank, however, was beautifully cooked and presented.
Oliver's influence was evident in Nadi International Airport's new business class lounge which opened just before Christmas 2017 – easily the equal of Sydney Airport's Qantas equivalent, particularly if you like curries, South Sea island food and Fiji street treats.
ONE MORE THING
You feel like you've already arrived in Fiji as soon as you slump into your seat. In my experience (mainly economy), the airline's cabin crew is among the most welcoming in the skies.
Much improved product reflects the airline's growing ambition.
Steve Meacham travelled as a guest of Fiji Airways.