Colourful Australian aviation pioneer Harold Gatty founded Fiji Airways in 1947 with ex-military freighters. In 1951 the airline changed names to Air Pacific and relocated from Suva’s Nausori Airport to Nadi and flew its first passengers with a 7 seat De Havilland Dragon Rapide. From humble beginnings as a domestic airline the idea emerged to transform Air Pacific into a regional airline serving British Commonwealth countries in the Pacific. Australia’s Qantas, Air New Zealand and British Airways joined with Fiji, Tonga, Samoa, Nauru and Kiribati in owning Air Pacific but the idea fell out of favour as each country concentrated on developing their own carriers. In 1983 Air Pacific began flights to the US and Canada and by 1987 Air Pacific’s network criss crossed the Pacific. Fiji’s ‘polite coup’ of that year hit tourism bad and periodic political disruptions have played havoc with the country’s travel industry. In 2009 the airline’s balance sheet went into the red where it remained till tourism recovered. In October 2011 the airline ordered three Airbus A330’s to replace a cancelled order for eight delayed Boeing B787’s. In 2012 the airline announced a return to the name Fiji Airways and rebranded with a distinctive traditional color scheme.
Passengers begin their magical experience of tropical Fiji the moment they step on board a Fiji Airways flight. Colourfully dressed crew wearing tropical ‘Hawaiian’ shirts welcome passengers on-board with warm smiles and genuine enthusiasm. Crew are clearly proud of Fiji and their flag carrier and go the extra mile to help passengers enjoy the flight. Call buttons are answered with a smile and the patience of staff seems unending. Travelling with kids, especially infants is a pleasure as Fijians simply adore children and fuss over them throughout the flight.
Fiji’s flag carrier is far more than Fiji’s airline as it connects island to island and provides excellent connections from the US to Australia and New Zealand. Fiji Airways’s domestic subsidiary, Pacific Sun, operates smaller planes that seamlessly connect Nadi International Airport to the dozens of tourist islands and resorts around the country. With Fiji sitting practically on New Zealand and Australia’s doorstep the airline has excellent connections to Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne and Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, together with other cities. The airline also flies in French holiday makers from New Caledonia and Tahiti. Fiji Airways long distance flights are to Honolulu, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Hong Kong and Singapore.
Fiji Airways offers very competitive fares especially during the off-season. However often the best deals for Fiji holidays are all-inclusive packages which include airfares, hotels and transfers. It pays to check the airline's website for bargains. Fiji has liberalised air travel so now full service Fiji Airways competes against cheap and nasty Jetstar and no-frills Virgin Australia. As Fiji Aiways provide meals and genuine Fijian friendliness for free, the airline is worth more. Trans-Pacific travellers going to or from the US really should take advantage of Fiji stopover which can be the highlight of the trip.
Fiji Airways tickets include complementary catering which can come as a welcome surprise for US or Australian tourists accustomed to discount airlines. Fiji Airways’ meal service is international fare and rarely includes any local Pacific dishes or Fiji made products. Meals are more than adequate but not exactly memorable. In fact, in all classes Fiji Airways catering service could be described as average. However most competitors have slipped below average.
Fiji Airways has the older style of entertainment system consisting of a single movie screen with volume through headsets together with a limited selection of audio channels. Current and classic films are shown on longer flights. The airline’s inflight magazine is a basic read with a mixed selection of articles and advertisements. The magazine is unlikely to win any awards. Fiji Airways has wonderful colouring-in book sets for children which make great souvenirs.
Fiji Airways ground crew are friendly and efficient and know their frequent flyers by sight and name. However the airline uses contractors for check-in and baggage outside Fiji so are unlikely to be as friendly as they are in Fiji. The airline is strict on excess baggage and won’t turn a blind eye to extra bags. As Fiji is always warm and very casual, passengers can pack lightly to ensure plenty of room for purchases. Bags are transferred efficiently at Fiji’s airports and they are unlikely to miss connecting flights.
Fiji Airways premium Tabua Class cabin is a little dated and lacks the luxurious extras of more sophisticated carriers. Tabua Class has spacious seating without lie flat beds and generous catering served by attentive friendly staff. Fiji Airways business class is more designed to pamper honeymooners or holiday makers rather than sooth businessmen before corporate meetings. Fiji Airways use partner airline lounges outside Fiji, while Tabua lounges in Fiji have a unique tropical feel about them that is quite memorable.
As a holiday airline an Fiji Airways economy flight is a great way to begin a vacation to the Pacific’s friendliest islands. Seating is spacious, entertainment is more than adequate and the meals and drinks are free. The pleasantness and genuine warmth of the crew make Fiji Airways a superior experience to the penny pinching Jetstar or Virgin Australia.
Fiji Airways is not a member of OneWorld but they partner with Qantas, American Airlines Etihad and Alaska Airlines so frequent flyer members of their programmes can earn points on flights. Other airlines codeshare on Fiji Airways and can redeem points on their flights. Fiji Airways have no plans to join any of the major airline alliances.
Friendly Fiji Airways is 46% owned by Australia’s troubled flag carrier, Qantas and they provide two members to their board. Historically Qantas has exercised excessive control over the airline but has lost interest in the carrier and is looking for the exit. Qantas’ ruthless confrontational management style is in conflict with Fijian values. Jetstar; Qantas’ ruthlessly no-frills carrier now competes against Fiji Airways and Qantas can no longer be trusted to promote the interests of Fiji’s flag carrier. Fiji Airways gamble to acquire a second 747 in recent years backfired as the airline experienced excess capacity which it dealt with by replacing both planes with smaller Airbus A330s. Fiji Airways management would be advised to stop looking to Qantas for help as they are more interested in sabotaging the airline than helping. The name change from Air Pacific to Fiji Airways was greeted with alarm, however has been well received by locals and the travelling public alike.
Fiji Airways has a good safety reputation. In the 2000s the airline’s two 747’s are leased from Singapore Airlines who maintained them to high standards. In 2008 America’s United Airlines provided replacement planes with their own crews while the 747’s were in service. In a bizarre twist Qantas codeshare passengers were surprised to be flying Air Pacific (Fiji Airways) on a United flight to Fiji. Fiji is proud of its flag carrier and expect a high standards for their airline. Nadi International Airport has excellent maintenance facilities for smaller aircraft.
The Pacific’s friendliest airline is Fiji Airways which provides great value for money and a taste of tropical Fiji the moment you step on board.
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