We’d travel on the final leg of the Pacific island-hopping journey from Nadi to Auckland onboard a Fiji Airways 737, as part of the overall redemption from Hawaii to Auckland that I had booked for 45,000 Alaska miles per person in business class.
Unfortunately, this trip with Fiji Airways wouldn’t allow me to sample their new Airbus A350s with reverse herringbone seats, nor their older Airbus A330s with lie-flat seats that they operate in certain transpacific and trans-Oceania markets.
Instead, the distance to Auckland is short enough for them to simply put a regionally-configured Boeing 737 with recliner seats on the route, which is the same plane that Fiji Airways uses for most of their intra-Pacific flying. While it wouldn’t be too noteworthy of a flight, I decided to go ahead and review the experience to capture what one can expect from Fiji Airways in terms of the soft product, with a view to also review their newer A350s sometime in the future.
After spending a few hours in the surprisingly outstanding Fiji Airways Premier Lounge Nadi, Jessy and I headed to the boarding gate. The sun was just beginning to set on the Pacific islands, casting our narrowbody for the night, with its stylish Fiji Airways logo emblazoned on the side, in a soft warm glow.
Fiji Airways | FJ413
Aircraft: Boeing 737-800
Cabin: Business class
Route: Nadi (NAN) to Auckland (AKL)
Date: Thursday, December 12, 2019
Time: Departing 7pm and arriving 10:10pm
Duration: 3 hours 10 minutes
As Premier Class passengers, we were among the first to board, being greeted at the door by a chorus of “Bula!” – a common Fijian greeting for hello.
We soon found ourselves within the confines of the eight-seater business class cabin, with two rows of standard recliner seats arranged in a 2-2 configuration. Jessy and I had assigned ourselves Seats 2A and 2C; I settled into the window seat, and she took the aisle.
Fiji Airways’s visual brand identity is centred around elements of traditional Fijian lifestyles, with the masi, a traditional cloth made from the inner bark of the masi tree, acting as a key design element. You’ll see the masi incorporated in the airline’s logo, as well as on the throw pillows and blankets for each business class seat that you’ll find upon arriving.
Now, Jessy had already flown on this product during our Fiji Airways mini-Island Hopper a few days ago, but for myself, it would be a new experience.
And as I took my seat and absorbed my surroundings, it was clear that these older-generation Boeing 737s would be relatively lacking in terms of the hard product. There was no entertainment monitor ahead of us, with only a seat back pocket with some reading material and headphones to be found.
The seat controls were highly simplistic, allowing you to recline your seat to a limited degree, pop out the footrest, or toggle the “back massage” function, which was really only the seat cushion inflating and deflating continuously.
A second set of buttons would control the in-seat audio entertainment – another indication of the age of these aircraft.
And finally, the opposite armrest contained the tray table, which would be rotated outwards from its holder and then folded over into place.
In addition to the pillows and blankets, we also found a few bottles of Fiji Water – arguably the nation’s most well-known export – waiting for us at our seats.
The flight attendant taking care of us tonight was friendly in a matronly kind of way, and she welcomed us by our surnames followed by a very kind greeting of, “Welcome to our home.”
We were then given our welcome drinks – a glass of light lemonade with orange slices – as well as the menu for the evening.
The menu was a simple pamphlet that contained both the dinner selection for Nadi–Auckland as well as the supper selection for the return Auckland–Nadi service later that evening. The relevant section for this flight read as follows:
Meanwhile, the champagne and wine selections were listed on the back.
It took a while for all the economy class passengers to board, but after that, we were swiftly on our way taxiing across the tarmac and taking off into the South Pacific sunset, of which I was afforded an excellent view out of the window as the flight went on.
Shortly after takeoff, our flight attendant came by with some hot towels, and also to confirm our drink and meal preferences, before returning to the galley to prepare the service.
It’s not often that we feel like drinking beer on a plane, but that mood had happened to strike tonight, so Jessy and I both ordered a glass of Fiji Gold, which came with a tasty portion of mixed snacks.
The meal was served about 10 minutes after that. I had ordered the roasted chicken thigh in an orange barbecue sauce; meanwhile, Jessy wasn’t feeling too hungry having eaten a full meal in the lounge, so decided to skip the main course and go straight to the fruit plate.
My meal was served on a single tray with the salad appetizer, as well as a separate plate for the bread. However, there was a significant delay before the flight attendant came around with the breadbasket, having seemingly forgotten about it for a while.
When she eventually did arrive, I chose a few slices of garlic bread, which was deliciously buttery and salty.
As for the main course itself, it was a pretty bog-standard chicken dish that was sufficiently appetizing. Other reviews I had read beforehand had reported mixed experiences with the food on Fiji Airways, with some even decrying it as downright inedible, so I was pretty happy with the portion I received.
I didn’t have too much room left for the tiramisu dessert, so simply opted for the fruit plate and a cup of black tea to polish off the meal.
The rest of the flight passed by without too much incident, as Jessy and I caught up on some work on our laptops as the sky outside faded to darkness. With a lack of dedicated in-flight entertainment systems on this plane, the only entertainment took the form of the small screens that would fold down from the ceiling dotted throughout the cabin.
I also decided to put the seat into recliner mode to get a little more comfortable, although as you can see, the angle of recline is indeed very limited.
We touched down at Auckland International Airport at around 10pm local time, and our matronly flight attendant again addressed us by name as she bid us farewell and welcomed us to travel again on Fiji Airways sometime soon.
However, it would still be another hour or so before we’d catch the Auckland SkyBus into town, as we had to navigate though New Zealand’s exceedingly strict customs check – including a detailed inspection of our hiking boots, for fear of importing any non-native pests into NZ’s highly sensitive biosphere – upon entering the country.
Fiji Airways is a modest airline in a quiet corner of the world that has nonetheless succeeded in developing a fashionable brand identity and providing its customers with a pleasant journey through their key hub in Nadi International Airport.
These Boeing 737s are the backbone of their regional route network in the South Pacific including New Zealand, and while the hard product is quite outdated, the warmth and island spirit of the crew goes some way towards making up for that, even if they might be guilty of operating on “island time” every now and then.
Given their dominance in the region, I’ll no doubt be flying with Fiji Airways again when I return to the South Pacific in the future, and I hope to incorporate their newest Airbus A350 business class into the itinerary when the time comes.