Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A smooth landing from Los Angeles to Nadi: Thanks to Air Pacific

A smooth landing from Los Angeles to Nadi: Thanks to Air Pacific

Thakur Ranjit Singh

As the Boeing 737-800 of Delta Airlines, eased into descent mode in a flight from Sacramento to Los Angeles on 16 August, 2012, it was relieving to leave a burning and extremely hot Sacramento. Temperatures here stood at above 38-41 deg C (over 100 F, climaxing at 107) some eight days in a row, when our Fiji hardly heats above 32. Sacramento Airport has really expanded to international level, in an expanding region with some 2.5 million people. In case you did not know, Sacramento is the capital city of the U.S. state of California. In 1967, former president, Ronald Reagan became its governor, and actor of the action movies Commando and the latest one, Expendables 2, Arnold Schwarzenegger was its last governor. Sacramento was cited by Time magazine as America's most ethnically and racially integrated city in 2002. Indeed, it is. You ask any Fijian in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Fiji, somebody would have a relative in Sacramento- so great is Fijian (Indo Fijian) population there, perhaps most for any US city. I have over 100 in-laws, and many people are there through family sponsorships. They are doing well, they have a Mandir, numerous mandalis, have many ritual activities, but social issues and family problems, despite wealth of America, are always there. Richness or being wealthy never solves any social problems. And, yes, they also have English/ Hindi newspaper, Sanatan Sandesh, run by a former Fijian, Kishore Gokul for I which I am a regular writer.

So, on this clear afternoon, as Delta flight 4502 glided over Los Angeles, the huge city of Hollywood looked magnificent with tall buildings, and mountains on one side leading on to a blue, deep port on the seaside. After glidingly descending for another 25 kilometres, we approached Los Angeles International Airport. The airport looked strange and unwelcome; there were airlines of many rich developed and other Asian and South American nations. Air New Zealand and Qantas gave us some familiarity and assurance of South Pacific connection. But I was looking for that reassuring sign of our rainbow colour, and lo behold, there it was. As we eased on the ground, near Tom Bradley International Terminal (TBIT) I could see the tail of our island in the sky-yes, our Air Pacific. It was so assuring to see this familiar Pacific sign on this international airport where our part of the world was missing. In Los Angeles, just seeing you Air Pacific in our unique colours is so reassuring that your friend and island in the sky is nearby. Other countries in the Pacific, notably, Samoa, because of our problems, wanted to replace Fiji as the hub and administration centre of Pacific. Even they, including other rival Pacific neighbours have no capability to have their airlines in Los Angles; hence Fiji really flies the flag of Pacific in Los Angeles. It is so reassuring to know that from next year, it will be flying Fiji’s flag, as Fiji Airways. And Tom Bradley terminal is so familiar to many Fijians who have passed through LA. This terminal opened for the 1984 Summer Olympic Games and is named in honor of Tom Bradley, the first African-American and longest serving (20 years) mayor of Los Angeles, and champion of LAX.

Tom Bradley International Terminal is just minutes walk if you are coming by Delta or United, but there are good sign-posting for those who are confused, and free buses. The ground staff are very friendly to advice on directions. It always helps to arrive four to five hours before the flight to Nadi to avoid crowding; check in open at 6.30 pm for the 11.30 flights; hence you have five hours before flight time. Facilities in TBIT are good with many food outlets including many types of pizzas and Mc Donald. For Fijians linking from Canada, San Francisco or Sacramento, you can bring your roti parcels or sandwiches if you do not like junk food. Make sure to bring in bottles of water if you have long wait, as no drinking fountains are available at TBIT check in area, but discard all liquids before going in for security check. However if you miss your meal then air hostesses in the plane are very friendly and efficient and hot food served is much enjoyable and better now than cold sandwich wrap that I received in 2010. I experienced big improvements after two years.

 If two of you are travelling then inside aisle seats are recommended because then you will not be disturbed by anybody else to stand up, with four seats, two exits on each side respectively. Choosing window seats for two people would be uncomfortable, with three seats in window side rows. One stranger would be disturbed every time you go out in the 10 hour flight. The seat configuration in Air Pacific’s 747-400 is three- four- three (3-4-3). Do not choose window seats if you do not have to, because you hardly see much except for a few minutes light of LA as it is a night flight. Even landing at Nadi is often in dark, in early hours of the morning.

The in flight service was very good, meal and a breakfast plus drinks all throughout the night, and good opportunity to sleep as well, after takeoff. Compared to my flight in 2010, this flight was in a better-fitted aircraft with better seating space and other facilities.

I must commend our captains and accompanying offices, I found smooth landings in all Air Pacific flights and at times you do not feel when you have already landed. When I disembarked the flight after 10 hours flight, for somebody over mid-fifties, I still felt fresh and energetic. The new arrival card is a welcome change where all racial references are removed and you are only treated equally as a Fijian. The welcome change is arrival at the arriving lounge where instead of a boiler room as in the past, you are in an air-conditioned nicer area which could be further improved. The immigration officers were helpful and smiling, unlike those unfriendly zombies I found in Canadian Greyhound bus offices and grumpy officers at American-Canadian border near Surrey. More often than not, the visitors queue tends to be very long.

Thank God for the new Government’s policy on dual citizenship, I checked in LA on NZ passport, but used my Fiji passport to enter Fiji at Nadi Airport. I went in as a breeze in the Fiji citizen counter and had done my duty –free shopping and was collecting my baggage when my wife joined me downstairs from the long visitors queue with an NZ passport. In fact the inbound duty-free shopping, taken for granted in our part of the world is foreign to Vancouver. Never put off duty free-buying to Vancouver in-bound as they do not have any. This plus duty free shops allowance of only one bottle spirit  is a Canadian policy of reducing alcohol usage.

There is so much of welcome change at Nadi Airport where the scanning of baggage has made customs clearance so efficient and fast. I found myself outside the terminal just half an hour after landing when as usual, I had allowed an hour for this. My trip into Nadi from Los Angeles after two years was a complete contrast to 2010 when I found that a burden. Now, it was a breeze and thanks Fiji for the progress you have made.

For those critical of Fiji, you need to make a trip to experience the change. And thanks to Air Pacific, our international pride for spreading its wings with pride in parts of the world most airlines from our part of the world does not fly to- that is our Air Pacific, soon to be Fiji Airways.

[Thakur Ranjit Singh was on a trip to Canada and USA and notes his personal experience, services and advice. He has been round the world twice, loves travelling and writing about his experience. This is a travel segment that we will endeavor to bring on a regular basis to assist and inform visitors in planning their trip. Further information on flights can be obtained at Air Pacific website: www.airpacific.com]