Remember when flying to your destination was half the fun? Those were the days when air travel meant dressing in your finest. Close friends and family drove you to the airport and waved goodbye as you boarded your flight. Friendly flight attendants passed out gum before takeoff and fresh towels before landing. There were no security lines. No luggage charges. But there was such a thing as a free lunch.
Today, that kind of air travel has become mostly a faded memory. But recently, I flew to Fiji on Air Pacific, and they managed to put a smile on this weary traveler's face.
Air Pacific, the flagship airline for the Fiji Islands, brands itself as "The World's Friendliest People. The World's Friendliest Airline." If my flight is the norm, that's no exaggeration.
When you board the flight, gracious flight attendants greet you with a hearty, "Bula! Bula!" The phrase sounds like it should be accompanied by a certain hand signal, often seen while driving slowly in the fast lane on a freeway. But it's actually a friendly Fijian welcome, which visitors hear from natives all over the Fiji Islands.
The airline offers two classes of service. Tabua, their business class, is similar to many international carriers. Seats that recline 57 inches, amenity kits, elaborate meal services, personal in-flight entertainment and a fully stocked airport lounge are available for business-class customers.
But what sets them apart from other carriers is their Pacific Voyager (economy) class. Seats have a 32-inch pitch on their Boeing 747s -- not enough to lie flat, but still good for napping. Flight attendants pass out wet towels before serving both a hot evening snack and a hot morning breakfast. Beverages, including wine and alcohol, are complimentary. Amenity kits, including slipper socks, eye masks and toothbrushes, are available upon request. A personal entertainment center with a headset is complimentary at each seat. You can play games, watch a selection of movies, listen to Fijian music -- as well as other international sounds, or have a complete course in Fijian geography and lore, without leaving your seat.
But here's the catch. Flights are limited. Air Pacific in the United States mainland only flies out of Los Angeles, and only flies to Fiji. And while Fiji is a fabulous destination with glorious beaches, unique cultures and warm friendly people, the flight from Los Angeles takes about 10 hours. But if you're interested in what you can expect, check out fijime.com for information about the islands. And check out airpacific.com for information about the airline. Through May, Air Pacific is offering one free ticket for every three purchased.
While you may not get the send-off from yore or pass through security without a hitch, you will feel like somebody appreciates having you onboard. And whether on the aircraft or in Fiji itself, you can't help but feel welcomed when you hear "Bula! Bula!" at every turn.
Gail Todd, a freelance writer, worked as a flight attendant for more than 30 years. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.