Posted by: Tommy | October 3, 2011

Time for Another Transportation Disaster – but with a twist

We’ve had a few negative transportation experiences so far in our travels.  The 20 hour Egyptian busride, the 11 hour overnight Egyptian train, the Mozambique bus with no A/C and the nightmare ride to Angkor Wat come to mind as prime examples.  But for the last 4 months, it has been smooth sailing, transportation-wise.  We were told before coming to the South Pacific that transportation can present problems – flights are frequently cancelled with no notice, buses are unpredictable and many roads are unpaved and therefore subject to flooding.  But we hadn’t experiences any of that.   Until we tried leaving Vanuatu.

A long travel day (up at 5:30, on a truck to town by 7, waiting in the airport for 4 hours, then a flight and another 4 hour layover before our flight back to Fiji) got longer when, in the Port Vila airport our boarding time came and went with no information.  We’d already left customs and been stamped out of Vanuatu, so we weren’t allowed back through security and Air Pacific had no gate agents.  So we sat and waited…and waited…and waited.  3 hours after our boarding time, an Air Pacific employee finally came to the gate and informed us that the plane wouldn’t be coming today.  No other explanation was given – the weather was foggy and drizzly, and later we were told the cancellation was weather related.

We’d bought a bottle of duty-free rum and were forced to hand it over to be held until our flight actually left.  We went through customs backwards and had our exit stamps cancelled before getting into line at the Air Pacific service desk.  It was announced that Air Pacific would be putting us up in a hotel for the night and arrangements would be made for us the following morning.  Anna and I have 6 more days in Fiji before a flight to Hong Kong, so we were probably the least concerned people to be cancelled.  Many people on the flight were laying over in Fiji before heading to Los Angeles later that night – they weren’t thrilled.  At 9 pm (our flight was scheduled to leave at 4:30) we finally boarded the bus to take us to the hotel.

Cranky and hungry, we finally arrive at our hotel at 9:45.  And that’s where we found out about the twist: the hotel we’re being “forced” to stay in – the 4-star Warwick La Lagun resort.  We checked in, were shown to our plush room and invited to eat a later dinner at the $35/person (but free for us) Italian buffet.  While everyone else was upset about missing their connecting flights, Anna and I were enjoying the unexpected night of luxury.

The next morning, we had a complementary breakfast, then checked in with the front desk about a departure time.  They hadn’t heard anything so we headed back to the room.  Brian and Audra, the Okies that we met diving, were on the same flight and staying in the same hotel, so we ate with them and hung out for the morning.  Around 11, we went back to the desk, this time speaking with the hotel manager.  He had just gotten off the phone with Air Pacific and they assured him there would be no plane today – possibly tomorrow.  He told us to enjoy ourselves – all meals were still included and we’d be keeping the room for another day.  Sweet!

The beach at the Warwick - things were going so well

With that, Audra, Brian, Anna and I headed lunch, then to the pool-side bar.  We spent the rest of the afternoon enjoying the sun, the 4 swimming pools, the 2 hot tubs and the other amenities.  Around 5, Anna headed back to the room to change.  And the phone rang.  Another twist – we had to pack – we had 90 minutes to get checked out and the bus would pick us up at 6:30.

This was taken BEFORE we were unceremoniously kicked out of the hotel

This twist didn’t have such a happy ending.  We made it to the airport and waited to check in to a newly-created 10:30 pm flight, just for our group (there were about 65 people still stranded at 2 different hotels).  While we waited in line, I approached the Air Pacific service desk, asking to use a phone to make hotel reservations in Fiji.  Many places in Fiji and Vanuatu don’t have 24 hour reception and the airport doesn’t have taxis all night – generally, there aren’t flights after 10 until 5 am.  So you make reservations ahead of time and the hotel picks you up at the airport.

Fortunately, the service desk told us we wouldn’t need to worry about that – Air Pacific would be picking us up in a bus, just as they did in Vanuatu, and taking us to another hotel since we’d be arriving so late.  Fantastic!  With that settled, Anna and I got our seat assignments, picked up our rum (still waiting for us at the duty-free) and sat down with Audra and Brian to wait.  The flight was uneventful, but by the time we landed we were exhausted.

We were among the first people through immigration and customs, so we set out for the Air Pacific desk, trying to find our bus to the hotel.  We were met by an airport employee who showed us where to wait.  We caught people as they came through customs – soon, 25 people were all waiting for the Air Pacific rep in the airport lobby.  We waited, and waited, and waited.  After 20 minutes, we were told no one was coming and directed to the Service Desk to speak to someone.  Upon arriving there, we were told we’d have to wait 4 hours! until the first flight opened for check-in.

Obviously, we weren’t willing to do that.  We spoke to several people, finally ending up in the office of ATS, the agents who handle things for Air Pacific after hours.  They called Air Pacific’s hotel for us (after another hour – it’s 2:30 am at this point) and we were picked up and taken to Tokatoka – a crappy hotel across the street from the airport.  The next morning, Tokatoka asked us for our voucher – when we explained we didn’t have one since Air Pacific wasn’t there after our flight, they drove us to the airport to get one.

I wish I could tell you that they gave us a voucher and apologized for the inconvenience.  Nope.  They bill themselves as “the world’s friendliest airline” but in this case they were decidedly unfriendly – and decidedly incompetent.  They put us up in a $250/night resort, fed us meals from the $40/person buffet and then left us stuck without assistance at 1 in the morning.  I would have been happier staying in a $50/night place twice and not getting stuck at all.  Instead, they’ve won themselves an unhappy customer – one who’ll never fly with them again.  I love Fiji – I’ll just have to find a different way to get here next time.  So far, I’ve called, emailed and showed up at their offices to discuss ways for them to improve – and so far, they’ve refused to let me talk to anyone and gone out of their way to avoid talking to me.  I’ll keep you posted.

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Responses

  1. Oh my gosh. I should appreciate the service we get here back home more!


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