When you are ready to check in for your overseas flight, the last thing that you want a ticket agent to say is that you aren’t scheduled to be on that flight. Unfortunately that’s exactly what happened to me on my recent trip to Fiji….4….separate….times. Not only did this happen several times, but 2 of those flights were on long international flights.
Early Warning Signs?
The trip was booked using Alaska miles via Alaksa Airlines, Fiji Airways, and Cathay Pacific. I’m in Fiji now but getting here wasn’t easy. Some small issues surfaced early; the Alaska check in agents took around 20 minutes to figure out how my bags should be tagged, and if I should be charged for checking 2 bags. They didn’t seem comfortable with the reservation in general, but I chalked it up to inexperience and a busy staff.
What’s a little frustrating is that I had called Alaska the day before departing just to clarify the baggage policy. On the phone I was told that Fiji Airway’s baggage policy would govern the flight to Fiji and Australia, since I would be flying the most on that airline. Since my ticket was in business class, I was allowed 3 checked bags at 30 kgs (66 pounds), which was verified on Fiji Airway’s website. During checkout, even though one of the agents and myself looked at Fiji’s website and found the baggage policy stated clearly, they still ended up calling Alaska’s guest services to get a definitive answer. The check in debacle was a little frustrating, and instead of some time in the airport and lounge before I left, I arrived at my gate just as boarding started. The agents did so much typing and searching with my reservation, I’m wondering if they might have been the source for my problems to come?
In the end, three Alaska agents got involved with my reservation before the bags were checked, fee free. I was well on my way to a great trip, so I thought…
Alaska First Class wasn’t quite First Class
My domestic flights from MSP to Seattle (SEA) and SEA to LAX were in first class. The first flight to Seattle was nice and I ended up watching Logan, a movie that I had wanted to see for a few months. I’m not into the X-Men films much, but it was a pretty good film. The flight to LAX wasn’t great though, as my headrest was broken and in order to rest my head I had to slouch down in the chair which wasn’t great for my neck or back. It was essentially the same thing I’d have to do with an economy seat except this was first class. On the positive, at least I had more arm and leg room.
All in all those were pretty minor issues; first world problems that aren’t a big deal. Alaska is my favorite US carrier at the moment, and I have a high standard for them compared to Delta, American, and United. Alaska’s first class product disappointed me some, but it could have been worse. Up next: the flight to Fiji.
I had a long layover (around 9.5 hours) for my connection in the LAX Airport. I filled the time by going from the KAL lounge (via my Priority Pass) to the One World lounge (via my business class ticket with Fiji Airways). I should point out though that my first trip into the One World Lounge, the desk agent told me that Fiji Airways customers did not have access to the lounge and that Fiji had it’s own lounge upstairs. There was no Fiji Airways lounge upstairs and upon returning she realized, after a couple minutes of chatting, that business class Fiji passengers were indeed allowed into the lounge. If there is one thing that the desk workers in the lounge should know….just one basic thing….it’s who to allow into the lounges isn’t it?
Fiji Airways International Flight: LAX to NAD
I exited the One World lounge and headed to the Fiji Airways ticket gate about 1 hour and 15 minutes before my flight was set to depart to have a boarding pass printed. I was pretty excited to fly business class with Fiji Airways at I hadn’t flown with that them before. I stood in line for around 15 minutes then handed the agent my passport at the service desk. She typed my name and information into the computer for around 30 seconds and then looked a bit confused. She typed a little more, looked up, and told me that my reservation was not in their system.
I wasn’t expecting this at all as the day before I had printed off my itinerary and it showed all my segments and trip schedule without an issues. But I quickly realized that if this was a full flight I might not be able to get on at all. That thought spilled into paranoia that my entire trip was in jeopardy. I asked if the flight was full, and she said that it was. Horror immediately swept over me, and my first thought was that I would not be able to board the plane at all, and that my entire vacation was going to either be delayed or completely cancelled.
Another nearby agent was brought in to try and help. She kept typing into her computer and searching for more information. After nearly 10 minutes of being at the podium, the new agent handed me a boarding pass. I asked how it was possible to get a seat when the flight was full, she said that just a seat in business class just opened up (at the last minute). She said that it basically came down to luck, and that if all the seats on the plane would have been full, there is no way I could have departed on time for my trip. The experience was very stressful and a bit surreal.
Once I was on the flight and seated, the same check in agent came back onto the plane and walked towards me. “This can’t be good”, I thought. I initially thought she was coming to tell me that there was a mistake and that there were no seats available. She handed me another boarding pass and said that she had booked me in someone else’s seat, and that I should sit in the first row (not the fourth).
The original reservation was made over the phone through Alaska Airlines. Shortly after the reservation was made, I called Fiji and Cathay Pacific (the outbound and inbound international carriers in my trip) once each to get assigned seats for my trip. Never did I ask or even hint that I wanted to cancel my trip or any flight segment. After arriving to my hotel in Nadi, I called Fiji Airways and was told that they didn’t have any record of their staff altering the reservation, and that there was no cancellation or change made on their part. They blamed the cancellation on Alaska Airlines.
Directly after hanging up the phone with Fiji Airways, I called Alaska and their representatives gave me an entirely different story. Alaska Airlines said that the issue is entirely with Fiji Airways because they had all of the confirmation documentation for the flight after the booking was made. In their mind there was complete certainty that Fiji Airways messed up the reservation. Alaska said that the seat that magically appeared in business class before I boarded was actually my seat that Fiji Airways cancelled.
After hanging up the phone with the airlines, I was annoyed that there wasn’t clarity and consensus from the airlines in terms of what happened, but I thought that speaking for over an hour with the airlines would clear up any future issues. I was wrong – very wrong.
Fiji Airways Domestic: Still More Problems
During my trip I did some island hopping and took three Fiji Airways domestic flights. The island of Vanua Levu was the first domestic flight in Fiji for some world class scuba diving. That plane was delayed by 2.5 hours, and on the connecting flight, I was again at check in that “We have no record of you on this flight”. Without a printed reservation confirmation, I’m not sure if I would have been allowed to continue on my flight to the island. That confusion was another 20 minute delay. Since the first flight was delayed by 2.5 hours, I literally landed, grabbed my bags, went through security again, and got back on the exact same plane. Any more delay and I think the plane would have left without me. In all but one domestic flight with Fiji Airways, I had to convince and basically beg my way onto the planes that I had reserved many months in advance. What’s even more strange is that my international segments were part of my award ticket (using Alaska miles), but my domestic flights were all separate and paid tickets (paid using Chase Ultimate Rewards via the Sapphire Reserve at 1.5 cents per point).
The Struggle Continues: Fiji to Australia
And last but definitely not last: Nadi to Melbourne (scratch that!), Nadi to Sydney to Melbourne
After scuba diving multiple times for two straight days, it wasn’t possible to fly right away. You’re body has nitrogen from diving and flying can be dangerous, especially at the 70-100 foot range that I did on Namena Reserve. So I opted to stay another night in Savusavu and depart the next day. There were two flight options from Savusavu to Nadi, one in the morning and one in the afternoon. Nadi has a small airport and I didn’t want to be bored there, plus some rest after diving was the plan. An issue with taking the afternoon flight was that I’d only have an hour or so to arrive, get my bags, and check in for an international flight. It would be tight and any delays would be disaster.
I arrived at the tiny, and I mean tiny, Savusavu airport about 1 hour and 30 minutes early just to make sure things were good with the flight. I had developed the heebee-jeebees with Fiji Airways in the past few flights and didn’t want things to go wrong this time. I walked up to the “check in” counter, where a guy had a clip board with 18 names on it, fortunately mine was one of the names. Things are looking up!
The flight back to Nadi actually boarded and departed early, yes! We landed in Nadi about 1 hour and 20 minutes before my international flight to Melbourne was set to depart. I grabbed my bags directly off the propeller plane and rushed to get my golf clubs which were in storage. The issue there was that the golf clubs were on the other side of the terminal from where I landed. The Nadi terminal is small, but still, extra time is something that I didn’t really have. Picking up the clubs went smoothly, and the same guy was working in the baggage storage. Baggage storage is pre-paid so I didn’t have to settle up with him. Both times he brought me back into the storage room, which is probably against regulations, but I didn’t argue. Fiji life isn’t necessarily guided by rules.
I hustled over to the international ticket counter, again handed over my passport and hoped for the best. The agent typed in my name and that familiar and wondrous look of bewilderment came over her face. This time while typing she said, “I’m sorry we don’t have you listed as a passenger on this flight”. I put my head into my hands on the counter and said this can’t be happening. The desk agent and I talked for the next 5 minutes, going over the same details that I had talked about with other Fiji Airlines agents. She understood the story, and saw my printed itinerary and confirmation paper, but she said the flight was completely full. Shortly after looking in her system, she said “the best we can do is get you to Sydney tonight (in business class), and down to Melbourne tomorrow in economy”. I took it only because my other options were poor and likely to get worse the longer I waited.
The flight to Sydney was set to leave very soon, and I forgot to get a Visa for Australia, so I had to register online and pay at the check in desk. I was given a business class seat to Sydney and then needed to take an economy flight on Qantas to Melbourne the next morning. I got my ticket, and rushed off to the security line. Before boarding, I asked the Fiji Airways gate agent to contact my hotel in Melbourne and tell them that I would not be able to honor my reservation that night because of the delay and rerouting of my flights. The agent said that would be no problem, and after writing down my information at the boarding podium, I felt reassured. Unfortunately, the agent nor anyone else with Fiji Airways, contacted my hotel. As a result, I lost 50,000 points for missing my first night and was not refunded those points even after the hotel learned of the flight issues. Those missing points were a $200-$300 value.
I boarded the flight in business class, but the seats didn’t lay flat so I couldn’t really sleep. After landing in Sydney I picked up all my luggage, cleared customs, and made my way to the pickup area for the hotel that Fiji Airways was paying for. It was after 10 pm and I, along with others from the same flight, waited nearly 30 minutes for the driver of the shuttle to turn up, and was then brought to my hotel. The hotel was really nice, and close to the airport. Upon arriving at the hotel and after checking in, the desk agent said that he had no instruction from Fiji Airways about a shuttle for any of us to the airport the next morning. I found out later after a call to the hotel’s front desk that Fiji Airways did call the hotel (after one of the other airline passengers called the airline and complained) and arrange a shuttle for us. The flight to Melbourne was at 6 am, so on just over 3 hours sleep, I got all my things together and made it to the Sydney airport.
At the airport I tried to check in with the electronic kiosk. I followed the instructions, slid my passport under the reader, and typed in my name, but that didn’t work. The machine couldn’t find my reservation and instructed me to see an agent. I stood in line for 20 minutes and the Qantas agent couldn’t find my reservation. What a surprise! Another agent was brought in and she was able to find my reservation and print out my boarding pass. Unfortunately I was charged $70 AUS for “overweight baggage” because I was now flying economy and not subject to the business class baggage policy for Fiji Airways.
Finally I boarded the flight to Melbourne and landed the day after I was scheduled to arrive on my original ticket, but the strain of all the hassles and drama with the fight issues was incredibly taxing. Even after those issues, on my return with other airlines, I had tremendous trepidation that my reservations would be cancelled. I don’t know if I’ll ever fly again with Fiji Airways, but the continuous mistakes should not have happened. I’m guessing this will be my most disappointing set of flights that I’ll ever encounter.