Fiji Airways recently kicked off flights between Sydney and Suva, opening up the Fijian capital to Australia's business travellers.
The direct services are intended to complement Fiji Airways' current flights into Nadi, a larger hub on the other side of the island.
"We see Suva as Fiji's business hub and Nadi as the leisure hub," Fiji Airways CEO Stefan Pichler told Australian Business Traveller.
With that in mind, we took to the skies to give one of the airline's newest routes a real-world trial.
Fiji Airways uses row K to process passengers, located on the far side of the check-in hall.
If you're connecting from a Qantas domestic flight or arriving on the Airport Link train, it's quite a long walk – both stop at the opposite end of the terminal.
After the trek, signed priority queues are available to business class passengers, who can check up to 30kg of baggage.
Fast track security and immigration cards are handed over with the boarding passes, but the Express Path entrance involves backtracking to row D.
Business class passengers can use the Qantas International Business Lounge in Sydney, along with one guest travelling on the same flight.
Although a Qantas partner, lounge access isn't available to frequent flyers travelling in economy as Fiji Airways isn't a member of Oneworld.
Ordinarily, we'd suggest booking the Qantas codeshare on Fiji Airways flights to get around the lounge access rules, but codeshares are only sold from Sydney to Nadi – not Suva.
When asked about the possibility of a codeshare, Pichler told Australian Business Traveller that "it is early days but so far we are pretty happy with the loads as well as with the forward bookings.
"This is a classical O&D (origin and destination) route which should work on a standalone basis," he added.
On the return flight, there's no lounge whatsoever in the incredibly small Suva airport, but an hour of fast Wi-Fi access in the terminal can be had for just under A$7 to send any last-minute emails.
Fiji Airways' flights are well-timed for business travellers, with arrivals in both Suva and Sydney on Mondays and Fridays.
Filling the plane in the opposite direction are leisure travellers, who can instead jet off for a relaxing long weekend abroad.
During the week, passengers can reach Suva from Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne by connecting via Nadi, providing maximum flexibility.
On today's flight, confusion between gate and lounge staff saw boarding announcements made only when the flight was on final call, eliciting a quick dash to the boarding gate – which later proved unnecessary.
Greeting us was a full (and rather warm) aerobridge, as the flight had been called for boarding before the aircraft was ready to accept passengers.
After a lengthy wait, the flight pushed back 31 minutes late at 2:51pm, arriving in Suva at 8:40pm – just 10 minutes behind schedule, and considered 'on time' in the aviation industry.
Business class seats on this Boeing 737 come with an adjustable headrest, foot and leg rests, a generous recline and adjustable lumbar support.
At full recline, there's still plenty of room for the passenger behind to work, dine or rest, so don't feel guilty about leaning back and catching up on some much-needed shuteye.
While the seats are more than comfortable, the light-coloured cloth is quite the stain magnet, as discovered on the leg rest.
In row 1, legroom is quite restricted, and is similar to that found up front on Virgin Australia's older Boeing 737s.
The row behind has almost too much legroom (allowing plenty of space if the passenger in row 1 reclines), so we'd definitely recommend using the Fiji Airways website to snag a seat away from the bulkhead if you can.
Row 2 also has a little extra storage space underneath the seat in front, while passengers in the front row are given ample storage for documents, iPads and headphones.
The tray table comes with a pleasant faux wood finish. While it's more than fine for dining, it's a little unsteady for writing on or for balancing a heavy laptop, with the middle of the table sagging under very little weight or pressure.
For completing your arrival documents or other hand-written work, we'd recommend folding the tray in half, which was much more sturdy.
Missing was AC or USB power, which are becoming staples of international business class travel.
With no pre-departure drink, greeting passengers after wheels-up was a bottle of the iconic Fiji Water.
Between this and the meal (served around an hour into the flight), drinks and nibbles weren't offered – giving the impression that the crew were on 'Fiji time'.
Frustrated by this, one of my fellow business class travellers attempted to order up a G&T... when the crew member replied "certainly, I'll bring that later with your meal", it had to again be clarified that it was desired now.
On this afternoon's flight, a late lunch was served, with beef, chicken and a vegetarian option available from the à la carte menu:
On the side was a fresh garden salad, while the smoked chicken with green salad, pumpkin cous cous, tomato and balsamic dressing was tasty.
The bread roll was served warm, although as noted in the menu, butter had to be requested.
It's only a minor touch, but in business class with many other airlines, meal accompaniments are usually be proactively offered to passengers, rather than only given when asked for.
After lunch came the chocolate mousse mud cake, which was refreshingly more creamy than rich.
Drinks were served with the main meal, and were replenished throughout the remainder of the flight.
Still peckish? The crew offered chips, lollies and chocolates at various intervals until landing.
Entertainment & Service
Business class passengers each have a personal entertainment screen, with five channels on a continuous loop.
The button to retrieve the screen looks suspiciously like a recline switch, which saw several passengers asking for help.
Once set up, the screen had to be activated by pressing the 'mode' key, tucked away under a panel in the arm rest – which isn't overly obvious.
Of the five looping channels, one had no audio whatsoever, and another had frequent audio dropouts that rendered the programme unwatchable.
The image quality mirrored that of a VHS tape, although provided passengers with even a small choice over their viewing.
Throughout the flight, the crew were friendly, but didn't deliver a personal touch – using "sir" and "ma'am" in place of the passengers' names.
Their absence through the earlier stages of the flight was a surprise to many, although after the meal service had commenced, the crew proactively offered drinks and nibbles to assuage passengers.
With both a new route and as the only airline to fly directly between Sydney and Suva, Fiji Airways now provides passengers with a more efficient way of travelling between the two leading business cities.
The flights are well-timed for the business traveller, although hopefully the left hand/right hand issues on the ground are the result of new-route jitters, rather than a reflection of the staffers.
While the meals and beverages were of a good quality, they seemed poorly timed – both in terms of the service delays, and their suitability to the flight.
A scheduled 2:20pm departure would ordinarily see lunch served at around 3:30pm Sydney time, or around 4pm in this case.
That's a little late to be serving lunch, but is much too early for a dinner meal – particularly as most passengers would have eaten before stepping on board.
Considering the 8:30pm landing time in Suva, we'd suggest reversing the service by offering snacks or a small refreshment after departure, and then serving the same menu as dinner later in the flight.
The inflight entertainment was quite dated and saw 40% of the content unavailable, so we'd also recommend loading up your iPad or laptop with the latest movie releases before the flight as a just-in-case.
Overall, the new Sydney-Suva flights give business travellers more choice when heading to Fiji's capital, along with the ability to collect valuable Qantas Points and status credits on the return journey.
Shaving around an hour and a half off the previous Sydney-Nadi-Suva routing, business travellers can spend that extra time at the office, or indulging in a much-needed sleep-in – we'll let you decide on your next trip to Fiji.
Chris Chamberlin was a guest of Fiji Airways.
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