Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Leaving Los Angeles, Heading for the Fiji Islands


The Theme Building at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)

Leaving Los Angeles, Heading for the Fiji Islands


Saturday August 19, 2001 

8:30 PM – The airport shuttle arrived in a cloud of dust.  Cagey was talking to the driver in on the telephone while I tried to flag him down as he roared up and down the street.  He stopped; we piled in and were off to Los Angeles International Airport, better known as LAX.
 
8:45 PM – We arrived at the Tom Bradley Terminal at LAX, paid the driver and were sucked into the entrance, expecting to emerge again ten days later, on our way back from Fiji.  They made Cagey take most of the items out of her carry-on to get it down to the weight limit.  Since mine was a soft bag, they did not care how much we put in it.  By the time we were done, Cagey was wearing some of the extra clothes and I had many new cosmetics in my bag.
 
9:15 PM – We arrived at Gate 122, which had the appropriate Air Pacific Air Pacific Airlines Boeing 737-500, with Fiji logo on its tail - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)(the National Airline of the Fiji Islands) signs hanging and the flight was scheduled to leave at 10:30 PM.  There was an unusual cast of international characters, including Koreans, Africans, Brits and many American vacationers with kids it tow.  I remembered that I had forgotten my spare chap stick and wished I could quickly go back home and get it.  Silly me.
 
11:00 PM – We still had not boarded, but we knew that international flights were often delayed.  The Air Pacific Boeing 747 had pulled up to our gate, but no one had anything official to say about the delay.
 
11:30 PM – The gate agent announced that there was a delay caused by the engineering staff.  They were affecting a repair, we were told. 
Sunday August 20, 2001
 
1:00 AM – Officially, Air Pacific cancelled the flight, but offered to put everyone up at a local hotel until the problem could be fixed.  First they marched us all off to McDonalds for $6 each worth of food.  We were so tired by that time that we actually ate chicken sandwiches, soft drinks and cookies!  I guess that demonstrates the power of free food. 
 
2:00 AM – Before we could finish belching after our meal, we heard an announcement that the flight was “back on”.  They had found the hydraulic unit that they had been searching for all over LAX and they were going to install it, or so they told us.  We all camped out again at the gate; the international entourage, the families with the kids in pajamas and us, all sitting there with a combination of hope and resignation.
 
3:40 AM – They cancelled the flight for the final time that night.  We ascertained that the flight would go again that afternoon at 3:30 PM, which would have us arrive in the middle of the night Fiji Time (which is five hours earlier that Pacific Daylight Time, plus one day ahead).  They wanted everyone to go to the same hotel, but we were only fifteen minutes from home, so we took a cab and headed there.
 
Santa Monica Pier overhead sign at dusk - Click for larger image http://jamesmcgillis.com)4:30 AM – We realized that we were still in Santa Monica, rather than half way across the Pacific Ocean.  We struggled to calm down and get to bed, Cagey awakened first, then finally I arose. 
 
11:00 AM – I found my missing chap stick (which probably caused the whole thing).  We showered, dressed and got ready to go again.  We figured that if we could retrace our steps and do everything right this time, the fates would smile on us and allow us to depart for our long-awaited vacation.
 
In 2000, Cagey and I had planned to visit Fiji, but the nasty “coup plotters” tried to overthrow the government, all in the name of “native rights”.  They succeeded in killing three or four people, holding the Parliament Building for three weeks and summarily destroying the economy of Fiji for at least the next two years.  They missed the heyday of the American Dot.com economy and all the travel it implied.  Twin Towers standing in New York City, prior to September 11, 2001 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)
 
2:00 PM – We took a cab to the airport.  It was a typical pre-911 August Sunday afternoon. 
 
3:00 PM – We were well into our check-in at Air Pacific when we learned that the flight had been cancelled again.  Then miraculously Air Pacific figured out that their 767 had arrived that afternoon and after some schedule juggling with Qantas Airlines (then a partial owner of Air Pacific), they were going to forget the 747 and cram as many of us as possible on to the smaller Boeing 767 and fly that night at 10:30 PM.
 
Wearing house colors, a Boeing 767 aircraft in flight - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)3:30 PM – We made sure that we got boarding passes, along with ten or so others who had gotten to the terminal early.  After discovering and correcting the fact that the dates were wrong on our boarding passes, they whisked us off to the “elegant” Gateway Sheraton Hotel to hang out in our own room and have a complimentary dinner before returning to our newly scheduled flight later that evening.
 
4:30 PM – We arrived at the “elegant” Gateway Sheraton, watched some TV, had dinner on Air Pacific’s tab and prepared for what we hoped would be the final push to Fiji.
 
9:30 PM – Our carry-on luggage and we went downstairs to await the shuttle to LAX.  A woman waiting outside was impressed that we apparently traveled so light.  We tried to explain that our real luggage was sitting on a disabled 747 over at the airport, but it was time to go. 
 
10:00 PM – We carefully retraced our steps through security and right back to Gate 122, as we had done several times the night before.  After about fifteen minutes, we discovered that there was only one problem.  They assign gates at the Bradley Terminal on an “as needed” basis and we were needed at the far end of the other concourse, where our 767 was supposedly waiting.  Trying not to look like fools, we got up and made our way to the appropriate gate, only to find that our plane wasn’t there either.  After a minor panic attack, we found our now-familiar international entourage and the families with kids, so despite the lack of an airplane, we knew we were in the right place. 
 
Air Pacific Boeing 747 arriving at Nadi, Fiji in 2001 - Click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)11:30 PM – After an additional delay of an hour, we boarded our 767, took our seats and held our breath until…
 
11:45 PM – The pilot released the brakes and the tug pushed us back from the gate.
 
11:55 PM – We rumbled down the runway and were airborne at last.  This better be worth it, we thought.  Soon, we each were off for eight hours of halcyon dreams.
Tuesday August 21, 2001
 
4:00 AM (Fiji Time) – The cabin crew awakened us for breakfast and landing preparations.  After departure from LAX, we had skipped the meals and movies in favor of some sleep.
 
5:30 AM – We landed at Nadi (pronounced Nandi) International Airport on the main island of Viti Levu, Fiji.  Miraculously, our luggage appeared in the terminal within a few minutes.  It seems that in order to get the now-fixed 747 back into proper flight rotation, they flew it empty of paying customers just ten minutes behind our loaded 767.  It was the most expensive “baggage car” in Air Pacific history.
 
6:15 AM – we made it through Fiji Customs, shifting back and forth, Nadi International Airport sign, Fiji Islands - click for larger image (http://jamesmcgillis.com)from one line to another and thus being one of the last groups through.  We watched as the international entourage departed for remote locations all over Fiji, to observe the elections, scheduled to start while we were there.  We watched as the bleary-eyed children started to wake up and run around like their crazy selves again.
 
7:00 AM – The local ukulele and guitar band greeted us with local songs.  I put a dollar in their box, which was only one of two tips I handed out until we arrived back home in L.A.  In Fiji, you do not ordinarily tip for service.  I changed money while Cagey rescheduled our return trip to Los Angeles.  We figured that since our vacation had been shortened by one day on the front end, we had better lengthen it by two days on the back end.  Sound thinking.
 
That is where I will leave you until the next exciting episode of Fiji Jim in Fiji. This is Chapter One of ten. To read Chapter Two, please click HERE.