After flying to Brisbane with Qantas where Alfie was disappointed he didn’t have a personal screen, I foolishly consoled him by advising that once we boarded the international flight for Vanuatu, he would have his own screen.
As too was my belief that when flying overseas you’re given slightly more leg room than when you take a domestic flight.
Drew and I don’t fly together well. Perhaps our experience would be different if when boarding the plane we turned left and flew in the expensive seats but like most people, we take a right-hand turn and sit with the masses.
Drew is a big guy. He’s tall but not like a reed; he has some mass about him. And that mass (as in wide shoulders) extends into my seat. And I have to sit crumpled and twisted trying to find somewhere for my own limbs.
Humans are getting bigger yet allocated space on economy flights is shrinking like the size of paddle pops and Big Macs.
So there were no screens and pretty-much nowhere to put your legs and Alfie and I scored two people sitting behind us who from take-off to landing, did nothing but kick the back of our seats. When Alfie could take it no more, he turned around and screamed, ‘Stop it’, but that’s when they suddenly couldn’t speak English.
The plane did have shared screens and for a period of time they showed an episode of ‘Modern Family’ however the video play halted intermittently stopping the sound and jumping forwards and backwards making the show impossible to watch. It was then pulled and replaced with a map showing us how much distance the plane had traveled.
I found the meal served to be disappointing. There was a choice of chicken or beef and it’s like a toss of the coin and hoping your coin lands the right way up. Alas, I found the beef meal inedible and was relieved when the air hostess finally removed it from the tray table. However, Alfie loved his chicken and rice dish and ate everything he was served bar the stale bread roll.
What was lovely about arriving in Port Vila was walking off the plane and onto the tarmac. After being packed like a sardine there is something so relieving about feeling the fresh air enter the plane as soon as the door swings open. Walking across the tarmac is always better than walking into an air-conditioned terminal.
Except the terminal at Port Vila airport isn’t air-conditioned. The men working in little booths in customs and immigration have towels beside them that they use to mop the sweat from their brows while overhead ceiling fans do their best to whip about a bit of air.
While you pass through the casual processes of all the arrival procedures, a group of musicians sings traditional songs which is a lovely welcome and helps put you in a holiday mood.
The next morning we arrived at the Port Vila domestic terminal. It’s a very basic building that’s more like a shed. Again, there’s no air-conditioning and the seating is limited and you have to be alert to when your flight is departing as notifications are not loudly vocalised.
Our flight to Espiritu Santo was on a small plane with propellers. All five of us had been allocated seats in different rows of the plane. I don’t know if you’re like me but when I see someone coming on board holding a screaming toddler as well as juggling a large bag of groceries, I hold my breath and cross all my fingers and toes hoping they are not going to take the seat next to me. Alas, this poor woman sat beside me. She tried to stuff her groceries under the seat in front of her and meanwhile her infant son was becoming more and more worked up and he had tears pouring out of his eyes that were running down his face and hitting his legs. His mother kept apologising to me which wasn’t really necessary as I’ve been in that situation and know, there’s nothing you can do but ride it out.
It was a very hot day and even hotter once on the plane as the air-conditioning either wasn’t working or wasn’t switched on. Everyone grabbed magazines from the seat-pocket and started fanning themselves. The seats were vinyl and in my summery dress and with all the sweat, I was sticking to the seat.
The very crowded flight took off but the lack of air-conditioning didn’t improve. I could only get a trickle of air from that switch above my head and so for the flight, everyone just kept fanning themselves. It was a 50-minute flight and I guess too short to be considered one where refreshments would be served. This was the first flight I’ve ever been on where you’re not given as much as a bottle of water. And in that heat, some water would be nice.
The flight from Efate to Espiritu Santo is very pretty and I did have a window seat so I could look out and enjoy seeing the islands and the turquoise waters of the Pacific.
Arriving at Espiritu Santo is again a walk-across-the-tarmac affair and again, it was a relief when the rear door was opened and air filled the cabin and I could un-glue myself from my seat and start walking off the plane.
I’ve taken some unusual items in my carry-on bag but never walked on with two trays of eggs. I was so surprised to see this optimist walk on with all these eggs and then see him walk off with not one having cracked. I can’t get my eggs home from the supermarket without smashing a few.
Santo-Pekoa is a newly-built international airport. We walked into the terminal which is pretty much all one room with people arriving and departing all bunched in together. It’s not an air-conditioned building which by now, I wasn’t expecting. There was a lengthy wait for luggage as it seemed only two men were on duty to deal with the suitcases. When they did finally have the luggage on a trolley, there was no motorised vehicle to bring the trolley to the terminal; instead, the two men had to push the trolley. And then the luggage isn’t put onto a moving conveyor belt, the men have to lift all the luggage onto benches where you help yourself. The men of Vanuatu are fit and strong!
While most of the planes in the Air Vanuatu fleet are older and smaller planes, they do have one Boeing 737 in their fleet. I understand this plane flies every Tuesday from Brisbane, to Espiritu Santo and then on to Port Vila. If holidaying in Santo, I would recommend booking Tuesday’s direct flight from Brisbane.
While our experience on Air Vanuatu was a little disappointing due to a lack of space, lack of in-flight entertainment and below-average food, I don’t think Air Vanuatu stands alone in providing an experience that for economy passengers, has to be endured. Sadly, economy travel has become no-frills budget travel and I’m yet to find anyone who raves about the experience.
What Air Vanuatu has in spades, are flight attendants who are welcoming, friendly and helpful. The level of service they provide exceeds the budget-travel experience. And that welcomes you to the country they say has, ‘The happiest people on earth’.