Review: Air Vanuatu


Air Vanuatu:

In Air:

Managed by Qantas and serviced by Qantas ground support at check-in, I was pleasantly surprised by Air Vanuatu.

The workhorse 737-800 is decorated in Nis-Vanuatu’s preferred vibrant colours, sort of like flying in a hibiscus bush covered in blossoms. Something common to all Nis-Van people I met (excepting Vila’s wild boys suffering under the influence of excess beer), the smiles are broad and truly welcoming. No false bonhomie a la Singapore Airlines or Virgin Airlines here. Not an automaton on automatic cheer mode in the bunch either. Both international flights I flew between Australia and Vanuatu were alike service wise. The same standards of friendliness applied to all six domestic flights I experienced. All flights departed and arrived on time, another surprise given most Melanesians’ attitude about punctuality.

The single 737-800 does all the flights between Port Vila, Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Auckland. It gets a day of rest and maintenance once a week in Brisbane. Obviously well kept, immaculately clean and tidied by the crew throughout the flights, it’s an educational example of how to run a bare bones airline without having it look cheap.

The meals served on my international flights in economy class were plain yet tasty. I was hungry before my late night departure from Australia, having rejected eating in an overpriced international terminal restaurant in hopes I’d be served something edible on my inaugural Air Vanuatu flight. To my astonishment (I have low expectations in all cattle class flights these days), I was served a chicken main course that was almost a curry but not quite. The chilli heat had been toned down to match regional preference. Wines flowed during the entire meal service. Flight crew happily topped up glasses as if they were trying to lighten the payload. The almost full flight that night had a lot of very happy passengers, a very pleasant change from nearly all international flights I’d been on that season.

An aside anecdote: Flying from Port Vila to Luganville on ‘Santo’, the pilot announced, ‘We have to circle a while as there’s debris on the runway. I’ll keep you informed.’ Apparently, a fire truck had broken down at one end of the runway. We flew out over the western side of the island to wait. A small Air Vanuatu single prop plane had crashed recently somewhere in dense jungle beneath us. The crew pointed out the crash site, remarking that pieces of the plane had been discovered only days before. Meanwhile the fire truck had been pushed off the runway. We landed safely, all smiles still intact.

Air Vanuatu consists of one Boeing 737-800 jet for all international flights and one twin propeller ATR-72 for the busiest domestic flights between Efate and Espiritu Santo and Efate and Tanna islands. Three small but newish Y-12 planes are used to service a number of sparsely populated islands in the archipelago.

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