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Festivities, green coconut juice mark event

SUVA, Fiji (Fiji Times, September 21, 2009) -- Just about two weeks after celebrating its 58th birthday, the national airline Air Pacific has spread its wings further into the region and beyond.

This time it has introduced a new weekly flight from Apia to Honolulu. This would be in additional to its two weekly flights to Apia.

The new route was timely and something the people of Samoa had been waiting for, for years.

With an outstanding safety record of over 56 years, the people of the treasured islands of Samoa who have about 10,000 of their own living in the Aloha State could not have been happier, of a direct flight from home and back.

That was why when the inaugural flight from Apia to Honolulu arrived at the Faleolo International Airport, Samoa put on a rousing welcome for the new flight.

For them this was no ordinary flight. It was another big opening to the land of the free.

Despite the date September 11, marking the 8th year anniversary of the deadly terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York and the Pentagon in Washington DC, the introduction of the new service was memorable.

At Faleolo Airport, there were dancing maidens and male warriors on the tarmac entertaining the six-member crew and the 140 passengers -- including a group of Fiji journalists disembarking from the Boeing 737-800 aircraft onto Samoan soil.

An inkling that a surprise was in store for the Honolulu-bound aircraft came when two fire tenders put up a guard of honour as the aircraft taxied onto the tarmac.

Captain Leigh Teasdale called on passengers not to be alarmed because they were being accorded the traditional wet welcome.

The newly-crowned Miss Samoa, Jacinta Burne, in her first official outing since her crowning barely a week before, placed a lengthy frangipani salusalu outside the jet's cockpit.

The 21-year-old also splashed green coconut juice (in place of the traditional champagne bottle) on the aircraft's nose.

She also garlanded all the passengers -- among them was Fiji's Hawaii-based famous artist, George Fiji Veikoso.

Passengers were then treated to a fiery but lively Samoan dance.

The flight from Apia took about six-and-a-half hours and the cabin crew on board led by Shabnam were attentive to all the passengers' needs. Their friendly demeanour and beautiful Fijian smile would definitely make first timers want to fly Air Pacific again.

The arrival in Honolulu was delayed when the American State observed the deadly September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

The aircraft had to circle the skies of Oahu several times to allow US Air Force aircraft marking the 9/11 tragedy to complete its rounds.

Though Captain Teasdale was only notified of the US Air Force's aircraft fly past as it prepared to land on Honolulu's International Airport, five minutes before schedule, he reassured passengers that all was well. And the landing was perfectly smooth.

In Honolulu, Air Pacific's airport manager and passenger and cargo Peter Kim accorded the passengers a warm welcome.

Though a one-man army, Mr. Kim did not let that get in the way.

He made all those getting off the aircraft and those arriving into Hawaii for the first time feel at home. Mr. Kim, who has been with the airline for 11 years, facilitated their clearance from the US Immigration officials.

He showed the media team including the three from Samoa to the Air Pacific gate where the flight was ready to depart for Apia. At the gate, a short ceremony was organised for that flight. It included hula dancing, leis and snacks for the passengers prior to departure.

Kim knowing very well the importance of the flight ensured that all passengers were treated the Hawaiian way, which would be incomplete without a lei each.

Air Pacific's manager Fiji and Pacific Islands Shaenaz Voss was confident of the new route. She said there would be an additional flight into the route if the demand increases. Ms Voss said told the Samoans including their government ministers, who braved the wee hours of Saturday to welcome the new flight that the airline, would continue with its support and commitment to the region.

She urged them to really strive if they wanted to get tourists from the mainland USA as well as Honolulu. And she believed that was all possible with the direct flight by the airline.

"If things fare well for us, you will see a second service coming, not in the too distant future," Ms Voss said.

Samoa Tourism Authority manager marketing and promotions Dwayne Bentley said they were working closely with Air Pacific to promote and develop the service.

Mr. Bentley, who was also part of the inaugural flight to Honolulu, said the new flight was wonderful and exciting.

But he said the challenge was for them to ensure that the flight remained.

He said the new flight would increase the opportunity for travellers from outside Honolulu to connect from Samoa.

With a lot of Samoan people living in Hawaii, Mr. Bentley guaranteed a lot of their presence on the flight.

Samoan Minister for Natural Resources Faumuina Tiatia Linga said the new route connected two Pacific Island countries to America. Mr Linga said that demonstrated Air Pacific's commitment to the Pacific.

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