The only practical way to, from, and among the islands is by air. Even though you can board a jetliner in Los Angeles or Sydney in the evening and be strolling under the palm trees of Tahiti by the crack of dawn, the distances are quite vast. So be prepared for long flights: 10 1/2 hours or more from Los Angeles to Fiji, 7 1/2 hours to Tahiti from Los Angeles or Sydney. It takes even longer from the U.K. and Europe.
Because populations are small, flights are not nearly as frequent to and among the islands as we Westerners are used to at home. There may be only one flight weekly between some countries, and flights scheduled today may be eliminated tomorrow. The local airlines have relatively few planes, so mechanical problems can cause delays.
Only a handful of the outer-island airstrips are lighted, so there are few connecting flights after dark. Consult a travel agent or contact the airlines to find out what's happening at present.
Reserve Early & Reconfirm -- Planes do not always fly between all the island countries every day in this sparsely populated, far-flung region. When planning your trip, therefore, first find out the airlines' schedules, which will determine the dates you can travel.
By all means book your domestic inter-island flights well in advance. You may not get on a plane at all if you wait until you arrive in the islands to take care of this important chore.
Although it's unnecessary for international flights, and for domestic flights within French Polynesia, always reconfirm your return flight as soon as you arrive on an outer island within Fiji, the Cook Islands, Samoa, American Samoa, and Tonga. Avoid booking a return flight from an outer island on the same day your international flight is due to leave for home; give yourself plenty of leeway in case the weather or mechanical or scheduling problems prevent the plane from getting to and from the outer island on time.
Each island country has just one main international airport: Nadi (NAN) in Fiji; Papeete (PPT) on Tahiti in French Polynesia; Rarotonga (RAR) in the Cook Islands; Apia (APW) in Samoa; Pago Pago (PPG) in American Samoa; and Tongatapu (TBU), the main island in Tonga. Only Nadi (pronounced Nahn-dee) has enough international traffic to be considered a regional hub.
Here, in alphabetical order, are the airlines with service to the islands (their phone numbers are in the U.S. unless otherwise noted):
- Air New Zealand (tel. 800/262-1234 or 310/615-1111; www.airnewzealand.com) flies between Auckland and all the island countries. It serves many other New Zealand cities and several in Australia, so Kiwis and Aussies can reach the islands either nonstop or by changing planes in Auckland. It's the only airline flying nonstop from Los Angeles to the Cook Islands, Samoa, and Tonga (the planes stop there on their way between Los Angeles and Auckland). It has service from Los Angeles to Fiji and Tahiti, although the planes are flown by Air Pacific and Air Tahiti Nui , on a code-share basis. It links the U.K. and Europe to Los Angeles, where passengers connect to the islands. It also flies from Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul, Taipei, and Beijing to Auckland, with connections from there to the islands. It is a member of the Star Alliance, which includes United Airlines and several other carriers.
- Air France (tel. 800/321-4538; www.airfrance.com) flies to Tahiti from Paris, and from London to Los Angeles, where you can connect to Tahiti.
- Air Pacific (tel. 800/227-4446; www.airpacific.com), Fiji's international airline, has extensive service to Nadi from Sydney, Brisbane, and Melbourne in Australia, and Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch in New Zealand. It flies its own planes 6 days a week between Nadi and Los Angeles, a service it code-shares with Air New Zealand and Qantas , and once weekly between Vancouver, B.C., and Nadi via Honolulu. One of its Nadi-Honolulu flights stops in Christmas Island in the central Pacific. It code-shares with American Airlines, which provides feeder service from many U.S. and Canadian cities to Los Angeles. Within the region, it links Nadi to Samoa and Tonga, and it goes west to Vanuatu and Solomon Islands. It also provides nonstop service between Fiji and Japan.
- Air Tahiti Nui (tel. 877/824-4846; www.airtahitinui.com), French Polynesia's national airline, has more flights -- all on relatively new Airbus planes -- between Tahiti and Los Angeles than any other airline. Some of those depart early afternoon California time and arrive in Papeete before dark, so you can connect to Moorea that evening. Most return flights are overnight, but you arrive in Los Angeles early enough in the morning to make convenient connections. It also flies between New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and Papeete. On the other end, the New York-Tahiti plane keeps going to Sydney in Australia. Air Tahiti Nui also links Paris, Tokyo, and Auckland to Papeete, and it has service between Paris and Tahiti via Los Angeles.
- Airlines Tonga (tel. 26-125 in Tonga; email@example.com), the only domestic carrier in Tonga, has been flying twice a week between Nadi and Vava'u, which would be handy for whale-watchers and sailors headed to Vava'u. This service can be difficult to book, however, so let your whale-watching or yacht charter firms make your flight arrangements.
- Hawaiian Airlines (tel. 800/367-5320 in the continental U.S., Alaska, and Canada, or 808/838-1555 in Honolulu; www.hawaiianair.com) flies from Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle to Tahiti and to American Samoa. You must change planes in Honolulu, which can result in delays and even an unexpected Hawaiian layover. Samoans heavily book the Pago Pago flights from June through August and during holiday periods, so make your reservations as soon as possible.
- Korean Air (tel. 800/438-5000; www.koreanair.com) has service between Seoul and Fiji. Although it's a longer distance, a connection through Seoul can be quicker from the U.K. and Europe than flying through Los Angeles.
- LAN Chile (tel. 800/735-5526; www.lan.com) flies at least weekly between Santiago, Chile, and Tahiti by way of Easter Island.
- Pacific Blue (tel. 13-16-45 in Australia; 0800/67-0000 in New Zealand; www.flypacificblue.com), the international subsidiary of the Australian cut-rate airline Virgin Blue (itself an offshoot of Sir Richard Branson's Virgin Atlantic), has low-fare service from Australia and New Zealand to Fiji, the Cook Islands, and Tonga. It also flies to Samoa as Polynesian Blue .
- Polynesian Airlines (tel. 21-261 in Samoa; www.polynesianairlines.com), the national carrier of Samoa, connects its home base at Apia to American Samoa.
- Polynesian Blue (tel. 13-16-45 in Australia; 0800/67-0000 in New Zealand; www.polynesianblue.com), a successful joint venture between Polynesian Airlines and Pacific Blue, has low-fare service to Samoa from Sydney and Auckland.
- Qantas Airways (tel. 800/227-4500; www.qantas.com), the Australian carrier, has flights from several Australian cities and Fiji, and between Los Angeles and Fiji (its Fiji-bound passengers fly on Air Pacific planes).
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.