Business travel in the islands

5 January 1993 Vanair 502 Port Vila to Espiritu Santo
6 January 1993 Vanair 511 Espiritu Santo to Norsup
6 January 1993 Vanair 511 Norsup to Port Vila

Sometimes I am asked what I miss most in my work in Vanuatu. My answer is always the same: travel. Business travel is a thing that I often valued in my last job, breaking up the monotony of the same place. Before moving to Port Vila, it was rare for me to spend a whole month in the same place, yet I never left Efate, the island on which Port Vila is situated, for the whole of the first year I was there, except for visits to the small offshore islands.

It seems eccentric to say that I miss the travel when I fly around the world each year, but close scrutiny of the itineraries will reveal that this flying is spread over only a very small part of the year.

Therefore, the opportunity for a business trip was not one to be rejected lightly. I felt that the work in Santo didn't need my presence. Nevertheless, various people seemed to disagree, so here I was, on my way.

Another reason for my reluctance was the similarity between this work and the work I had been forced to do in Edinburgh years earlier. The similarities were noticeable, but in all fairness this work looked to be much simpler than that before.

It is a curious eccentricity of Vanair to insist on check- in being an hour before take-off even for the small aircraft they use, but the rule seems to be there because of the requirements of a large problem of no-shows combined with a large demand for the flights. The penalty for no-shows is rather severe and I continue to urge other airlines to do the same. Simply, i runs like this: no-show and you lose your money. No- show, for those unfamiliar with the term, refers to those passengers who hold a reservation and a paid ticket for a particular flight but don't show up for the flight. It may seem reasonable that such people should lose their money, but the fact is: on most scheduled flights, no-show passengers with full-fare tickets can receive refunds even after the date of their flight. Why? Every carrier is scared of losing business, so will not introduce this rule for their tickets. Strangely, they all agree that if one of them did introduce it, everybody would have joined them within six months, after which time one of the major problems of airline scheduling would have been solved.

Vanair has already introduced the rule in most cases, so I rose at the crack of dawn for the short flight to Santo. The flight was completely full. This was no surprise, because I was originally supposed to have made this trip before Christmas, but it had been impossible to find matching reservations for me in both directions. Even now, it was not guaranteed to be perfect. My return tickets were actually for the same afternoon, even though I was in fact to be returning the following day on the mid-day flight, with one of my colleagues who had travelled to Santo the previous day. We were meeting two other people at a cafeteria for lunch to exchange our tickets with theirs. They were travelling back on the afternoon flight but had tickets for the following day. This sounds like the subplot of an extraordinarily bad spy novel but it is in fact the truth. What the insurance implications of such an arrangement are, I dread to think.

Living in Vanuatu does make people take things for granted. Most tourists (of whom there were very few on board) would have spent most of their time looking out at the beauty of the islands and the ocean, while I spent the time reading A Christmas Carol.

Fortunately, everything ran fairly smoothly. The flight arrived with my baggage and I was met at the airport according to plane. After meeting all the people I needed to meet and doing such work as was required, it was time for a simple lunch of hamburger, chips and air tickets.

Everybody left satisfied, and the afternoon and evening progressed as might be expected.

The following morning, work started as expected, but as often happens with this sort of work, an unexpected opportunity presented itself halfway through the morning. It was easily solved, fortunately, but for a while the spectre of Edinburgh hovered over me.

It would have hovered longer but for the fact that the flight was delayed. This proved to be a blessing, as it meant that I could complete the work. The alternative was to spend another night in Santo, which I didn't really want to do.

As the afternoon went on, the flight was more and more delayed, but it did arrive and leave eventually, but not before I had finished A Christmas Carol.

I met a couple of other people at the airport in Santo too, people who I had not expected to run across there, and whom I probably wouldn't have seen if the flight had been on time.

The flight from Santo to Norsup is a very short one, but it gave me a chance to clock another Vanuatu island up on the list, which by now stood at nine. I only spent a very small amount of time on the ground, and then it was up into the air again, to Port Vila, where I then had to wait a little while for my wife to collect me. It was raining, a fitting end to a dull day.

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