I was excited to finally board the Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX to Papeete, Tahiti. For as long as I can remember I’d wanted to visit the islands of French Polynesia and this was the moment I had waited for. While there are a couple of ways to reach Tahiti and beyond, Air Tahiti Nui is the national carrier for the Society Islands and because of that is one of the most popular ways to reach paradise. Any national carrier has a certain responsibility to represent their homeland since for many they are the traveler’s first introduction to the country. Air Tahiti Nui though has an even greater responsibility I believe because there are so few air travel options and because for most people, the South Pacific is the very definition of paradise on earth. Because of this and more, I had lofty expectations for Air Tahiti Nui but sadly the airline didn’t even come close to meeting them.
Outdated Business Class
I flew in Business Class, known as Poerava Class, on the way to Tahiti and then in Economy, otherwise known as Moana Class, on the way back. Thanks to experimenting with both sections I was able to get a more complete picture of the aviation experience, but sadly that first introduction in Poerava Class was a bit of a let down. Immediately I could see that the Business Class cabin was dated. Although arranged in a 2-2-2 configuration, the seats themselves lacked many of the amenities most modern airlines enjoy. Principally, the seats aren’t fully lie-flat. Instead, they’re that horrible angled recline that was common in Business Class cabins about a decade ago or so. This is a major drawback since for many of us, the ability to fully recline, to rest and sleep is the primary perk of flying Business Class in the first place. It was a bad first impression, but the mediocrity didn’t end there.
The entire Poerava Class service lacked the finishing touches and pizzazz I’ve come to expect on other airlines. The food options were lacking, uncreative and didn’t taste all that great. The amenity kits were standard and the entertainment options were practically nonexistent. These are incredible missteps on an airline that specializes in long-haul travel. The flight from LAX to Papeete is about 8 hours. Before that though the flight originates in Paris. That’s a tremendous distance and most airlines that feature long flights have learned to step up their in-flight services, especially in Business Class. Cathay-Pacific, for example, has amazing entertainment options, delicious food and many other perks all designed to keep their most valued passengers happy. Air Tahiti Nui didn’t have any of that and it belies a certain lack of expertise at every level.
Economy service wasn’t great
Ok you’re thinking my nitpicking comments about Business Class are overblown and they won’t impact your trip anyway. Well, sadly that lack of attention to detail and overall poor service isn’t relegated to Poerava Class, it’s pervasive in all classes of travel. One thing I will say positive right off the bat is that when I arrived to my seat in Economy I was pleased to see a small amenity kit. This is something that the best long-haul carriers do, provide a small comfort bag to all passengers, regardless of class of travel. It’s a nice little perk and at first it gave me a lot of optimism about the flight, optimism that was soon squelched.
One thing that I’ve noticed is that if there is an institutional failure with an airline in one area, it usually permeates to all areas. Those problems I had with Business Class – the poorly executed food, lack of decent entertainment and poor onboard service – was only amplified in the back of the plane. From uncomfortable seats, to obnoxious seatmates to food and beverage that would be unacceptable on a short haul domestic flight, much less a vaunted long-haul carrier; nothing worked. The experience was not a pleasant one. It’s funny, I thought at first it was just me, until I boarded my connecting flight back home with Virgin America. Onboard that flight everything clicked, the food was good, service outstanding and the flight comfortable. I caught up on all of that sleep I’d missed on the Air Tahiti Nui flight and was convinced that the problems with the Pacific carrier weren’t my imagination after all.
If you’re traveling to Tahiti or beyond to the smaller islands, it is hard to avoid flying Air Tahiti Nui. And overall, I’m not sure that you should avoid them. While not a fantastic experience, it was perfectly adequate. That in itself should be a little disappointing, but if a flight for you is just a necessary evil, then your experience will be fine. If you’re like me though, someone who loves air travel and for whom the flight experience is an important aspect of the overall trip, then you’ll most likely be a little disappointed. While the interiors are colorful and guests are indeed met with bright smiles, that superficial level of service and comfort ends there. Maybe it was just the flights I was on, maybe it was just the flight crew, but my two experiences flying with them never clicked. I’m always happy though to admit a mistake and if I fly them again and enjoy the service, then I’ll be happy to write an updated post.