My wife and I recently (Feb/March 2020) had the good fortune to visit French Polynesia. Much to my delight (and part of the reason we went) I was able to get two reward seats in Business Class (Air Tahiti Nui calls it Poerava Business) through American Airlines (this was before the Coronavirus hit). While my wife loved that it was a relatively short flight from Southern California (7 hours 50 minutes) I would rather redeem 20,000 fewer miles (70k vs 80k) and get more bang for my buck and fly to Bali or Thailand. Luckily, she won out.
Air Tahiti Nui has daily flights between Los Angeles and Papeete as well as LAX and CDG (some days may have two flights between LAX & PPT). LAX is an intermediate stop between Tahiti and Paris routes. However, on March 15th, due to Coronavirus restrictions in the US, Air Tahiti Nui set a record (9765 miles) with its B787-900 for longest nonstop flight from PPT to CDG. So, I guess it is possible in the future this could be a separate route. But as of now (March, 2020) Air Tahiti Nui only flies to two other destinations; Aukland and Tokyo NRT. AUK is a few days a week and NRT is just one or two times a week. They are not a oneworld member but they do codeshare with Qantas, JAL, American and a few other airlines. In addition, they do not fly to neighboring islands in French Polynesia. All those flights (to Bora Bora, Moorea, etc.) are operated by Air Tahiti.
Our flight left LAX late in the evening arriving into Papeete very early in the morning. Looking at their future schedule (They are scheduled to resume flights May 1st) most of their flights will depart in the late afternoon. While I am not a fan of overnight flights (you do not receive the full Business Class experience) it did allow us a full day at home (well, 3pm dept. from SAN) and with the early morning arrival we were able to take the first flight to Bora Bora and arrive at our resort (Conrad) by 10am (not being able to get in room for 5 hrs is another issue). Whereas, the late afternoon flight arrives just before midnight forcing you to spend the night if you are heading to the other Islands. The return flight to LAX was again a late evening departure so we (I ;)) decided to fly back on Air France (hopefully I will review that flight as well). This flight leaves in the morning, giving us a chance to stay at the InterContinental Tahiti (which is very close to the airport in Fa’a’a) as opposed to waiting 7 hours at the airport for the Air Tahiti Nui flight. United is the only other Airline to fly to/from PPT from the USA (SFO).
As I said, we left San Diego earlier than needed (no award seats on earlier flights) which gave us a 7 hour layover at LAX. Normally I wouldn’t have had that much an issue with that (my wife does) but I did not read good things about the Los Angeles International Lounge that they use. I also read that sometimes they would just give Business Class passengers vouchers to eat inside the Tom Bradley International Terminal. Much to my relief American allowed us to use the Flagship Lounge in Terminal 4. One of the better perks being a Platinum Executive member with American is you can use the Flagship Lounge on International flights (and JFK to LAX/SFO). Since this was not a oneworld carrier nor an American Codeshare I was not sure it would be the case. After a lengthy stay we made our way to TBIT and the Los Angeles Lounge. It certainly was not the nicest Lounge at LAX, but much better than I was expecting and more than adequate for an hour stay. They had Wi-Fi, plenty of seats, alcohol and a decent amount of food. Our gate was a bus gate and at the far end of the terminal. The gate area is in a temporary (I hope) building. With the long walk, boarding had already commenced by the time we arrived and a lined had already formed to board. We were paged to fill out some health information for the Coronavirus and then allowed to board (bypassing the line). This didn’t make much difference as we waited on the bus for 20 minutes (bus gates eliminates perk of boarding early) before heading to the remote stand.
Once off the bus and onto the plane we received a warm greeting. The cabin was half full and the lighting (a dim blue) on the Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner set the mood for the late departure. Some of the walls had images of tropical settings which even added to the environment. Pillow & blankets were at the seat along with a bottle of water, headphones and a surprisingly nice amenity kit. A pre-departure drink of Orange Juice, Champagne or a Mai Tai was offered. The Orange Juice was not very good and my wife wasn’t enthused about her Mai Tai. We were seated in 2A&B. The Poerava Business Cabin has 5 rows in a 2x2x2 configuration. Air Tahiti Nui recently switched from the Airbus A340 to Boeing’s 787. So the plane is almost new. The seats are basically the same as many other airlines use now (B/E Aerospace Diamond). Which tend not to have much storage and are a little narrow. This and the poor quality of the pre-departure drink had me a little skeptical. However, shortly after take off menu’s were handed out along with a fragrant flower and maybe the best hot towel I have received on any airline. Soft, hot and the aroma was even better than the flower.
After take-off the flight attendants changed into traditional Polynesian attire. There were several flight attendants in Business and all were very pleasant, attentive and helpful. A light meal was served 30 minutes after we departed. There was no choice and all came on a single tray. I was actually pleasantly surprised at the offering as I was hungry. A Salad with cold Chicken & Bacon, Cheese, Fruit, Bread (came by four times with basket) and Dulce de leche for dessert. A nice light meal before getting a few hours of sleep.
The main meal on this route is breakfast. The cabin lights were illuminated two hours before arrival to start the breakfast service. Another hot towel was given after we awoke and before breakfast. A nice fruit plate with yogurt (plain) started the service along with a few choices of bread. Like with the light meal the flight attendants came by with a few times with the bread basket. There were supposed to be two choices for breakfast. A Cheddar & Chive Omelet or Bread Pudding in Vanilla Sauce, but when the flight attendant came for our order she said only eggs were available. I assumed that meant there was only one option. However, there was two different Omelets available. Plain which I got and a filled Omelet (it may have been Cheddar & Chive – but I think it had another filling) which my wife received. I am not sure I ordered the plain Omelet or it was just by chance. While I was disappointed not to be able to order the Bread Pudding, my Omelet (as simple as it looked) was as good as any eggs I have had on an airplane (including BA). I didn’t like my wife’s as much. The eggs came with Rosti Potato Cake which were also very good and bacon. The menu said sausage so I think the entire breakfast wasn’t catered correctly. I remember the orange juice being better than the glass I had on the ground (may have just been colder) and my wife ordered me a hot chocolate that was a nice treat. A third fragrant hot towel completed the breakfast service.
Because the seats on the B787 are in a 2x2x2 configuration that means all seats do not have aisle access. If seated at the window you will have to climb over your neighbor if their leg rest is reclined and may inconvenience them if their tray table is up (fixed position from center armrest). The middle two seats both have direct aisle access. Since the entire flight was at night looking out of the Dreamliner’s big windows was negated, but would be great for daylight arrivals in and out of Tahiti (and the views are spectacular). There is plenty of space in the overheads, but like most non US Carriers there is no air vent (cabin temp was ok). Power plugs are in front of the center armrest under a nice sized tray table. Seat controls are also on the center armrest in a convenient location when sitting but as the seat moves forward into sleeping position your elbow could accidently change the settings. Along with the overhead light (which could be turned on/off by IFE handset) there is also a small reading light over your shoulder. The only real storage area is over your shoulder where the headphone jack is. There is a table under the TV screen, but just don’t put anything there at takeoff. Seats are cloth with a leather headrest and are 180 degree lie flat. There is plenty of leg room (60 inch pitch) in the sitting position and as I stated the seats are a little narrow (little over 20″ wide), however, you can lower the outer armrest which if in the fully flat mode gives you more space. I personally do not like sleeping when seat is fully flat (too claustrophobic) and actually prefer to sleep in a cradle position. I was able to find a comfortable setting, but the ottoman is very small and narrow so I kept hitting my feet against the wall and the magazine holder is at your immediate side. Now, if I was in the fully flat position the pitch may be more (78″ full recline) and you could take more advantage of having the armrest down. My wife who is 5’8″ said she slept great in the flat position. The bulkhead seats (row 1) have a much larger ottoman. My guess is they keep these seats free until day of departure because I was unable to be assigned these seats (showed full), but all six seats went unoccupied. There is no turn down service from the crew, but the blankets and pillows are nice quality.
Air Tahiti Nui only fly’s the B787 so the Inflight Entertainment (IFE) will be the same. The IFE is on-demand (AVOD) and has the usual content, albeit less than most airlines these days. That said, there were many more movies to choose from than I originally thought. I looked at the upcoming movies at airtahitinui.com before we left and I counted a choice of only 24 movies, but there was a bigger selection than that. The movies were edited for content. Most of the selection was in English with some French movies as well. In addition to films, there was also a small selection of television programs (mostly catered to children), pre-loaded music as well as the ability to pair your own device to the IFE system, games and a moving map (not much land between LA and Tahiti). The TV’s are a generous 16 inches and touch screen with USB ports between the screens and above a coat rack. There is also a handset at your side that controls the monitor. Like most IFE systems it is easier to navigate the content from the screen then the hand held control, but unlike a lot of current Business Class setups where most of the leg room is under the seat in front of you and the screen is armlength away, you need to lean forward to access this screen. So despite the jumpiness of the handset my guess is most would prefer to still use it (I leaned forward to screen). The headphones they provided were not noise canceling and had a magnetic jack to connect to the outlet over your shoulder. After I finished watching the movie I realized there was a hole for usual plugs and I could have used my headphones. Wi-Fi was available, but I did not attempt to use so I can not comment on it other than that the rates are based on MB’s as opposed to time. They start at $9 for 10 MB, $15/20 and $29/50. From past experience I have never gotten much when Wi-Fi is based on Megabytes. We were not offered any voucher or free Wi-Fi time in Business. I am assuming that there was a connection over the water, but maybe there isn’t.
There are two Lavatories in Poerava Business. One forward and one in the galley between Premium Economy and Business (actually two, but one for Premium Economy). As this plane was relatively new the lav’s were very clean. A nice flower was on the basin to freshen it up a bit and there was face and body lotion along with face spray from Heiva. The same hand & face cream and lip balm products in the amenity kits. Announcements were mainly in French and English although some were in Tahitian as well. Most notably used in some of the clever safety video. Landing cards, a questionnaire and a health form (only due to coronavirus) were handed out after take-off. Prior to landing the flight attendants came by with a bowl of Goût Bonbons (fuit chews – which I love). We landed on-time. PPT does not have any gates so you de-plane via stairs directly to tarmac. We were one of the first off the plane and were greeted with some Polynesian music. After having our temperature checked we were quickly in the terminal exchanging money and checking in for our flight to Bora Bora on Air Tahiti (right of baggage claim). Normally I would have wanted more than 2 hours connect time, but it was more than enough and the PPT Airport has no air-conditioning and little to do on the Domestic Departure side. Air Tahiti Nui does have a nice lounge (that is air-conditioned), but it is located in the international departure side.
I was really pleased with our flight and despite the long lay-over at LAX, how short of a trip it is to Tahiti (only about 2.5 hrs longer than Hawaii). After arriving I regretted not taking Air Tahiti Nui back to LAX (I later was happy with our decision to take morning flight on Air France). In fact, I found another pair of award seats in Business Class from CDG to LAX later this Spring for another trip we were taking (no more thanks to the Covid-19). The IFE was better than I was lead to believe, the catering was great, service and general atmosphere made you feel you were in Tahiti when you boarded the plane. I have been wanting to visit French Polynesia for years and it actually exceeded my expectations. After this trip we will be back sooner than later.