My brother Andrew recently flew from Los Angeles to Paris on Air Tahiti Nui in “Poerava” business class using 57.5K American Airlines miles. I asked him to write a trip report sharing about his flight.
Gosh, I love exotic carriers flying “normal” routes. It is the chance to try a new carrier and not be locked into the same airlines I usually fly during my frequent trips to Europe. I want to try them all!
Due to its status as an overseas collectivity of the Republic of France (pays d’outre-mer au sein de la République), Tahiti enjoys a significant number of French visitors, which justifies its flag carrier, Air Tahiti Nui, operating a Fifth Freedom route from Paris to Los Angeles. TN operates from its hub in Papeete’s Fa’a’ā International Airport, and flies to just 4 destinations – nonstop to Auckland, Tokyo, and Los Angeles, with the LAX flight continuing to Paris’ Charles de Gaulle airport to complete the route offerings of the small airline.
The flight leaves Tahiti at 11:45 pm for a red-eye, arriving in Los Angeles at 10:55 am. Air Tahiti Nui schedules a two-and-half hour turnaround in Los Angeles to leave for Paris at 1:30 pm, though the time does change seasonally — it is currently leaves at 3:30p and my flight left at 11:30a. As I was not checking any bags, I arrived at LAX just an hour before my flight. Agents were pleasant and I was handed a pass for the expedited security line at Tom Bradley International Terminal, as well as a lounge card for the contracted lounge, the Korean Air Lounge, which Lucky did a great review on a few years ago.
I love coffee. So while I did grab a small snack in the lounge, I wanted to get an amazing cup of coffee at one of my favorite LA coffee spot – LAMill Coffee – which happens to have an in-terminal location at Tom Bradley. It also gave me a chance to see the gate area and make some observations.
Air Tahiti Nui flies an exclusive fleet of Airbus A340-300s, and is expected to take delivery of a brand new fleet of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners starting in 2018. Nevertheless, the plane was in good condition and felt clean, modern, and well-maintained.
The business class seat on Air Tahiti Nui is an angled lie-flat, configured 2-2-2 on the A340. As expected, the cabin was nearly empty due to most passengers coming from Tahiti having finished their journey in Los Angeles (at least as it pertains to TN flights. The airline does codeshare with American Airlines to offer connecting flights throughout the US, although it is not a member of the oneworld Alliance).
I booked a bulkhead seat, 1A, which featured ample leg room. The touchscreen was 12 inches across, and was the perfect size considering the distance it was from the passenger. In the seatpocket beneath the screen was a bottle of water.
Upon boarding, the purser introduced himself and another flight attendant came through the cabin offering business class passengers a choice of champagne, orange juice, or the airline’s signature offering – fresh guava juice. It was sweet and refreshing!
Flight attendants made a second pass through the cabin to distribute noise-cancelling headphones. Although I prefer my Bose headphones to Sennheiser and other brands furnishes by airlines, I often find that the differences in dual- and triple- audio jacks mean that it is best to use the headphones provided by the airline. Disposable covers for the ear were also included.
We took off on time and banked south from the LAX runways, beginning our turn back towards the West Coast and onwards to Europe. As it was such a clear day (winter in Los Angeles), I got some great pictures of the Palos Verdes peninsula.
Shortly after the 10,000 feet chime rang, flight attendants distributed menus for the flight. A few minutes later, hot towels arrived.
Following the collection of the hot towels, the beverages were refreshed and light appetizer was served. It included a single shrimp in a salad of fresh herbs and vegetables.
Lunch came next. As is the case with many business class products, airlines slave over serving a marginally healthy, usually fish-based appetizer plate which I believe does not add value to the on-board dining experience but is a nice touch nonetheless. I would have appreciated more attention to the salad – a larger selection of dressings (only balsamic was available) or perhaps fresher lettuces.
I am assuming these meals are catered in Los Angeles as opposed to TN’s kitchens in Tahiti. I wonder if the quality of the food is different on flights originating from there.
I chose the beef tenderloin for my main course. Other choices included fish and pasta. As the food is French-inspired, it was served with a delicious Bordelaise sauce to accompany the meat and potatoes.
Beautiful views of the Rockies!
Following dinner, a dessert trio including a side of fresh fruit was presented. Coffee, tea, and digestifs were offered.
On the right was a mango sorbet that tasted quite fresh, in the middle a cannelone filled with chocolate, and on the left a vanilla pudding with raspberry sauce.
The entertainment system on board was decent. It operated completely via touch screen, and as I mentioned earlier, all of the aspects of the entertainment system, from the headphones to the screen size, suited each other well to provide a decent experience.
The flight tracking feature is also modern.
After dinner I placed the seat into “lie-flat” mode and attempted to sleep, but it did not go well. The plush pillow and soft blanket helped, but the flight left LA and midday and I was still acclimated to LA time — I could not manage more than a nap.
Scheduled flight time is about 11 hours. An hour and a half prior to landing, a breakfast was served. To begin, a tray of continental items, including fruits, yogurt, bread and coffee was presented. Although I did not sleep very much on the flight, I wanted to re-orient my body to Central European time, so I enjoyed the full breakfast.
The main course consisted of an egg and cheese omelette, served with bacon a potato hash.
We landed 30 minutes early in Paris, a cold, gray morning.
All in all, I would rate Air Tahiti Nui to be a solid product. It is not going to win any awards for outstanding offerings and in no way competes with carriers like Emirates or Singapore and their up-to-date offerings (or even the business class seats on United and Delta). I would have liked to see a true lie-flat seat in the business cabin, especially considering that (1) there is no first cabin, (2) given how empty the business cabin was, ripping out one row of seats to make room for lie-flat would be revenue-neutral, and (3) substantially all Air Tahiti Nui flights are long-haul, and most which originate out of Tahiti are red-eyes, which means that sleeping on board is likely the biggest selling point they can offer to premium cabin travelers.
Stay tuned as we follow their transition to the 787s in the coming years – hopefully it will be an opportunity for Air Tahiti Nui to improve its product!