For my return from the beautiful islands of French Polynesia I had been pondering with the different award ticket options. Air France can be booked with any Skyteam miles but you usually end up paying the $200 fuel surcharge (exception Delta).
American Airlines groups Tahiti into the South Pacific which make the one-way 37,500 miles in Economy which is a lot for the 7.5 hour flight. It’s really just a bit further than Hawaii on a good day. AAdvantage also requires two awards if you want to travel beyond Los Angeles (LAX) or San Francisco (SFO) since Air Tahiti Nui does file fares for many cities in the USA. This wasn’t an issue for my San Francisco award though and I decided to ‘slum it out’ in Economy.
Our domestic Air Tahiti(Review) flight arrived at 7 PM at Pa’peete airport. It’s a dead time at the airport with no international and just a few domestic flights arriving or departing. Even the airports only McDonalds closes at 6 PM! There is one cafeteria but prices are high and food quality low. The airport is also proud to not be air conditioned – for the the entire arrival/ departure area! French Polynesia gets decidedly hotter than Hawaii and it’s beyond me why the whole airport would have no wait in the area that was cooled down.
The airport information desk mentioned a Chinese restaurant nearby and we made our way there. The restaurant looked less than appealing so we went to the local supermarket across the street. It wasn’t in the best shape – it was dirty – but had a few fresh items and normal prices.
We still had four hours to kill and after returning to eat at the airport decided to try out the ‘Premium Wifi’. The usage charge is $3 per hour and it indeed produced speeds of 2Mbit – not fast but better than expected. The Air Tahiti Nui check-in opened 3 hours before departure and the line was short that evening. Check-in was easy and competent. Although this was a codeshare with Qantas my Qantas Gold status would not get me into the Business Class lounge.
However security was not open until 2 hours before departure – more waiting at this airport for us. And even after security the waiting area was not air conditioned – oh man – someone want me to be fried that day. Our plane arrived from Auckland on time and a few duty free stores would open (those would be air conditioned).
Boarding was on time and very orderly – about 80% of the Economy section would be full that day. The A340 Air Tahiti Nui bought in the late 1990s just through a refurbishment. The airline plans to replace the A340 with two B787 in 2018. The color code takes a bit time to get used to but feels really fresh. Every seat got a crisp display and a new head rest system.
Take off was perfectly on time (in fact were the only plane that whole night at the whole airport) and the flight attendant seemed super cheerful. I felt like Hawaiian hospitality was married with French sophistication.
However I was tired enough to fall asleep right away and not wake up outside of Los Angeles. In between not much happened besides the flight attendants serving breakfast at some point. There was basically no turbulence to my surprise.
Immigration and Customs at LAX is a breeze especially with Global Entry. The lines for ‘Visitors’ are shockingly long though during the busy morning hours.
In sum I liked this flight once it started a lot. The leg room was good, the plane looked new from the inside and I was able to sleep the entire flight without problems. The entire airport experience wasn’t fun but that would have happened with any other carrier in Pa’peete and it’s not something I can blame the airline for.