This is my review for the excellent Aircalin Business Class from Osaka to Noumea on the A330. Aircalin is the national carrier of New Caledonia – a small overseas territory of France. If you haven’t heard of it, don’t worry; it is west of Tahiti but does get much less PR.
Aircalin features 11 destinations with just six aircraft; you guessed it – the company rotates destinations quite a bit and mostly has just twice-a-week services. The airline is run in close partnership with Air France and is a Flying Blue partner. You can redeem Flying Blue miles at any time but you need to pay the rather high fuel surcharges.
Aircalin’s flights to Osaka and Tokyo are driven by the Air France service to/from both airports to connect to Noumea. Think of Aircalin as a way for Air France to not run another tag-on, as they do from Los Angeles to Papeete.
After a close encounter with a major typhoon the week before in Taipei, this time it would be Typhoon Noru that hit the Japanese islands on the day of my departure. This was once named as the world’s most powerful storm but had since weakened, yet it was still a massive storm in size.
Aircalin had sent out emails to tell us to check-in early because departure had been moved 30 minutes forward.
We arrived at the airport early enough and check-in was empty when it opened so we were amazed to see Seq 200+ on our boarding passes; indeed almost every other passenger was coming off a flight from Paris.
Aircalin uses the ‘KIX Air Side Lounge’ at Osaka Airport, which is right after security and immigration before you head to that silly little train.
The lounge has fantastic views towards the runway and has some decent refreshments. There wasn’t anything really great to eat, though, so I strongly recommended that you eat somewhere else in the airport (ideally outside security on Level 2F, which has a number of great restaurants).
Boarding started right at 40 minutes prior to our new departure time. While the rain had let up while we were in the lounge, the winds seemed to be getting violent and the gusts seemed pretty bad. Everyone was trying to get off the ground. Once economy and business were about 70% full on this A330, we closed the doors and lined up for the takeoff position.
It seemed everyone was getting out and precious few planes seemed to remain at Osaka Airport (and for good reason).
The Aircalin Business Class cabin is much like the old (and still flying) Air France Business Class. It will say lie-flat in some reports but it is angled lie-flat. The seats fold down somewhat and are nice and comfortable.
As with my typhoon experience last week, the weather looked worse than flying through it actually was. There were a few bumps and dark skies but after 10 minutes, things became rather stable at 21,000 feet and we headed eastwards to get out of the worst weather.
Service started rather quickly and came with champagne and some yummy green olive snacks.
Besides a salad and sushi, there was a whole box of caviar on every business class tray! The caviar was excellent and so was the sushi. The bread roll that came with it was excellent, too.
The fish main course came with a creamy sauce and pasta – usually not my favorite but it was very edible.
The highlight of the meal was the dessert, which was a lovely lemon tart and 3 types of cheese to choose from.
At all times, the flight attendants seemed extremely friendly. Most passengers spoke French (as it seemed the native tongue for most flight attendants) and everyone spoke passable English as well.
I tried the espresso but it was overly bitter and certainly nothing that helps your stomach digest.
The entertainment system was loaded with a number of movies from the last few months and more older ones. In total, there were just about 30 movies but it seemed to be a good selection.
Most of the passengers seemed to fall asleep right after lunch and given that most seemed on a European time zone, this made a lot of sense.
In summary, Aircalin was a positive surprise. The angled lie-flat seat needs an upgrade but it is not as if the airline has much competition for flights from Japan. There are a good number of parallels with Air Tahiti Nui but it was just less Polynesian and more of a classy affair.
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