The romantic and exotic French territory of New Caledonia in the South Pacific has an equally romantic and exotic airline – Aircalin. The airline was formed in 1983 to provide international services for the Pacific’s largest island, in the wake of UTA’s reduction in services. With tourism being the second largest industry in the territory, after mining, the airline provides a valuable and essential economic contribution to New Caledonia. Aircalin’s largest shareholder is French bank Caisse d'Epargne Group with a 72% share. The local government owns 27% and employees hold 1%. In WWII the Americans built an air force base at Tontouta and this now serves as Aircalin’s hub. A smaller domestic airline Air Caledonie complements Aircalin, but flies from Magenta Airport, close to Noumea city. New Caledonia has the world’s best medical services and Aircalin daily flies patients to Australia for treatment that’s unavailable in the island. The airline has built-in stretcher beds in the last rows for patients and doctors.
Old fashioned hospitality and genuine service continue on Aircalin. Crew are an attractive mixture of younger enthusiastic European and Melanesians together with debonair experienced long serving staff. All crew speak fluent French and English together with a few other languages. French speakers genuinely appreciate their language is not relegated to token status the way it is on other airlines, especially Qantas and Air New Zealand. The warm and friendly staff are attractively attired in a distinctively tropical uniform.
Aircalin’s network is designed to meet the needs of locals travelling the world and holiday makers coming to enjoy New Caledonia’s year-round warmth. The airline keeps to the Pacific and for those travelling further they have excellent connections with Air France via Japan and Korea or other airlines via Australia. The airline flies to several Pacific islands including Tahiti, Fiji, Vanuatu and tiny Wallis Island. Their flights to Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland are equally popular for New Caledonians on shopping trips, as they are for sun loving Aussies or Kiwi’s eager to practice their French.
Sadly Aircalin is not cheap and neither is New Caledonia. If you’re shopping for a bargain South Pacific holiday then go to Fiji. If you’re after an experience in a sophisticated modern paradise with a blend of French and Melanesian cultures then overlook the high airfare and book Aircalin. New Caledonia uses the French Pacific Franc (XPF) which is pegged to the Euro at a rate of 139XPF = 1€. New Caledonia does not encourage low cost airlines and has refused landing rights to both Jetstar and Virgin Australia. If you want to discover New Caledonia’s many charm, grab a bargain when Aircalin has its occasional sales.
Aircalin’s catering comes as a pleasant surprise for first time travellers. For a small airline they certainly deliver big meals. Not only are serving sizes larger than cost cutting rivals, but meals are far tastier and their generosity with beverages is typically French. Aircalin provides its passengers with the best airline bread rolls in the Pacific which are served separately from a basket. Flights from Seoul include Korean cuisine and Japanese bound flights serve Bento box delights as well as French cuisine. Aircalin knows how to make good airline coffee. Regular travellers to New Caledonia typically prefer this airline because of its superior catering.
The airline has only three jet aircraft so it is not surprising they are unable to justify having the most elaborate entertainment system, however short distance flights around the Pacific show films with volume through audio headsets and there is the airlines in-flight magazine in French and English. The airline also produced French language phrase books for holiday makers, so bored passengers can always learn the lingo before they arrive. The airlines larger A330 has a better choice of films than their smaller A320.
Aircalin is a small and friendly airline and delivers a level of ground service long gone from larger cost cutting rivals. Managers know and greet frequent travellers and the airline is flexible over its baggage allowance. Check in is speedy and baggage is handled efficiently. Passengers transiting through Seoul, Japan or Australia will have their luggage transferred seamlessly.
Aircalin doesn’t have many premium passengers so their product is unable to match Etihad or Singapore Airlines, but what they deliver is excellent. Seats are spacious, interiors are relaxing, crew can be either engaging or discrete; whatever you prefer and meals are tasty. Premium passengers can snack on scrumptious French petit pastries during the flight and enjoy unending champagne on longer flights. The airlines lounge in Tontouta is modest.
First time Economy passengers on Aircalin may be reminded of what airlines used to be like before others dropped their standards to Burger King levels. Aircalin provides good service, delicious meals, a generous baggage allowance; an exotic multi lingual experience and their well tanned staff smile and look happy. If you’re going to New Caledonia and you have a choice of airlines, Aircalin is definitely better than rivals.
Aircalin does not have its own frequent flyer programme but has partnered with Air France and uses their comprehensive Flying Blue loyalty scheme, one of Europe’s best. As a member of Flying Blue, passengers can use their card on all SkyTeam airlines and also earn points from a wide variety of participating travel service providers, hotels and car rental companies.
Aircalin and its managers are one of the most ethical airlines around. New Caledonians are very egalitarian and the company is devoid of a ‘them and us’ attitude. Corruption, nepotism or illegal action is totally unthinkable in Aircalin. Staff are highly unionised, and well paid, and management generally work with unions, rather than against them. New Caledonia can also be congratulated for refusing landing rights for budget airlines who would threaten the excellent conditions for Aircalin’s 390 staff, and also bring the wrong sort of tourists to the world’s largest lagoon.
Aircalin has a spotless safety record and has operated without incident. The airline operates its own world class engineering facility at Tontouta and its staff are obsessive about maintaining the highest standards.
A charming and friendly airline that offers a distinctly French and Melanesian experience from the moment you check in.
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