French Polynesia’s flag carrier, Air Tahiti Nui was launched in 1996 to compliment the domestic services of Air Tahiti which link many of the hundreds of islands that make up the country. Nui means Big in Tahitian. The government of French Polynesia felt their all important tourism industry could not depend on foreign carriers like Air New Zealand, Hawaiian Airlines, Air France and Chile’s LAN to bring enough tourists to fill their resorts, so they launched their own international carrier. The airline is a partnership between the local government and investors. The picture perfect post card images of Tahiti are generally true but the romantic location comes at a price so the airline targets high value tourism and honeymooners. The airline has an all Airbus A340 fleet and began with services to Paris via Los Angeles, Auckland, Tokyo and New York. In 2004 the airline added Sydney to their network but withdrew in 2008. The airline also withdrew from New York in 2010. Air Tahiti Nui have codeshare deals with several partner airlines and also TGV Air, France’s high speed train service that connects to Paris’s Charles de Gaulle airport. The economic woes in the US following the 2008 GFC and the economic malaise in the Eurozone, together with stagnation in Japan have made a romantic holiday in Tahiti’s coral paradise an unaffordable luxury for much of the airline's target market. Air Tahiti Nui’s passenger numbers have been dropping each year since 2007 as it struggles to compete against cheaper carriers and as French Polynesia competes against discount holiday destinations.
Air Tahiti Nui target an exclusive market and provide service to match. The interiors and colour scheme of the airline is light aqua marine blue and together with this cheerful cabin is good service from the airlines professional and well tanned crew. Flight attendants are typically multi-lingual and attentive in all classes.
For most people a trip to Tahiti is a beautiful dream but beyond their budget. While most holiday makers would like to visit Tahiti few do and getting there takes a long time, so the demand for the airlines services are very limited. The airline currently only flies to Auckland, Tokyo, Los Angeles and Paris, but they excellent code share arrangements with Australia’s Qantas, Japan Air Lines, Delta, American Airlines and Air France.
French Polynesia is one of the most expensive holiday destinations on the planet. Its remote location makes importing luxury items and basic necessities, such as aircraft fuel, expensive. Air Tahiti Nui is seldom cheap but do provide competitive fares, which they poorly promote, on routes between Los Angeles and Paris and Auckland and Los Angeles.
The cuisine served on Air Tahiti Nui is an unmistakable blend of gourmet French fare with tropical Polynesian ingredients and is very tasty. Meals in all classes are nicely presented, generous in size and generally delicious. The airline is particularly lavish in its alcohol service and asking for extra bread rolls, even in economy, is considered a normal request. Crew willingly top up coffee cups with a smile.
All of Air Tahiti Nui’s routes are very long distances so the relatively dated seat back entertainment system is not particularly lavish. There are only six movie selections together with information channels and ten music channels. Entertainment is provided in French, English and Japanese and there is also one Tahitian music channel which will help put you get in the mood. The airline’s in-flight magazine RevaTahiti is a bi-lingual French/English publication packed with articles about tourist attractions in French Polynesia.
Air Tahiti Nui uses a particularly difficult check-in system which is slow and cumbersome and this is responsible for the occasional long queues at the check-in counters. The airline has a very generous baggage policy in all classes and luggage is handled carefully by the airline. The airline does interline baggage which is where things can be problematic, particularly in the US, so Travel Insurance should be considered.
Air Tahiti Nui have a First and Business Class which are both quite nice and very good considering how small the airline is, but are not comparable to many of world’s luxury airlines like Emirates or Asiana. Cabins are spacious and have an unmistakable holiday feel about them but cannot be described as luxurious. Meal service is excellent however some of the minor touches are missing and the entertainment service cannot be compared to other airlines. The airline uses the Mahina Lounge in Tahiti while in all other airports they use a variety of partner lounges.
Air Tahiti Nui’s Coach class service is pleasant enough. The airline’s baggage allowance, which is the same as that for the US (2 items of 23kg each) is very generous and on board comforts are comparable to the best legacy airlines. The airline is reasonable, reliable and punctual. Stepping on board one of their aircraft will give you an instant taste of the delights awaiting you in Tahiti.
Air Tahiti Nui’s Club Tiare (which means Flower in Tahitian) is designed exclusively for residents of French Polynesia and even for them there is little incentive to join. The scheme theoretically works like other loyalty programmes but has so few partners, joining seems pointless. Delta SkyMiles points can be redeemed on Air Tahiti Nui so if you need to use your miles, Delta members can visit paradise!
Air Tahiti Nui is a small airline that has a big responsibility. As tourism is the lifeblood of the local economy the airline’s managers should be doing a better job at attracting passengers onto the carrier. While the airline is not corrupt it isn’t very competent either. The short-lived flights between Sydney and Tahiti should and could have been promoted better and the airline could easily fill their planes by offering better promotional fares between New Zealand and Japan via Tahiti or California to France. Tahiti’s strategic location exactly half-way between Sydney and New York should have been used to promote that service yet most Australians or Americans were unaware the flights even existed. Air Tahiti Nui’s marketing department deserves a huge boot up the backside and can do better.
Air Tahiti Nui’s fleet of five Airbus A340’s are all less than 10 years old and are maintained in good condition. Pilots and crew are highly skilled and the airline has operated without any incident during its entire existence.
French elegance with Polynesian warmth greets all passengers as they step aboard a flight to paradise.
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