Air Tahiti Nui Poerava Business Class to Paris gets your vacation started the minute you step on the plane. Like crossing a border into another country, the ambiance on board, the food, the drinks, and the decor make a world apart from everyday American life. Yes, it is still an airplane with the physical restrictions that go with flying, but no, all airlines are not alike. The Poerava Class of service offers all the comforts expected of Business Class travel, plus a certain je ne sais quoi that combines French cultivation with Polynesian grace which makes the hours in the air a part of the vacation and not simply a prelude to it.
Skytrax named Air Tahiti Nui the “Best Airline” in the Pacific Region and the “Best Cabin Staff” in the Pacific Region for 2007. Travelers flying to Paris from Los Angeles can benefit from this small airline’s quality service because of the stopover necessary for the French Polynesia travelers going to and from France. The benefits of flying Air Tahiti Nui begin with the arrival at the airport.
Check-in at LAX was calm and unhurried. Unlike larger airlines funneling passengers for a whole slate of flights through the same lines, Air Tahiti Nui has only the one flight to deal with at a time. The lines are shorter, the agents more relaxed.
Check-in for the return flight was - dare I say it - an “island of calm” in the madhouse that is Charles De Gaulle airport in Paris. The French may be good at food and art and philosophy, but they are incapable of standing in orderly lines. At times, the halls of the airport are so jammed that you simply have to stand and wait until the crowd unclogs, whereupon you may move a few feet before stopping again. Happily, when you get to the Air Tahiti Nui counters, you find open space and a reasonably short wait for an agent who is relaxed and helpful.
One of the striking qualities of the Air Tahiti Nui staff as a whole was its manner. As I dealt with each person, I had the sense of talking to an individual first and an employee only as an adjunct. The smiles, the warmth, the care given to my needs came from inside each person who was acting in a professional capacity instead of being the mask of professional demeanor that was primary with the person as effaced as possible. I watched the staff deal with children, with an anxious woman, a man frustrated by the airport baggage handlers. I kept thinking how nice and how kind the Air Tahiti Nui people were. “Nice” can be instructed, but kindness is more delicate and can only exist wholesale in an environment where it is valued. I had not yet made it onto the plane and I was happy to be flying with this airline.
The premium classes are called “ Poerava” which means “beautiful pearl.” I think the pearl is a perfect symbol of the quality of service on Air Tahiti Nui.
Inside the plane I was pleased to find the colors bright and festive. The decor in turquoise and royal blue suggested sunny days by cool water. On boarding, the crew hands you a flower bud of the fragrant white tiaré blossom, a flower native to French Polynesia. The tiaré is the airline’s emblem and is found everywhere inside and outside the plane, even behind the ear of the stewardess.
The seats in the Business Class cabin are configured 2-2-2 and are staggered so that there is no one immediately across the aisle from you. It feels more private and more spacious at the same time. The seats are fully adjustable with head and leg supports and for me that is a big plus of Business Class travel. I love the foot support that flips out and lets you lengthen or shorten it for your own proportions. I am short and my legs dangle in most airline seats, causing circulation problems and just general discomfort. For me, this is the greatest obstacle to my comfort , rather than issues of leg room or girth that bother some people. Being able to pull down a platform and adjust its length so that my feet can be firmly planted makes all the difference in my enjoyment of the confinement of air travel and my fatigue or lack thereof on arrival.
The individual screens for in-flight movies have become a standard of Business Class air travel, though getting them out has sometimes proven a chore for me. I am happy to say that the screens came up easily and there were a broad choice of current movies and entertainment. I liked that one of the channels offered classic movies, and enjoyed watching a bit of Woody Allen’s “Manhattan.” But for most of the trip, I plugged in my computer and did some work. Okay, I played mostly computer games, but you see, I was so clearly already on vacation, and with such good food and wine, a girl cannot be expected to work.
As you settle in to your seat, the cabin attendants offer you champagne. Unless you cannot drink alcohol, take it. Air Tahiti Nui was awarded ‘Best Champagne” in Global Traveler Magazine’s 2007 “Wines on the Wing” International Business Class Wine Competition. The champagne is balanced and bubbly with a nice finish, and augurs well for the pleasures of the palate on the flight. On the outbound flight, we were also offered punch, which, though sweet, was light and refreshing with just a little kick.
Two meals are served in Poerava Business Class during the LA-Paris flight. Air Tahiti Nui aims to serve food on par with a five-star restaurant. I found it very refined in the vein of French haute-cuisine.
Before the meal, the staff passes out hot moist washcloths to wipe away the dreck of passage. These welcome refreshers are passed out several times during the flight - on departure and before both meals. Then the attendants lay out the linens, dishes and silverware in preparation of serving the meal.
The meal begins with assorted canapés for an appetizer and then a choice of hors d’oeuvres: smoked salmon or foie gras. I chose the foie gras which came with sautéed potatoes, fig compote and a jelly aspic on a bed of lettuce. This was accompanied with wonderful individual baguettes and sliced wheat bread.
The food for the main course arrives hot in serving dishes and you choose what you want from a combination of entrees and side dishes. The food is nothing like US airlines - very continental in choice and taste. I chose the herbed rack of veal in a Port wine sauce. On the side, I opted for two choices: tagliatelle with chives and roasted vegetables.
The main course was followed by a cheese plate. Although the menu only offered two kinds, cheddar and brie, the plate arrived with three, the third being a rich chunk of blue.
After the delicious meal and the cheese, the dessert cart comes by laden with beautiful and delicious treats. I couldn’t resist the opera cake, layers of chocolate and coffee cream. But the little cups of coconut, raspberry and passion fruit sorbet looked so refreshing, I added that to my plate as well. The sorbet arrived with a few simple cookies and I was in sugar heaven.
There is a menu of wines that accompany the food and again, the offerings on Air Tahiti Nui are very nice. Their red dinner wine also won a prize in the Global Traveler Magazine competition, a third place nod for its La Chauviniere 2003, Vin Pays du Gard.
Breakfast included plate of fresh fruit, a really delicious boon after 9 hours of low-pressure, dehydrating flight. The fruit was very fresh, succulent and full of flavor - watermelon and cantaloupe, some orange wedges, grapes and a handful of assorted berries. This was followed by another choice of hot dishes: omelets, pancakes or crepes. With all the bread, butter and preserves you could want.
The meals on the return were just as sumptuous and delicious. My favorite was the hors d’oeuvre for lunch, grilled scallops on a tomato salsa salad garnished with asparagus. The chicken in a coconut vanilla sauce was very tropical, the savoyarde potatoes positively sinful, and the vegetable medley was simple and yet full of flavor.
Once again, the dessert tray proved to be more temptation than my willpower could resist. I chose a mixed berry mousse with sides of sorbet and cookies once again.
The last meal came and I ate the first plate with satisfaction only to have a second placed in front of me. I was full but could not resist the crayfish vol-au-vent and poached eggs in a puff pastry. Exquisite. The perfect culinary end to a perfect flight in first-class comfort. The only thing that would have been better is if I could have stayed on the plane for the next leg of its journey, nonstop to Tahiti. ( Air Tahiti Nui has daily flights from Los Angeles to Papeete.)
If you plan to fly to Paris, Air Tahiti Nui is the first place you should look, and if they have a flight on the days you want to travel, it should be the last place you look as well.
read about Air Tahiti Nui Economy Class service to Paris
Air Tahiti Nui website