Air Tahiti Nui Review - Fly the Best Airline from Los Angeles (LAX) to French Polynesia

If you are flying to Tahiti and the islands of French Polynesia, there is only one airline to even consider:  Air Tahiti Nui.  There may be many companies who fly into Papeete International Airport in Tahiti’s capital city, but Air Tahiti Nui is the only one that gets you to the tropical paradise the minute you board the plane. The colors, the flowers, the people all carry the essence of the South Pacific Islands with them and unabashedly infuse that essence into the experience of flying.  It is not a theme-park PR version of the South Seas; it is at once very professional and very personal, human and real.  

I don’t know if it just my good luck, but I have never encountered a long line when flying out of LAX on Air Tahiti Nui.  The gate agents all seem relaxed and make me welcome the way you would the friend of a friend.  Not too personal, but with a reservoir of goodwill.  I suspect the lines are shorter because LA is stopover for those flying between Tahiti and Paris.  Whatever the reason, I don’t go into the airport with a feeling of having to go through the dreaded check-in shuffle before I can begin to relax. 

There’s no avoiding the airport security lines, but having to face one of those after a brutal line to check bags can feel like insult added to injury.  Coming to security relatively fresh makes the indignity tolerable.

The first time I boarded an Air Tahiti Nui plane - I was going to Paris in December - I was taken aback by the color scheme.  The dominant blue was so very bright, and it was accented by a second blue that was lighter and greener.  I wasn’t sure I approved.  Prepared as I was for cold and possibly snow, the color scheme struck me as a bit garish.  But when you fly over Tahiti, you suddenly understand.  The waters of French Polynesia ring the islands in these two shades of blue: the deep ocean blue and the shallow lagoon blue.  These two colors say “tropical paradise” as nothing else can.  Now when I see these two colors together, I am suddenly transported to the warm and gentle waters of these amazing islands.

You will also see a small white flower, the tiaré, decorating just about everything.  The tiaré is the flower of French Polynesia.  It is a single-petal flower with a sweet, gardenia-like scent and the cabin attendants hand you one as you board the plane.  The tiaré is unique in much the way that Tahiti is unique.  Just as there are many beautiful tropical islands around the world yet something mysterious sets it apart, something about the tiaré makes it only grow in French Polynesia. There is one kind of tiaré, in fact, that only grows on one mountain on one island.  Efforts to transplant or to cultivate it elsewhere have failed.  It is a completely and solely Polynesian blossom.  Women and men wear it in their hair, as leis around their necks, or reduced to oil and added to creams and lotions to spread on their bodies.  When a person who has been there thinks of Tahiti, the scent of the tiaré wafts in memory like the breezes, the waters and the beaches.

When you are finally airbound, there is another shift in atmosphere.  The attendants wear the same quasi-military uniform style as all other airline stewards and stewardesses in the airport, but onboard, they dress in bright, tropical print shirts and dresses. The style of cotton print and the cut resembled clothes I’d seen locals wearing and the change from global uniform to local style continues the feeling of having begun my Tahitian adventure on the flight. ( I was seated next to a Tahitian family, and the wife had a large pareo, the local version of a sarong, of the same sort of cloth wrapped around her shoulders.)

Air Tahiti Nui uses Airbus planes which offer a bit more room and comfort than some of the more sardine-can-built planes of the American airlines.  Each seat has its own screen so that you can watch whatever film or play whatever game you wish.  The earphones come in a small hospitality kit that includes ear plugs, a sleeping mask, comfy blue socks and some stickers to spell out your preferences should you fall asleep.  Children get a small backpack with coloring activities that gives them something to do that is more active than just watching the screen for seven hours.

The food is a step above the typical airline fare.  The French influence on Tahitian culture is most obvious in the cooking. The bread, cheese, fruit and wine that you would expect added to a European meal were all offered in abundance here.  I particularly enjoyed the French toast breakfast on my return flight.  It tasted as good as a recent restaurant brunch I had enjoyed, despite the fact of its being an in-flight packaged meal.

Papeete International Airport in Tahiti may be the only international airport for all of French Polynesia, but it feels like a sleepy hometown terminal. 

You deplane down a set of stairs onto the tarmac and walk to the main buildings, bags in hand.  There you handed a welcome tiaré while being serenaded by a live music combo.  Customs involves long lines in a semi-open hangar-like space with lazy fans overhead.  Out front you meet the first surprise of Polynesian architecture: no front walls.  The airport has no doors to go outside.  The whole front between the counters and the taxis is open to the air.  The airport is going through some renovations, making the departure lounge more comfortable, but this business of no way to keep out unauthorized people from the main terminal...I realize I’m thinking like a Los Angeles native who has to lock everything and not a Polynesian native.  I sniff my tiaré and go looking for my ride to the hotel.

Not only is Air Tahiti Nui the best option to Tahiti - on top of being my personal favorite to fly from LAX to Paris, but ATN has some great vacation packages on their website (read review) offering you paradise at an affordable price.  

Air Tahiti Nui  website
Phone:  1-877-824-4846.

Top of Page
Join Splash Magazines

Feature Article

Tempflow™ and Tempur-Pedic® Reviews - What 35 Hours of Research Uncovered

Want Your Business to Male a Splash
<!-- #wrapper -->