As an American Airlines Advantage member, I’ve flown nearly every partner airline in their One World Alliance network. When I booked an award ticket recently to fly from San Francisco to Paris, the only availability had me flying an American Airlines flight from San Francisco to LAX, and then an Air Tahiti Nui flight from LAX to Paris.
I knew nothing much of Air Tahiti Nui. I didn’t even know they flew from the US to France. Although it does make sense given the French Polynesian population who live in the South Pacific and the few who inhabit Los Angeles. As soon as I confirmed my ticket, I went on their website to research what their business class was like. I admit that I was spoiled having flown Qantas’ A380 in Business Class and most recently on American’s B777 – both of which had flat beds. I wasn’t able to glean much from their website, but assumed it would be a comfortable ride anyway. Besides, my bigger priority was having as close to a direct flight to Paris as possible.
On 30 March 2012, I boarded my flight from LAX to Paris on Air Tahiti Nui’s flight TN08. As I walked down the jetway, I was immediately greeted by an entourage of Tahitians speaking in a combination of French and Tahitian. I knew just a tad bit more French than I did Tahitian, and did my best to respond in kind. As soon as I entered the jet, I was escorted to the business class cabin hearing Tahitian music playing in the background, automatically putting me in a relaxed mood. The flight attendant assisting me was Teriipaia Nancy. She had lovely dark skin and her hair pulled back in a bun, wearing a tiare behind her left ear. She took my coat, took my drink order and went about her way.
The Business Class cabin was very colourful and noticeably roomy. Unfortunately, the seats seemed very antiquated. It even had an ashtray as though it was waiting to be used. The seats only reclined to about 150 degrees and weren’t set up in pods, which meant that my reclined seat minimised the legroom of the passenger behind me – likewise, the passenger in front impacting me. Seats in most airlines, especially in premier cabins, are ensconced in a pod so that no matter how far you recline, it’s still encased in that pod.
Like clockwork, I began to recline my seat once the wheels were up. The buttons to manipulate the seat were a bit confusing and, at first, didn’t seem to work. When I finally got to the most comfortable position, I quickly noticed that I wasn’t all that comfortable. The leg rest wasn’t as high as I had hoped, and the leg extension was either too short or too long. The headsets provided weren’t the typical noise-cancelling ones offered by American. Their entertainment system was not on-demand and limited to only 6 movies that replayed after each conclusion. The traveler’s kit provided was very basic, even lackluster. There were no slippers nor pajamas. I guess you don’t notice these things until you know different.
As spoiled as that just made me sound, those “amenities” proved to be secondary. What did stand out to me was their service and the reason for me writing this. Picture the best service you’ve ever gotten at a restaurant, hotel, spa, or any other establishment you’ve ever received. Take the best of all of them and that’s what I got. From the moment I sat down until I left the airline, I was cared for like a mother cares for her child. The flight attendant who attended to my side of the plane was named Arapari Hei-pia. She had the loveliest golden brown skin and a smile that spoke of Aloha. She knew exactly when I wanted something and when not to approach me. When I struggled with my French, she gently transitioned to English. The manner by which she set my tray table, prepared the food, poured my drinks, were all very noticeable. I happened to look across to the other side of the plane and realised each passenger was getting treated the exact same, special way. During the times I was awake, I never once saw the flight attendants be absent from our cabin. They weren’t like the annoying waitresses at restaurants asking, “How’s everything?” Instead, they were simply there if you needed and were but a hand wave away. I believe the priority of a flight attendant is to ensure the safety of their passengers. It seemed the priority for the flight attendants on Air Tahiti Nui was to ensure our comfort.
What also stood out for me were the toilets. They were the cleanest I’d ever seen. I would have to give credit to the flight attendants because I’m sure they were the ones who kept them clean, not allowing them to get dirty. The three times that I used them during the flight were like entering the very first time before any other passenger even used them.
During the flight, we had two main meals: a late lunch and then breakfast. The food on the flight was absolutely exquisite. Most flights I’ve been on give you a choice from each course on the menu – either this or that. When I was being served, it wasn’t an either/or, but whatever I wanted. As for drinks, they flowed as often as I wanted them. Never once did Hei-pia allow my glass to be empty. In fact, I had to wave her off on a few occasions because she wouldn’t stop pouring (not often a problem I have).
As we neared our destination, I made my way to meet the Purser and as many of the flight attendants as possible. I first spoke to the Purser, named Teiva (center of picture). I thanked him for the manner by which his staff treated me and told him that I would be recognising him and his team on my blog. Then, I spoke to a few of the flight attendants, commented on their amazing service, how well I was taken care of, and told them that I would be writing about this experience.
In the last 8 years, I’ve flown just over one-million miles all around the world. This is the first time I’ve ever written about a positive airline experience and it was very much well deserved. If flying in a less-updated airplane gives me the kind of passenger experience like I received on flight TN08 from LAX to CDG on 30 March 2012, I would do it all over again. I would even consider flying in economy (no joke!) because that’s how valued I felt. If you have an opportunity to fly Air Tahiti Nui, I highly recommend them. A very big mauruuru and merci to the wonderful and lovely flight staff on TN08 from LAX>CDG on 30 March 2012 – especially to Hei-pia.