The only way to get directly from North America to Tahiti is via Air Tahiti Nui – an airline that has a fleet of five Airbus 340s. Three of the five planes have remodeled cabins with new seats in both business class and economy – but it’s pretty much luck of the draw which cabin you get. After three totally kind of annoying domestic connections on US Airways and an hour at the new Tom Bradley International Terminal in LAX, Jess and I were ready for our flight to the South Pacific. Unfortunately, we drew the short straw and ended up on one of Air Tahiti Nui’s old business class – better than coach but a far cry from some of the newer international business class cabins out there. Apologies in advance, I didn’t take too many pictures – I was so exhausted by that point I just needed to relax!
Check in and Lounge Access at LAX
Check in was pretty straightforward. By the time we got to the international terminal after our connection it seemed like most of our flight had already checked in. Air Tahiti Nui’s check in counters are on the far left side of Tom Bradley’s check in desks. There was a dedicated business class check in line but all the queues were already empty anyway. After checking in, we were given a pass to the LAX International Lounge and proceeded to security – there was no TSA Precheck but there was a dedicated business class security line. Still, there was a long queue and entire squadrons of flight attendants were (justifiably) allowed to go ahead of us so security took longer than any security line in recent memory. LAX has a lot of late night international departures so there are a ton of people who need to be processed (also in light of the Malaysian Airlines situation, who knows if that process will be further slowed by passport checks, which I am for). The point is – if you’re already in Los Angeles, make sure you leave yourself enough time!
I wrote about the Los Angeles International lounge in my previous post. To be honest, I think I may have preferred wandering the terminal a little longer (though that’s just due to my wanting to explore). Even though security was so crowded, there’s so much space in the terminal and it feels so open that it didn’t feel crowded at all. The lounge was nice but nothing amazing, though I did sneak some cup noodles out for later!
Air Tahiti Nui Old Business Class Cabin and Seat
I was disappointed at check in to hear that our plane was the old business class plane, but still hopeful that we’d get the new cabin on the return (we did!). I figured it might be good to compare the two experiences, you know, for all twelve of my readers! If I had only one word to describe the old business cabins it would be this: old.
Boarding was very smooth and we took our seats in 4K and 4L. We were offered a choice of champagne, orange juice, or pineapple juice(?). Honestly I was so tired at that point I was having trouble comprehending things.
Anyway, the seat is more of a large recliner than anything. It’s decently comfortable, but doesn’t come even close to lying flat. I’d consider it more like a lounge chair that you’d have in your living room. Also, like I said, the seats were pretty old. They were comfortable enough but I definitely didn’t get much sleep on the flight, although Jess had no problem. I would say this: I’d definitely be upset if I had paid $5000 for business class tickets and ended up in these seats. But since we were using miles, I didn’t feel too bad about it and besides, I promised Jess if we were going to take a long trip without the baby I’d get her in the most comfortable seats possible.
In-flight Food and Entertainment
I found the food and entertainment on the flight to be somewhat lacking. Let’s start with the “in-flight” entertainment. It seemed like there was on-demand entertainment, but when I tried to surf through the channels my screen got stuck on this:
I finally realized that if I switched channels, there were movies playing on loops. Audio was in both French and English on different channels. I watched Bedtime Stories with Adam Sandler and Keri Russell – it was weird not seeing her as a murdering KGB spy, which is what I’m used to her as these days. Anyway, the screen was pretty small and the quality was not good – but what really killed me was there was something up with the headphones jack.
The system came with fairly standard noise canceling earphones and like all airlines they came with a three prong jack (so you can’t steal them). Well, there was something wrong with my jack because whenever I put the headphones in they kept popping back out! It was like there was something pushing against them. The same went for the power outlet right next to the headphone outlet. I tried to get in there to see what was going on but it was dark and the individual lights didn’t help with that area. The only way I managed to watch the movie was by jamming my camera between my leg and the headphone plugs – kind of unacceptable. So, Air Tahiti Nui, if you’re reading this, you really need to do some work on seat 4K on Nuka Hiva (O-FLOV)!
Not only would my headphones not stay in, but when I was done watching the movie, I was curious how far we had traveled. So I pulled up the flight’s handy dandy airshow:
Now if any of you can tell me where exactly on that line we were at the time, please do. I found it pretty comical – I mean, thanks for letting me know the route, I guess? But there was absolutely zero information on that graphic! So, the airshow and in-flight entertainment certainly left something to be desired.
The food was kind of more of the same. I guess I appreciate them trying to give us a light meal, but there was only one option – Fish prepared in traditional Tahitian style. It kind of tasted a little bit like ceviche, but there were like six pieces of fish total, as you can see. I should have eaten Umami Burger in Tom Bradley International when I had the chance!
Breakfast was a lot better, there was a choice between an omelette and yogurt, and that was pretty good. Unfortunately I didn’t take a picture because I was sleepwalking as I ate it – but it was good! I still can’t get over the inflight airshow though – wow.
Flight Attendant Service and Amenity Kits
I’d say the flight attendants and service were the highlights of the flight. They weren’t spectacular, but they were very friendly and attentive and I don’t think we really had to wait long to be served at any point in the flight. Also, an interesting Air Tahiti Nui quirk – the flight attendants change after the plane takes off! So they started in one outfit and then changed into what seemed like a more casual/comfortable/tropical outfit, and then changed back to more formal ones before we landed! I thought that was funny and actually noticed their changing room was near the front lavatory. Funny.
The amenity kits were nice, containing the usual suspects: slippers, eye shades, toothbrush, some mints (actually I don’t know if I’ve seen that before), and some lotions and chapstick (L’Occitane). Confession: I tried to get Baby M to take a cute picture with the amenity kit for like twenty minutes but finally gave up. She was more interested in an old Delta amenity kit that we had. It would have been a shameless exploitation of her anyway, so I guess good on her!
Don’t get me wrong: I’m glad we booked business class on Air Tahiti Nui using our AAdvantage miles. It was much more comfortable than flying in coach (including lounge access) and it was nice just to relax as a couple without a baby. Still, I was disappointed at check in when I heard we were on the old business class and overall the product was several notches lower than most of the other international business class flights I’ve taken. From the seat to the airshow, everything just felt kind of outdated. Air Tahiti Nui flies five planes – three of them have been updated with new business class (and coach) cabins – so hopefully if you fly them, you’ll luck out and get the nice new cabins. We did on the way back 🙂 But more on that later.
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