By Eric Rosen
January 09, 2019
Courtesy of Eric Rosen

Air Tahiti Nui is the latest airline to receive its long-awaited Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner jets, and the airline showed off one of them in a preview at Los Angeles International Airport.

Back in 2015, the French Polynesian airline placed an order for two Dreamliners with the option to lease another two, and the first one was delivered back in October. Since then, Air Tahiti Nui put the aircraft into service from its hub in Papeete to Los Angeles and Auckland three times weekly on each route. Another of the jets will go into service between Papeete and Tokyo Narita starting Feb. 4, 2019.

The planes will eventually replace the airline’s less fuel-efficient Airbus A340s completely with the phase-out scheduled for completion by September 2019 to coincide with the airline’s 20th anniversary. The airline’s CEO, Michel Monvoisin, noted that using Dreamliners instead of A340s will reduce carbon emissions by up to 30%.

Perhaps more exciting for passengers in the short-term, though, is the fact that the freshly delivered Dreamliners feature Air Tahiti Nui’s all-new business-class, a refreshed economy cabin and the carrier’s first premium-economy seats. The decor’s tropical palate is pretty dreamy, too. Here’s our first look at the jet.

Courtesy of Eric Rosen

A Flag Carrier

Air Tahiti Nui ordered the 787-9 variant of the aircraft, as opposed to the less-common 787-8 and 787-10. The colorful livery on the exterior of the jet includes two red lines representing the flag of French Polynesia and its 118 islands.

The patterns toward the back of the fuselage are a reference to Tahiti’s heritage of tattoo arts, including images of a manta ray representing wisdom and protection, and a fish hook symbolizing prosperity and luck.

One interesting feature to note is that airlines flying international routes are assigned registration codes. The first two letters denote the country of origin, FO in this case, while the last three are unique to each plane. Air Tahiti Nui used this opportunity to designate their planes with words that are significant in Tahitian. The four planes will have individual designations TOA, MUA, NUI and VAA, meaning, “The warrior going forward in the great canoe.”

This particular Dreamliner, MUA, also bore the name Fakarava, which is an atoll that has been designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.

Uncommon Cabins

The Dreamliner’s new Poerava Business Class consists of five rows in a 2 – 2 – 2 pattern, for a total of 30 seats.

These are Rockwell Collins B/E Aerospace Parallel Diamond seats like you’ll find on United Dreamliners as well as other airlines like KLM and Air China. Each is 20.5 inches wide and has 60 inches of pitch. They recline to fully flat beds that are 78 inches long (six feet, six inches).

Each seat has its own power and USB ports as well as a personal 16-inch IFE screen.

Passengers are treated to duvets, full-size pillows and amenity kits with skincare products for the long flights.

Courtesy of Air Tahiti Nui

The airline’s new Moana premium-economy class is located within a small cabin just behind business class with just five rows.

There are 32 Zodiac Aerospace Z535 seats total in a staggered 2 – 3 – 2 layout. The airline’s Managing Director, Mathieu Bechonnet, pointed out that many other airlines squeeze an extra seat into this space, and Air Tahiti Nui’s do feel relatively spacious.

Each premium-economy seat is 20.4 inches wide, with a pitch of 38 inches and reclines up to eight inches.

They all feature in-seat power plugs and USB ports, and 13-inch touchscreen in-flight entertainment screens.

Folks who book these seats also get a fleece blanket, a large pillow and a pared-down amenity kit.

Courtesy of Eric Rosen

Moana economy class is spread across two cabins with a total of 232 seats laid out in 3 – 3 – 3 rows.

Each seat is only 17 inches wide but has 31 inches of pitch plus a six-inch recline.

Though they do not have individual power plugs, passengers can keep small devices charged with USB ports.

Each seat has its own 12-inch touchscreen high-definition entertainment monitor – the same size screen as is currently available in business class aboard the airline’s A340s.

Passengers will also notice the new Panasonic eXConnect satellite broadband providing in-flight Wi-Fi connectivity – a new amenity for the airline.

One final design touch – replicas of famous paintings by Paul Gaugin of his time in French Polynesia adorning the divider walls between cabins.

The bright colors and other accents are meant to convey a Tahitian sense called mana, or spiritual energy that transports passengers to the destination as soon as they set foot on board.

Courtesy of Eric Rosen

Timing is Everything

If you want to experience Air Tahiti Nui’s new Dreamliners for yourself, the airline currently operates them on the following flights:

Air Tahiti Nui flight TN102 departs Papeete at 11:59 pm on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays and arrives in Los Angeles at 10:10 am the following days.

Air Tahiti Nui flight TN101 departs Los Angeles at 10:55 pm on Tuesdays, Fridays and Sundays, and arrives in Papeete the following days at 5:05 am.

Air Tahiti Nui flight TN101 departs Papeete at 8:45 am on Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays, and arrives in Auckland at 1:05 pm the following days.

Air Tahiti Nui flight TN102 departs Auckland at 4:55 pm on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays and arrives in Papeete a day earlier at 10:40 pm (gotta love that international date line).

The airline will also begin flying between Papeete and Tokyo Narita using Dreamliners twice weekly each direction in February.

On other days, flights operating with these same numbers will be flown with the airline’s Airbus A340s with older business-class and economy seats, and no premium economy cabins. So if you are thinking of booking a flight, double check your aircraft type before checking out.

Now through spring, economy fares specifically on the flights operated by Air Tahiti Nui’s Dreamliners are going for as low as $1,187 round-trip. Premium economy currently starts at $2,214 round-trip. Business-class tickets are pricing out as low as $4,654 round-trip.

Award Advice

If you want to save cash on airfare to spend on your Tahitian vacation instead, you can use a variety of different airline miles to book an award ticket on Air Tahiti Nui, including American Airlines AAdvantage miles, Delta SkyMiles, and miles from Flying Blue, the frequent-flier program of Air France/KLM.

American Airlines AAdvantage charges 40,000 miles each way in economy and 80,000 miles in business class, plus about $50-$110 in taxes and fees each way. Delta SkyMiles, which is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, charges 55,000 miles each way in economy and 115,000 miles in business class, and taxes and fees can be about $200 each way. If you want to use either of these options, you’ll have to call each airline’s mileage desk directly to book an award.

Flying Blue is a great new option for booking award tickets on Air Tahiti Nui, not least of all because you can do so online via either Air France or KLM’s websites. Flying Blue is a transfer partner of American Express Membership Rewards, Chase Ultimate Rewards and Citi ThankYou Rewards, so if you have a credit card that earns any of these types of points, you can use them to top up your account quickly. The program charges 25,500 miles plus $60-$110 each way in economy, and 73,500-89,000 miles plus $90-$140 each way in business class.

With non-stop flights from San Francisco to Papeete on United and new low-cost carrier French Bee, plus Air Tahiti Nui’s new Dreamliners going into service between Los Angeles an Papeete, there are more  ways than ever to get to Tahiti in comfort.

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