Flight test: Economy on Air Tahiti Nui, Los Angeles to Auckland via Papeete on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

The bright economy class on Air Tahiti Nui.

Air Tahiti Nui

The bright economy class on Air Tahiti Nui.

With planes reaching even further distances and the need for stopovers becoming more rare, there are still some routes which invoke flying of times past. Air Tahiti Nui offers two different flying experiences, all from the comfort of the same seat.

The airline flies from Los Angeles to Auckland with a stop-off at Papeete, French Polynesia. Obviously not all the passengers realize the final destination considering the amount of shocked people when the captain announced we were headed to Auckland.

Both flights had very different feelings as one was through the night, and the other was a day service. The passengers on both were different with only a small minority of flyers completing the entire journey.

The route

TN101. It’s just over eight hours for the night flight from LA to Papeete. After more than two hours at the airport in Tahiti, it’s a day flight of five hours and 20 minutes to Auckland.

* These are the Pacific Islands that Kiwis can travel to this winter
* Air Tahiti Nui set to return to New Zealand from early July
* The best value for money economy seats on long-haul flights
* Flight test: Air Tahiti Nui from Tahiti to Auckland on the Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner

The plane

A Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner registered F-ONUI and named Tupaia. It’s just under four years old but still feels pretty fresh, the bright internal colors of the airline helping. It has 294 seats altogether, with 30 up in business, 32 in economy plus and 232 in economy.

Air Tahiti Nui

The airline shows off its very first B787-9 Dreamliner (video published November 2018).

The seat

Same economy seat for both flights – 37D. It’s a very standard aisle seat in the middle three. Thanks to the flights I got two lots of traveling partners. The first leg was a US couple about to hit the French Polynesian islands. The second leg I had the seat next to me free and what I suspect was a French backpacker filling out the row. It meant I could stretch out a bit after a cramped first leg. I had already traveled 15 hours including transit times before I boarded in LA so I was relieved that my fellow flyers were well-behaved.

As usual though I didn’t sleep, but that’s not the Dreamliner’s fault, it happens to me on every aircraft.

Breakfast tasted better than it looked on the Air Tahiti Nui service.


Breakfast tasted better than it looked on the Air Tahiti Nui service.

The food

While Air Tahiti Nui probably won’t win any plaudits for the actual physical appearance of its meals, they thankfully tasted better than they looked. Flight one had a chicken sandwich-type product, along with some salad and an apple crumble. It didn’t look flattering but at this particular stage of the journey I would have probably eaten anything. Drinks and snacks were on hand in the galley. Later there were also some pancakes with a shy pineapple sauce hidden underneath.

The second leg offered up a scrambled egg concoction with sausage and potatoes and a mystery white sauce. Again appearances are deceptive and it actually tasted pretty good.

The entertainment

This was a bit of a let down. The first flight was advertising Top Gun: Maverick, but Tom Cruise could not be found on the system. The movie selection was limited and don’t get me started on the poor line-up of TV shows. Amazingly on the second flight, there was a sudden bonus of new movies including the aforementioned Mr. Cruise. Overall though it was a pretty lackluster selection.

Air Tahiti Nui has four Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

Air Tahiti Nui

Air Tahiti Nui has four Boeing 787-9 Dreamliners.

The amenities

There are bog-standard earbuds for the entertainment system, and ear plugs and a mask. Also, the obligatory pillow which I rarely use. I had brought my own prized neck pillow but at some stage during the flight it went missing. Only towards landing into Auckland had I realized I had booted it into the row behind me.

The service

I wish I had got his name but one of the crew on the first leg proved to be a complete charmer and was beyond helpful when I lost my phone in my seat (yes, I was ‘that’ person), and then brought me a cheeky soothing voddie after. I saw him interact with other passengers brilliantly; he was especially refreshing after some of the more austere cabin crew I’d experienced on American Airlines.

I had zero complaints about the other Air Tahiti Nui crew.

The airport

Our layover at Papeete was just over two hours. It’s not what I would call the most entertaining of airports. A large cafe and tourist shop was about it. It was pretty steamy as well, but that is hardly unexpected. There are a few places to charge your phones upstairs which is also home to possibly the world’s most secretive airline lounge. I lost count of the number of times I had to direct would-be loungers towards the anonymous door containing the riches of coffee and beer beyond.

The frequency

Air Tahiti Nui flies three times a week on the Dreamliner direct between Auckland and Papeete, and then beyond. See airtahitinui.com/nz-en.

Overall rating out of five


The author’s trip was courtesy of Carnival Cruise Line.

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