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As the final flight before you land in paradise, it’s worth just sucking it up. Pros: friendly crew, free drink on board, Bora Bora! Cons: high fares, lackluster terminal, disorganized boarding process.
Nope, this isn’t a review of Air Tahiti Nui, French Polynesia’s long-haul international carrier. Air Tahiti is actually an entirely separate airline, carrying passengers on far shorter turboprop flights to some of the most beautiful islands on Earth.
Air Tahiti primarily operates short-haul flights within Polynesia, along with service to Rarotonga in the Cook Islands. The airline serves dozens of airports and landing strips, including the region’s most famous destination: Bora Bora (BOB). So, following my United 787-8 Dreamliner flight to Papeete (PPT), I continued on to BOB, some 160 miles from French Polynesia’s main island of Tahiti.
One of the most common complaints for resorts in the Maldives is the high price of flights between Male (MLE) and the resort — you’ll need to pay $645 per person for round-trip seaplane tickets to The St. Regis Maldives, for example. But regional flights in French Polynesia aren’t all that much cheaper.
In total, I paid 44,518 French Pacific francs (about $420) for my round-trip ticket, a typical fare for flights between the two airports. A one-way journey would have cost me roughly half that amount. That fare includes an Air Tahiti boat ride to Vaitape once you arrive at the airport in Bora Bora, though many tourists prefer to arrange a nonstop (and potentially very expensive) boat directly from their resort.
While your travel agent may be able to book flights through another method, it seems that consumers need to head to Expedia or directly to Air Tahiti’s website to make their reservations. If I’m being generous, the airline’s website could best be described as “no-frills” — it’s functional, but basic, just like Air Tahiti’s flight confirmation emails:
Note that some of the airline’s daily flights may make as many as two stops in each direction, so unless you want to check out another landing strip or two, be sure to book one of the nonstop options and spend the time you’ll save sipping an overpriced cocktail on the beach in Bora Bora, instead.
Since you can book your flights via Expedia, it is possible to make a reservation directly through Chase’s Ultimate Rewards portal as well. As a Chase Sapphire Reserve card holder, I could have redeemed about 28,000 points for my round-trip flights by redeeming through Chase.
Given the nature of its network, Air Tahiti doesn’t operate a frequent-flyer program, so the only points you’ll accrue are those earned from your credit card of choice. In general, we recommend purchasing airfare with the Platinum Card® from American Express (5x on airfare), Chase Sapphire Reserve, Citi Premier, Citi Prestige (3x on airfare plus trip-delay insurance) or Chase Sapphire Preferred (2x on travel).
Air Tahiti’s website suggested arriving at Papeete Airport 90 minutes before departure, but my hotel said I’d be fine trimming that down to an hour. I pulled up to the terminal just 55 minutes before our posted 12:45pm departure, and even had time to grab lunch before heading to security.
There weren’t a ton of dining options, but I did manage to find this heaping pile of fresh tuna for about $14.
There was a McDonald’s as well, which seemed to be more popular with the locals.
There was a dedicated bag-check counter for my specific flight, VT 413. I had printed my boarding pass at the hotel, though, and only had a carry-on bag, so I was able to bypass the counter and head straight for security.
I figured there was a small chance there wouldn’t be any formal screening for this domestic leg — not entirely unreasonable, given that I’ve had turboprops within the US without any TSA involvement. There was indeed a checkpoint, however, and the line moved surprisingly slowly — I’d budget about 10 minutes to get through during peak periods.
There wasn’t much on the other side of the checkpoint, just a small, overpriced cafe/boutique and grungy bathrooms, so don’t rush to get through security as soon as you arrive at PPT.
The boarding process was a bit convoluted, too — our boarding time came and went without any announcement, and another flight was moved from one gate to the next. You kinda just had to keep an eye on the TVs above each gate, then line up when your flight was called.
There was no assigned seating, so those in the know seemed to queue up quickly, perhaps to score a seat at the back in order to be first off the plane. There was a separate queue for sandwiches. It wasn’t entirely clear who was entitled to lunch, since the announcement only came in French, but I didn’t want to lose my spot in line to go investigate.
There weren’t any jet bridges at PPT, even for wide-body flights. Fortunately, passengers were trusted to walk between the terminal and their waiting aircraft, so we were able to walk the few feet to our plane rather than hop on a bus.
And with that, I was on my way to paradise, onboard F-ORVU, a 2-year-old Air Tahiti ATR 72.
Cabin and Seat
Air Tahiti operates both ATR 42s, with 48 seats, and ATR 72s, with 68 seats.
We were on the larger of the two for this flight, which offered 17 rows of seats in a 2-2 configuration.
The seats themselves were pretty no-frills and not especially comfortable. But that was not much of an issue for this roughly 40-minute flight.
I grabbed a seat on the port side of the plane, which was supposed to offer incredible views of Bora Bora on a clear day. We were flying straight into rain, though, so I didn’t get to see anything at all out the window.
Food and Beverage
There weren’t any amenities to speak of (unless you want to count a seatbelt?), so I’ll jump straight to the food and beverage selection. A friendly flight attendant came through with juice and water shortly after departure, and there were additional items available for purchase, ranging from peanuts ($1.90) to a can of Coke ($3.30).
There was barely any time to order anything, though — before I knew it, we were landing in rainy Bora Bora.
While Air Tahiti clearly has a monopoly within the region, the airline still makes a bit of an effort to help passengers feel comfortable — after leaving the terminal at PPT, at least.
Tickets certainly don’t come cheap, though, even if you book many months in advance. That said, ideal departure times do tend to fill up several days before departure, so if you need to fly at a certain time, don’t wait until the last minute to secure your seat.
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