Air Tahiti Nui A340-300; the airline's fleet comprises five of this aircraft model
Auckland to Papeete, French Polynesia
THE LOYALTY SCHEME
Club Tiare frequent flyer program, unique to Air Tahiti Nui
Business (or the racier-sounding "classe affaire" in French), seat 3D
Just less than five hours
There are no direct flights from Australia to Tahiti, but five times a week you can fly from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane to Papeete via Auckland. The Auckland-Tahiti leg is with Air Tahiti Nui. There can be a lengthy stopover in Auckland, usually about four to five hours.
The business class cabin seats 32 people in a 2-2-2 layout. My seat reclines to 160 degrees and has a pitch of 60 inches (152 centimetres). There's no barrier between each pair of seats as there was on Qantas business flying Sydney to Auckland – better suited to hand-holding for the holidaying couples who flock to the islands of Tahiti.
Business class allocation is 32 kilograms plus carry-on.
The colours of the Pacific hit you the minute you step on board, with decor in vibrant blues and green. The business class cabin is stylish and spacious – so comfortable, in fact, I wish I was flying longer than five hours and overnight so I could take full advantage of the reclining seat. I briefly test the seat at full recline but don't let myself get too comfortable with the leaf-patterned pillow and blanket, as I want to be ready for bed on arrival in Papeete at 11pm.
The entertainment system has a 12-inch touch screen as well as a remote control, and good quality headphones in a protective black case. The movie list isn't as extensive as some other airlines, but given it's only a three-movie flight at most there's enough to choose from. Of the 28 movies there are nine new releases and six for kids, plus 44 TV shows. I also try reading one of the magazines – the latest Vanity Fair – but the downside of the generous distance between seat and screen is that it's a little far away.
It's raining at Auckland Airport but inside the cabin it's as warm and welcoming as a tropical island. Every passenger is offered a fragrant gardenia-like flower called tiare on boarding – tourists and Tahitians alike tuck a flower behind an ear, matching the stewards, and the scent of holiday fills the plane.
The business class stewards hand around flutes of Charles Heidsieck Rose champagne as announcements are made in Tahitian, French and English. Before the doors even close, we're given the menu and a wine booklet, offered a basket with additional moisturisers, compact hair brushes and pens. There's also a woven toiletry bag containing Pier Auge French beauty products such as lip balm and moisturising cream.
You can tell you are heading to a French destination by the quantity of food and the serious attention paid to the wine. First, the 20-page wine booklet, with an introduction by Olivier Poussier, a previous winner of the world's best sommelier award who has developed the airline's extensive "cellar". The booklet explains in French and English the two Charles Heidsieck champagnes plus the five other French wines. I was excited to try the Cotes de Provence Chateau Miraval 2016 – owned by Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt – which is a lovely fresh rosé. Five hours is simply not long enough to work through the wine list.
After some slightly soggy hors d'oeuvres – a lamb terrine canape and lavash scallop – the main course tray is laden with dishes to pick at. There's a fresh salad with radish, olives, carrots, tomatoes and lettuce, accompanied by a little bottle of balsamic vinegar and olive oil. An entree of smoked salmon and duck breast. I choose the fish main course, hapuka, which is accompanied by potatoes and slightly overcooked beans. There's also dessert – chocolate mousse with berries – a cheese plate and warm bread rolls.
ONE MORE THING
It's a shame there are no longer direct flights from Australia to Papeete. But if you had nothing but time, Tahiti would be a pleasant stopover on the way to Los Angeles, where my flight was continuing to, or to Europe.
The holiday vibe starts the minute you board an Air Tahiti Nui flight – from the decor to the island music, the French wine and food, to the flower-wearing crew. For once, I wasn't in a hurry for a flight to end.
Monique Farmer travelled as a guest of Air Tahiti Nui, airtahitinui.com.au