|Where on Earth is Tahiti? First, let's correct ourselves and address the islands by their proper name: French Polynesia. Tahiti is but one island in this South Pacific nation of islands. I know we all refer to it as Tahiti but, doing so, is really an injustice. While Tahiti is wonderful, I assure you, it is the island you will want to spend the least amount of time on. But, as Tahiti is the commercial center of French Polynesia, you will have no choice but to fly to its Faaa International Airport on the outskirts of Papeete, Tahiti, French Polynesia.
To reach French Polynesia we flew from Newark International Airport (EWR) to Los Angeles International Airport (LAX), five and a half hours; then onto Faaa International Airport (PPT), Papeete, eight hours and twenty minutes. Just about halfway through the flight from LAX to PPT the pilot will announce that you have crossed the Equator.
|The flights were freebies because of the frequent flyer miles I've accumulated over the years. This meant that I needed to find an airline with a partner agreement with an airline that served French Polynesia. That meant selecting Continental Airlines because of their agreement with Air France. Air France had a daily non-stop (because there isn't anything but water between them!) flight between LAX to PPT.
Contacting Continental's Frequent Flyer Partner Desk was easy but making the arrangements was another story. You submitted a request for flights and dates, they forwarded it to Air France and you waited from three to ten days for a confirmation. And, confirmation is not always what you expect. On my first request they cut the itinerary I gave them by eight days leaving us a week in the islands. Not being satisfactory we went back and forth for the next week and a half before suitable dates were achieved. When making reservations this way be prepared to be more than flexible.
With the departure date, Saturday, February 6, and the return date, Tuesday, February 23, set, Anne I were free to finalize all of the other remaining details, like hotels, in less than a week.
I have to admit I wasn't looking forward to the Continental flights. Continental has never been one of my favorite airlines. To many memories from the Frank Lorenzo days when the airline was faltering and the service went straight downhill. But, I was pleasantly surprised. The departing and returning flights were all on time and the service was great. No complaints! Furthermore, if you have a chance to visit the President's Club, Continental's airport club, at LAX do it. Order the Bloody Mary, it's great! A friendly bartender, who bragged about his Bloody Mary, made the three hour layover tolerable and even enjoyable.
|Anne relaxing with a book between sips of that good Bloody Mary at the President's Club, LAX.||Anne in Papeete waiting for the flight to Rangiroa. A good tradition: When you arrive they greet you with a flower lei; when you leave they say good-bye with a shell lei.||Anne in Papeete with our luggage. Looks like a lot. 1 bag each for clothes, dive gear, cameras and carry-on.
Weight: 16 tons!
|Unfortunately Anne's and my experience with Air France would not be as pleasant as it was with Continental. Leaving the President's Club we headed over to the Bradley International Terminal to check-in for the flight to Papeete. On arrival we were notified of an hour's delay due to the aircraft arriving late from Paris. They gave us a drink coupon and we headed off to pass the additional time, arriving at the gate about half an hour before the new scheduled departure time where we sat, and sat and sat without any advisement from the Air France staff before finally boarding about two hours late. The aircraft, a 747, was full with some 270 passengers continuing from Paris and 70 boarding in LAX. Yes, the continuing passengers boarded first leaving us with absolutely no overhead storage.
The outbound flight was miserable. Seated in economy (160,000 frequent flyer miles rather than the 320,000 required for business class) we were extremely cramped with the carry-on bags under the seat in front and someone in the aisle seat. But, we could survive the eight hours to Papeete with a little discomfort. Unfortunately the flight was one of the bumpiest I've ever taken. Perhaps I've felt more severe bumps, these were pretty good, but what made this worse was that the bumping was constant for about five hours. It made it impossible to sleep as the minute you'd fall asleep you'd be bumped awake. We were both happy to arrive in Papeete!
The return flight was much more pleasant. Being smart we boarded immediately when our row was called to find virtually an empty airplane. No problem, lots of overhead storage available! After being on the plane for about thirty-five minutes we were notified, at flight time, that we were awaiting some connecting passengers from Bora Bora who were due to arrive in thirty minutes. Doesn't sound to bad, but when they arrive they have to claim their luggage, check-in with Air France, and clear immigration. Total delay about an hour and a half, and they wouldn't let you off the plane during this time.
I can't fault Air France for the crowding or lack of overhead space in economy ... name an airline that's different! I can't fault them for the bumpy flight. But, I can fault them for their lack of attention and consideration for their customers. They should have never boarded the flight in Papeete knowing that there would be an hour's plus delay without informing us passengers. They should have also kept us better informed about the flight status at LAX.
They could have done so much more to improve the flights. There was nothing special about the fact that you were headed to such a wonderful destination. Even American Airlines dresses their flight attendants in a festive, island oriented attire on its flight from the mainland to Hawaii.
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