More Business Class Seats — and a Better Seat — Coming to Tahiti

Tahiti is one of the toughest frequent flyer awards, largely because there’s just not a lot of air service there.

From the mainland U.S. the only two options are Air Tahiti Nui (which offers daily service) and Air France (which offers thrice-weekly service). Hawaiian Airlines also serves Papeete from Honolulu once a week on Saturdays.

It turns out that the best miles for getting to Tahiti are Delta’s, because they partner with both Air France and Air Tahiti Nui. American miles can be used for Air Tahiti Nui.

Folks wanting to use United or US Airways miles will wind up having to fly all the way to Auckland (not an easy award to get in its own right!) and then from there to Papeete using Air New Zealand’s twice a week service.

I was fortunate enough to travel to Tahiti flying Air Tahiti Nui first class using AAdvantage miles. That was back when you could do a stopover on partner awards, and since Tahiti was a more expensive destination than Australia I actually included an Australia side-trip for no additional miles (returning to the U.S. in Qantas first class).

For several years it hasn’t been possible to redeem AAdvantage miles for Air Tahiti Nui first class, and of course Delta does not permit redemption for first class of any kind (business is the top cabin offered).

There’s been rumors that Air Tahiti Nui would be getting rid of first class, and now it’s official.

Air Tahiti Nui was said to offer first class as a paean to its government leaders so that they could fly French Polynesia’s own carrier rather than Air France on trips to Paris (via Los Angeles). It offered a lie flat product that was quite narrow, with one row of six seats. Service was good and food even better.

Air Tahiti Nui is replacing all the seats in their 5 Airbus A340 aircraft. Business class will be jettisoning the old recliner style seats for… angled lie flat seats. Sadly the cabin redo will not feature a fully flat business class. But it will increase the number of business class seats on the aircraft from 24 to 32 — meaning a total increase of 20% in the number of business class seats flown each week because the mainland US and Tahiti — so hopefully that’ll translate into more award seats!

I love this description of the business class…

Based on the popular Sogerma “angled lie flat cocoon seat”, the new Business Class will provide more personal room and space, with a 60 inch seat pitch, while continuing to provide a two by two by two configuration, offering passengers a choice of only window and aisle seating.

I’m not sure with whom angled lie flat seats are popular? And of course the modern standard is business class seats that all have aisle access. But this is an improvement of course. And it’s competitive with other offerings to Tahiti which one supposes is the relevant factor here. People don’t chose to go to Tahiti or not because of the type of business class seat, but once they decide to go premium passengers may choose their carrier based on the product offered.

Interestingly they claim to be “reducing 3,700 kilos of weight per flight” through lighter economy seats which they brag are “comfort focused” and are

[R]etaining the popular two – four – two seating configuration. ATN economy class seats have always been wider than the airline industry average and will continue to be so with an 18 inch width and an average 32 inch pitch.

Again, I’m not sure with whom four seats in the middle are popular, and to a certain extent the ‘generate’ 18 inch width simply means they’re flying Airbus rather than Boeing aircraft.

Los Angeles and Paris (which continues on from Los Angeles) will get the new seats first, beginning in mid-April. And the product really does seem appropriate for Los Angeles – Papeete, which is equivalent in length to Miami – Sao Paolo where I find angled seats adequate. Los Angeles – Paris and Tokyo – Papeete are certainly longer…

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. Hmmm, I already have award seats booked for Oct of 2013, wonder what the chances are I will be in a plane with these new seats?

  2. Thanks for the report. We were thinking of taking a trip in the future. If one had a choice of choosing between their current first class seat, or their new business class seat, or Air France’s product (business only?) would you have a strong recommendation?

  3. @Michael you cannot redeem for Air Tahiti Nui first class (which goes away starting in April) except with Air Tahiti Nui’s own miles. You can pay for the seats though. I would avoid the old Air Tahiti Nui business. The new one looks on par with Air France business. I would choose Air Tahiti Nui first over those. Air France first is for sale and redeemable double miles only by Flying Blue elites only.

  4. I was fortunate enough to redeem some miles and fly business class on Air Tahiti Nui. Service was excellent, but getting some sleep on those angled seats was another ball game.

  5. I managed to book 2 bus class seats using AA miles to Papeete in July for my honeymoon, but barely found return seats in coach. I’m hoping some bus seats open up. I know it may not be worth it, but I have the spare miles and I want my future wife to enjoy it as much as possible.

  6. Gary, I know you don’t fly coach but the 2-4-2 Y configuration is better than most other coach widebodies (3-4-3 on 747/A380 for example)

  7. Given that AF has announced new business class seats, hopefully one day down the road they will have the best product to PPT.

  8. My husband and I flew (paid) in the back of the bus LAX-PPT-LAX and were actually quite happy there. The 2-4-2 makes a lot of sense. Tahiti is a huge honeymoon destination and our flight had to have been 95%+ couples. With 2-4-2, no one gets separated. We got lucky with outside seats by the window. Of course what made ATN stand out was the exceptionally friendly crew and above-average food.

  9. Air Tahiti Nui First Class will not be available from 01APR13 onwards. The present First Class seats will be used for Business passengers, until the renovation is complete. Air France to Tahiti is only 3X per week and their Business on 777 LAX to Tahiti & Paris has a 2-3-2 layout. ATN’s 2-2-2 layout would be better…no middle seat. For Award Seats, book 9-10 months out for the best chance. Seats are limited due to the airline’s size – a fleet of 5 aircraft. The Cabin Crew are really fantastic.

  10. Gary , where would you suggest I look to see when first upgraded flight LAX to CDG might start? We are traveling LAX to CDG on ATN April 12th.

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