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An Underwhelming Air France Experience to Tahiti (Trip Report)

Hope you all enjoyed the guest posts, but now it’s time for me to get back to work. We had a fantastic time in French Polynesia, and it’s going to take me a little time to get back into the swing of things. I thought I’d ease myself back in with a trip report, starting with Air France from LA to Papeete, Tahiti. Later this week, I’ll have the more fun stuff – Air Tahiti around the islands along with some of the most relaxing hotels on earth.

Last October, I asked you all whether we should fly Air France or Air Tahiti Nui down. Air France won out, and that’s what we did thanks to a slightly lower business class fare ($2825.41 per person) and a better schedule. This was the first time I’ve ever paid for a business class ticket outright, so my expectations may have been higher than normal, but it just wasn’t up to snuff.

Our flight out was at 1030p, so we decided to get there at 830p so we’d have a little time in the lounge beforehand. There was no line to check in at that time, but Terminal 2 at LAX still doesn’t have inline baggage screening. So we had to lug our bags over to the machine and drop them off. Though the TSA said we could leave, there was a huge pile of bags and we didn’t trust them. We waited.

Flight crews kept dropping their bags off and then more people on other flights came as well and had to Air France LAX Terminal 2 Loungewait in a long line to even drop their bags off. It took us 20 minutes before we saw our bag go through the machine, and only then did we make our way through a short but slow security line on our way to the lounge.

The lounge is currently the Northwest lounge, but Northwest should be heading for greener pastures (Delta’s terminal) in June. I assume Air France/KLM will become the primary tenant, and I hope they’ll do some serious work on the place. One thing they can’t fix is that it’s too small. Our one flight with a couple stragglers from other Northwest flights basically filled the place up.

What they can fix is the awful state of the lounge. The rugs are threadbare, the seating and tables are old and scratched up, and the lighting is bad. We did have some wine to pass the time, but the enjoyment was dampened when I had to sit on a table to drink it.

As we finished our drinks, they called our flight for boarding, so we headed down and used the premium cabin boarding line. The agent apparently decided we weren’t premium enough and tried to push us out of the way to allow first class passengers ahead of us. Ok.

April 10, 2009
Air France #674 Lv Los Angeles (LAX) 1030p Arr Papeete (PPT) 350a
LAX: Gate 27, Runway 24L, Dept On Time
PPT: Gate ??, Runway 22, Arr 9m Early
Aircraft: F-GSPG, Boeing 777-228ER, Standard White Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 5L
Flight Time: 7h54m

Once onboard, we found our seats on the right side of the plane and settled in for the flight. (The picture at right is of the seat on the return flight, but you get the idea.) Air France Affaires SeatWe weren’t really greeted by anyone until about 20 minutes into boarding when flight attendants came around with champagne and juice for anyone who was interested. Soon enough it was time to push back and take off. After we left the California coast, we wouldn’t see land again until we reached Tahiti.

Once in the air, my wife, Kirsten, and I had another drink, so we had a bit of a nice buzz going as we played with the entertainment system. It wasn’t particularly easy to navigate. Yes, it had movies, music, etc, but getting around them was somewhat clunky. And it’s not organized very well. For example, something in “latest” movies that was a comedy couldn’t also be found under “comedy,” so it required some hunting and pecking, even though the selection was fairly limited.

As I got into my movie (The Wrestler – great flick), dinner was served. I wasn’t very hungry, but since it was dinner time in Tahiti, I decided to at least have something. The foie gras appetizer was ok, and the beef was actually pretty good. Kirsten, however, had that night’s special which was lamb, and I thought that was really good. Still, since I wasn’t hungry, I didn’t really pay too much attention to the food. Kirsten, on the other hand, paid close attention and didn’t think it was very good.

After the meal, I tried to sleep, but that wasn’t going to happen. This was my first time in an angled lie-flat seat and I just couldn’t sleep in it. I kept sliding down in my pants, and the amount of weight that ended up being put on my feet into the footrest prevented me from getting comfortable. It just didn’t feel flat to me. I put the bed back into a cradle-style position and had slightly more success, sleeping on and off for a couple hours.

About an hour and a half out, they woke us all up for breakfast. Now, I understand airlines feel the need to bracket you on both ends with food, but breakfast at midnight Tahitian time (same as Hawai’i time – 3 hours behind LA) made very little sense. Still I was actually feeling hungry at this point, so I had some – it was just a croissant with some fruit.

Around 3a, we started our descent into the black night. This was probably the worst possible flight for sightseeing on the ground and the descent was no different. It was only about 2 minutes before landing that I saw my first light on land, and we touched down at 345a into an airport that was just waking up.

After getting our bags, we entered into the worst part of the trip – the wait for our next flight. We had about 2 hours in a hot, humid, still airport before our 6a trip out to another island and we had nothing to do but wait. I’ll have more on the interisland flights in a later report, but let’s skip ahead to the return on Air France two weeks later.

We were told to get to the airport around 2 hours before Air France Check In Line at Papeetedeparture, but we thought about not taking that warning too seriously. I’m really glad we did, because it was a complete mess over there.

It took 20 minutes to return the car we had rented for a day, and then it was another 30 minutes in the premium check-in line before we reached an agent to check Kirsten’s bag. (As usual, I only carried on, even for a two week trip.) The economy line was much worse (at left) and there were a lot of angry people around as the line barely moved.

Once checked in, we went to the lounge which is shared by all carriers at the airport. This one was much nicer than the one in LA with big comfy chairs and plenty of room. (It was recently expanded.) I took this shot out the window with Moorea in the background. Yes, it was hard to leave this place.

Early Morning Light on Air France 777 at Papeete

Soon they called boarding, so we went downstairs to find the absurdly numbered gate 61. There are basically five or six doors in a holdroom and for some reason they decided they needed a gate 61. It’s not fooling anyone into thinking this is a big airport.

April 25, 2009
Air France #673 Lv Papeete (PPT) 730a Arr Los Angeles (LAX) 645p
PPT: Gate 61, Runway 4, Dept 24m Late
LAX: Gate 26, Runway 24R, Arr 1m Early
Aircraft: F-GSPK, Boeing 777-228ER, Standard White Colors, Mostly Full
Seat: 4A
Flight Time: 7h35m

I took the window seat and immediately found that the tray wouldn’t close properly into the armrest. I told the flight attendant so that he would write it up for when we arrived, but a mechanic came Broken Air France Tray Tableonboard to look while we were there. Though Air Tahiti Nui will be handling the maintenance for Air France’s 777s in Papeete, they still haven’t gotten the official sign-off on it, so Air France has an LAX-based tech down there for awhile.

So he came on and knew the problem right away. He dug in and pulled out a dirty fork, knife, and spoon and said it happens all the time. Nasty. It still wouldn’t close, however, but at least it wasn’t sticking out as far. I felt bad thinking I was holding up the plane to fix the tray, but they assured me that wasn’t the case. They were still waiting for nine passengers to show up – they were stuck in that horrible line at the ticket counter. They said this was pretty normal.

We finally got in the air and headed north. It was a nice morning, but apparently Air France thought it was time to serve lunch. So we had a full lunch service, and I had the lamb this time which was pretty good. I had a little morning scotch (why not?) and settled in for a day of watching movies.

Kirsten also wanted to watch movies, but her headphones weren’t working right (the noise-canceling feature was cutting in and out). The design Air France uses for their seat has the headphones built in to it so you can’t swap them out. Instead, they brought a coach headset forward to plug into an extra jack that’s in each seat. At least they were very apologetic, but it was an inferior headset.

After the meal, the flight attendants basically disappeared into the galley and didn’t Moderate Turbulencecheck on us much at all for the bulk of the flight. To be fair, about halfway through, we plowed into some nasty turbulence that didn’t let up for probably about an hour. (Thank you, weather.com for your mapping goodness.)

This was some pretty rough stuff that would probably be categorized as moderate turbulence, if not a little worse for brief periods. So for quite awhile, the crew couldn’t get up. But even when that was done, I still had to get up to ask for a drink refill. (After turbulence like that, I needed another drink. I am somewhat of an anxious flier, believe it or not.)

We did see them again when they served a light meal a couple hours out of LA. And when they finished, they even tried to take my half-full glass of scotch for some unknown reason. I wasn’t having any of that.

Toward the end, one of the flight attendants did come around and personally asked how everyone was doing – just some small talk that was a nice gesture. They also handed out a survey to a select few which I filled out just as we were crossing the coast. We came in from the south and then landed on the north runways.

It was easy to get through immigration but the customs lines were incredibly long and there were a lot of tired and angry faces patiently waiting to get out of there after long flights. About 20 minutes later, we were on our way home.

I’ll have the rest of the trip ready for you soon.

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