Allen On Travel

A 30 year veteran of world travel (but knows nil about Orlando-area attractions), Will Allen III writes about his weekly odysseys by air on business and how the airlines rob him--and you--of time, the most precious commodity on earth. Time: It's all we have, and the airlines routinely take it from us. This blog challenges the airlines to keep their basic promises.

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Location: Raleigh, North Carolina, United States

Born 1948 in Kinston, NC and raised there in beautiful eastern North Carolina, I now live in Raleigh and commute around the country and the world.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Air Tahiti Nui Research: A Reputation For Above Average Economy Service

As my family's late December vacation to Tahiti looms, I sure hope the word on the street about Air Tahiti Nui's superlative coach cabin is correct. The airline starts its marketing hoopla by giving the back of the bus a special name, Moana Class, instead of calling it economy or coach.

Decades ago, before today's drab class sameness (first, business, and coach) became the norm, airlines sometimes anointed their international cabins with names to differentiate their products from those offered by the common herd of competitors flying the same routes. Anybody but me remember flying Pan American World Airways' Clipper Class?

The ploy worked, too, when the service was really better, as PanAm's services in all cabins originally were. I recall flying in economy on PanAm from JFK to Heathrow in November, 1979 and quite enjoying the service (at the end in the late eighties, Pan American declined badly).

Nowadays, however, any airline trying to give a spiffy name to its coach cabin has to deal with a cynical and wise flying public. Bottom line is that they must really have something better to back up the claim.

Like I said, I hope Air Tahiti Nui will provide the steak with the sizzle. Here's what I've learned about their service that makes me optimistic that they might:

First, the airline is only ten years old, so it doesn't have a lot of baggage (no pun intended) to contend with. It started with fresh ideas, flies just five Airbus A340-300 airplanes which are all configured the same, and serves just seven overseas cities (L.A., NYC, Paris, Sydney, Auckland, Tokyo, and Osaka) from its home base in Papeete. The commonality of its aircraft and service simplifies the operation and allows Air Tahiti Nui to concentrate on service excellence, which is their reputation.

Second, Air Tahiti Nui depends mostly upon tourists, who fly mainly in economy. Its five A340s have just 6 first class seats (completely lie-flat beds) and 24 business class seats (lie-flat, but with a 160 degree recline that makes them slightly angled, much like AA's uncomfortable new business class seats). Moana Class seats 264 by comparison, and the airline needs to fill those seats in the back to stay in the black. Thus it works hard, they tell me, to make folks back there happy.

Third, Moana Class seats do score better than the chairs on competitor aircraft. They boast 33" seat pitch and 19" width. That makes them more spacious and comfortable than what's offered in most airlines' torture chambers, er, I mean,coach cabins. Furthermore, Moana Class seats are just 2" narrower than the business class seats up front.

Even better, they are in a 2-4-2 configuration instead of 2-5-2 like some carriers. And each seat also has its own individual entertainment system (think: Jet Blue and Virgin America). That little in-seat TV screen is going to be a great pacifier to my two kids!

Most unique to Air Tahiti Nui, though, is the double armrest in the middle section seats. I don't know of another airline with this feature, which aims for higher comfort.

Another indication that the airline means to please is this quote from its website: "Our aircraft design allows for extra overhead carry-on luggage capacity thereby creating more comfort through less need for under-seat storage." When was the last time you read of an airline encouraging you to use the overhead and not put bags under the seat in front of you?

Fourth, the on-board service in Moana Class is reputed to be extremely gracious. Here's how one person experienced with the service described it to me: "I think you'll enjoy Air Tahiti Nui, as the onboard experience is quite unique. From the moment you step aboard, you are ensconced in Polynesian hospitality. ... The great service, French-influenced cuisine, and flowing wine will keep you happy en route to and fro."

So, all things considered, maybe I can survive this airline's coach cabin for 8 hours between LAX and Papeete. Like most frequent flyers, I've come to expect the worst from every airline's economy service, and, sadly, my expectations are rarely dashed. It does sound, though, as if Air Tahiti Nui might have built a better mousetrap. You may rely on me to report on it upon arrival to the islands.


Blogger Charlene Ann Baumbich said...

Tahiti. Color me envious. I'm heading to Minnesota. Go figure! (Okay, I confess: my grandgirlies are there.) Still, I can't wait to see how your expectations play out. I'm hoping in the most delightful of ways. If they do, I'll make a note of it in my permanent records for the day we head Tahiti way.

12/05/2008 11:23 AM  
Blogger Portland via Japan said...

"Clipper Class" was not a moniker for Pan Am's economy cabin, it was a moniker for their business class cabin, hence why to this day the one letter designator for business class tickets is "C" ("F" is obviously for & for unknown reasons, "Y" for coach/economy.)

12/05/2008 12:50 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...

Portland via Japan is dead right, and I was dead wrong. My memory failed me! I have corrected the blog accordingly.

Portland via Japan, I thank you kindly for the very nicely worded note pointing out my error. Much appreciated.

12/06/2008 9:42 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...


I will be sure to let you know! I know you will have a wonderful visit with your family in Minnesota, and it's just one flight--a short one at that--from Chicago, whcih should be easy on the spirit and the body. Merry Happy Holidays!

12/06/2008 9:44 PM  
Blogger William A. Allen III said...


I will be sure to let you know! I know you will have a wonderful visit with your family in Minnesota, and it's just one flight--a short one at that--from Chicago, whcih should be easy on the spirit and the body. Merry Happy Holidays!

12/06/2008 9:44 PM  

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