Air Tahiti Nui 787-9 Premium Economy Review

Air Tahiti Nui premium economy is solid minus some issues, with spacious seats, large screens, and adequate meals.
JT Genter
By JT Genter 
Edited by Meghan Coyle

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Despite being a small airline, Air Tahiti Nui can be a top option for flying between the U.S. West Coast and Tahiti or Paris — due to the airline's unique route map.

Whether you're flying over the Atlantic or Pacific, Air Tahiti Nui's flights aren't short. If you want to escape economy but can't afford to splurge on business class, Air Tahiti Nui premium economy may be the Goldilocks choice. Plus, you can use American Airlines AAdvantage miles or Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan miles to book award flights on Air Tahiti Nui.

But is it worth paying extra for premium economy on Air Tahiti Nui? Here's a review of my Air Tahiti Nui premium economy flight from Paris to Los Angeles so you can determine that for yourself.

Seats and cabin

Air Tahiti Nui's fleet consists entirely of Boeing 787-9 Dreamliner aircraft. That makes it easy to know exactly what to expect on your flight.

Air Tahiti Nui's premium economy cabin is arranged in a 2-3-2 configuration — which means there are pairs of seats on either side of the aisle with three seats in the middle. For comparison, Air Tahiti Nui is arranged with just one fewer seat per row (2-2-2), and the economy cabin has two more seats per row (3-3-3).

The five rows of premium economy seats on either side of the aisle are ideal for couples, with the four rows in the middle being better suited for groups of three.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Bulkhead seats offer the most legroom in the cabin. However, these seats have limited storage space, consisting of just a small literature pocket on the bulkhead wall.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Non-bulkhead seats measured 37 inches of pitch. That's less than the 38-inch de facto standard for premium economy, but it’s still enough legroom for most passengers.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Seatbacks have a mesh pocket just under the in-flight entertainment screen, ideal for storing your passport, boarding pass and other small items. A large seatback pocket below that is better suited for large items such as a laptop or headphones case. Between the seats in front of you are two cubbies for water bottles.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Each Air Tahiti Nui premium economy seat features a large in-flight entertainment screen that measures 13 inches diagonally.

(Photo by JT Genter)

In the console between each set of seats, passengers will find two USB outlets and two-prong headphone jacks. Down by your legs, you'll find two universal power outlets.

(Photo by JT Genter)

At boarding, Air Tahiti Nui premium economy seats are stocked with a pillow, a plastic-wrapped blanket and an amenity kit.

Food and beverage

Air Tahiti Nui began premium economy food and drink service with a choice of drinks and a packaged snack. Wine and champagne were complementary and available for premium economy passengers. However, several drink options listed on the menu were unavailable on my flight.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Premium economy passengers don't get paper menus. However, passengers can see their dining options in the in-flight entertainment system. For my flight from Paris to Los Angeles, Air Tahiti Nui premium economy passengers had a choice between:

  • Coconut ginger chicken with polenta.

  • Zurich-style sliced beef, mashed potatoes, white wine and mushroom sauce.

  • Conchiglie pasta with zucchini and red bell pepper sauce.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Although the menu makes it seem like passengers may be served a multi-course meal, the entire meal is served on one tray — with aluminum and plastic lids intact. The main course was complemented with a Mediterranean quinoa tabbouleh, a chocolate mousse, cheese, butter and a cold bread roll.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Since the flight from Paris to Los Angeles is nearly 12 hours long, Air Tahiti Nui served another hot meal service before landing. On my flight, passengers didn't get a choice for this meal service; everyone was served a warmed tomato mozzarella sandwich, apple sauce and a packaged madeleine cake. Passengers got another choice of alcoholic or nonalcoholic drinks.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Baggage and other perks

Air Tahiti Nui premium economy baggage

One of the typical perks of premium economy is extra checked baggage allowance, and Air Tahiti Nui doesn't disappoint. Premium economy passengers can check up to two bags weighing 23 kilograms (50.7 pounds) each. That's one more bag than economy passengers can check for free.

All Air Tahiti Nui passengers can carry on one bag weighing up to 10 kilograms (22 pounds) and one small personal item weighing up to 3 kilograms (6.6 pounds).

Dedicated check-in lane and priority boarding

Premium economy passengers get a dedicated check-in lane. This can be clutch for skipping the potentially long standard economy check-in line.

(Photo by JT Genter)

When it comes time to board, premium economy passengers get to use the business class priority lane.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Flowers at boarding

This is such a unique part of flying Air Tahiti Nui that it has to be mentioned. Flight attendants greet passengers at the aircraft boarding door with a Tahitian tiare flower. This symbol of the Polynesian islands is yours to take with you after you disembark. Just make sure to declare this flower to U.S. Customs and Border Protection if you're returning to the U.S. to avoid a fine.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Downsides of flying Air Tahiti Nui premium economy

Inconsistent service

My biggest frustration with my two Air Tahiti Nui flights is the inconsistent service from flight attendants. Some flight attendants provide warm, welcoming service, while others … don't. And that was certainly the case on this flight.

During boarding, the passenger behind me pulled the back of my seat so hard that it broke one of the seat components — leaving my seat unable to remain locked upright. I immediately tried to bring this to the attention of the flight attendants. However, my flight attendant call button was repeatedly reset. When I flagged down a passing flight attendant to inform her of the issue with my seat, she rolled her eyes and continued down the aisle without a word.

Later, during safety checks, the same flight attendant scolded me for not having my seat upright. After I pointed out that I'd already informed her that the seat was broken, she chastised me for telling her "too late" — despite my efforts to flag the issue as soon as it happened. Her only offer was to move me to economy class or to fly 12 hours in a broken seat.

Once at cruising altitude, I found the head flight attendant to discuss the situation. Visibly frustrated, he asked which flight attendants I had spoken with and sprung into action to fix the seat. After removing the seat cover, he was able to find and adjust a component to lock the seat upright.

(Photo by JT Genter)

Baggage damage

Between checking my bag with Air Tahiti Nui in Paris and it dropping on the belt in Los Angeles, my bag received minor tear damage. I realize this is a risk of having a soft-shell bag. But, as I was reviewing this flight, I figured I'd submit a report to see how the airline would handle it.

(Photo by JT Genter)

A friendly contract agent in the LAX baggage claim took down my report and took photos of the damage. She noted that I'd hear back by phone or email in the next few days. However, I haven't heard anything since. Considering it's now been more than two months, I doubt I will.

Expensive Wi-Fi packages

Air Tahiti Nui offers Wi-Fi service on its aircraft. However, premium economy passengers don't get a free allotment. And standard Wi-Fi rates are quite expensive. A text-only plan costs $8, and you'll need to pay $28 for a 100-megabyte data package. If you're not careful, that data allotment could disappear quickly.

An unlimited Wi-Fi pass from Paris to Los Angeles would have cost $68. That's the most expensive Wi-Fi price I've seen in at least the past few years.

Booking Air Tahiti Nui with miles

Air Tahiti Nui isn't a member of any major airline alliance. Instead, Air Tahiti Nui forges one-off partnerships with other airlines. The two most relevant partnerships for U.S.-based travelers are American Airlines AAdvantage and Alaska Airlines Mileage Plan.

American awards on Air Tahiti Nui

Travelers can redeem AAdvantage miles to fly between the mainland U.S. and Tahiti at the following rates:

  • Economy: 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

  • Premium economy: 65,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

  • Business class: 80,000 AAdvantage miles one-way. 

Or, fly Air Tahiti Nui between the mainland U.S. and Europe at the following rates:

  • Economy: 30,000 AAdvantage miles one-way — or 22,500 on off-peak dates.

  • Premium economy: 40,000 AAdvantage miles one-way.

  • Business class: 57,500 AAdvantage miles one-way.

Air Tahiti Nui awards are searchable and bookable on American's website, and travelers can combine Air Tahiti Nui awards with positioning awards on American or Alaska at the same rates as if you booked a nonstop.

For example, fly from New York to Tahiti via Los Angeles for 40,000 miles one-way in economy, 65,000 in premium economy or 80,000 miles in business class. Note that American doesn't offer premium economy between New York and Los Angeles, so you'd fly in economy on that leg.

Alaska awards on Air Tahiti Nui

Alaska Mileage Plan generally charges fewer miles for Air Tahiti Nui awards than American does. However, Alaska recently eliminated its detailed award chart — replacing it with an award chart listing starting prices.

If you can find the cheapest-level awards, you'll need to redeem the following rates between the mainland U.S. and Tahiti:

  • Economy: 30,000 Mileage Plan miles one-way.

  • Premium economy: 45,000 Mileage Plan miles one-way.

  • Business class: 55,000 Mileage Plan miles one-way.

Unlike AAdvantage awards, Alaska Mileage Plan doesn't let you combine awards on American and Air Tahiti Nui. Instead, you can only connect on Alaska.

Is Air Tahiti Nui premium economy worth the cost?

Air Tahiti Nui provides a solid premium economy hard product. Seats are spacious enough, provide enough storage (except bulkhead seats), have a large entertainment screen with a variety of options, and the meals and drink options were adequate — even though there were a limited number of drink choices available.

However, it's hard to overlook the issues. The primary flight attendant for the premium economy cabin provided terrible service and ignored the potential safety issue of a broken seat. Also, while the damage to my checked bag was minor, it's concerning that the airline never followed up on the damage report.

If you can overlook potential service failings, Air Tahiti Nui can be a good option for flying to Tahiti or Europe — particularly if you have American or Alaska miles.

(Top photo courtesy of JT Genter)

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