Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle to Papeete
One of the reasons we booked our trip to Tahiti was because of the newly launched Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle to Papeete, French Polynesia’s capital city. Tahiti and Bora Bora was already high on our travel wish list, so when we heard about these direct flights from Seattle we jumped online to search for flights.
Air Tahiti Nui started connecting Seattle and French Polynesia twice a week in October 2022.
We initially booked flights with a departure date in late November 2022. We found a great deal that departed on Sunday from Seattle and returned from Papeete on a Saturday redeye flight. It’s a 9 hour direct flight.
Unfortunately, we had to cancel the original flight last minute.
The airline allowed us to rebook without penalty, as long as the new flights returned to Seattle before the end of April 2023. So, this is what we did.
Air Tahiti Nui only has 4 aircraft in its fleet. All of these planes are the Boeing 787-9, which the airline proudly calls its “Tahitian Dream-liners”. This lean fleet will become relevant to the story when I share our return flight experience.
Given that this is a relatively new route, we could not find firsthand info about the flight experience. We had not heard of this airline before, so we didn’t know what we signed up for.
*Reader’s note – we did NOT work with Air Tahiti Nui. We did NOT receive any compensation or perks from the airline. We paid full price for our tickets.
Seattle departure from SeaTac Airport
We drove from Vancouver to Seattle on the Friday evening after work and school. It took us about 5 hours, including rush hour traffic leaving Vancouver, a 45 minute wait at the US-Canada border crossing, and a stop at a fast food restaurant.
Normally, we would have booked a flight departure time on Friday evening or Saturday morning, but this Seattle to Papeete flight only happens twice per week. So your options are limited.
We decided to spend two nights in Seattle before the Sunday flight from Seattle to Papeete. This gave us a full day to explore Seattle. We slept in, swam at the hotel pool, explored Pike Place Market, ate seafood on the pier, and caught a Seattle Mariners baseball game.
We parked our car at the hotel (located near SeaTac Airport) and left it there for the duration of our trip.
Related post – Bora Bora travel tips for first time visitors
Air Tahiti Nui Check-in experience
The Air Tahtiti Nui app does not allow passengers to check-in. This was kind of annoying. Nowadays, we expect to be able to check-in and get our boarding passes before arriving at the airport.
Because of this, we decided to arrive at the airport extra early. Just in case.
The airline recommends arriving at the airport 3 hours before flight departure time (which is 12:30 pm).
Ticket agents open at precisely 3 hours before departure time. It didn’t take long to get through the initial check-in process. Maybe 20 minutes.
We signed up for the SEA Spot Saver, which allowed us to skip the long line for security. Learn more about how to skip the line at SeaTac Airport here.
I like the colourful pillows and Polynesia touches in the aircraft.
We lucked out with empty seats on the flight!
Is there anything better than when the flight attendants close the door and the seat beside you is empty?
Yes, actually. There is something better…
How about several ROWS of empty seats?!
Because this Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle is relatively new, the plane had a lot of seats available. It’s been a few months since this route opened up, so perhaps this is because people are unaware that this direct flight exists.
Initially, we booked the window and aisle on two rows. We do this often. The hope is that the middle seat does not get filled, thereby giving us the entire row.
We also chose seats located at the back of the plane, which seem to be less desirable.
Once the plane took off, we each grabbed a row behind, and in front, of our original seats. Each of us had an entire row of 3 seats to ourselves. I don’t think this has ever happened to us before?
Related post: Swimming with Sharks and Stingrays in Moorea
Even the two rows behind us were empty. It felt like we had Business Class leg room and comfort, with economy class ticket prices.
Stretching out the legs with the entire row to myself. Notice all the empty seats.
Connor was able to sleep as if he was in a bed. He got about 3 hours of sleep.
Passengers receive a complimentary kit with socks, ear plugs, eye mask, headphones and sanitary wipes.
Each passenger is given a nice flower. They smell incredible.
How is the food on Air Tahiti Nui?
Overall, I would say the food on the Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle is good. Not great, but good.
The above photo is an adult meal with beef stew and rice, along with a chicken salad, roll, cheese, and cheesecake for dessert.
Alcohol is complimentary. We each had a small bottle of red wine with dinner. It was decent.
Chicken with noodles and grilled vegetables. Same sides and dessert.
We pre-ordered the children’s meals. Our youngest boy has a dairy allergy, so we opt for vegan dishes whenever possible.
His dish came with a package of dairy cheese and butter, which is clearly not vegan, but the items are packaged so it’s easy enough to separate.
Connor loves fresh fruit, so he was happy with that. But he didn’t like the grilled vegetables dish.
Braydon enjoyed his kid’s meal. Pasta with meatballs and cheesecake for dessert.
A few hours before landing, passengers were served a warm turkey and cheese sandwich with salad and fresh fruit. Same as the dinner, it was good but not great. No complaints. It did the trick.
Arriving at Fa’a’ā International Airport in Tahiti
We arrived in Papeete at around 7:30 pm local time. Passengers disembark the aircraft via outdoor stairs. There is no gangway connecting the plane to the airport.
Passengers walk from the airplane to airport, then line up for immigration control.
There is not air-conditioning in the airport, only fans. It gets quite hot and humid while you wait. We learned about this prior to departure, so we changed on the airplane before arriving in Tahiti.
It took us about 45 minutes to clear immigration. We were at the back of the plane, so we were one of the last people in line.
Related post: Swimming with Sharks and Stingrays in Moorea
Air Tahiti Nui flight cancellation from Tahiti to Seattle
The plan was to leave Bora Bora one day early and spend the night in Papeete, prior to the long flight back to Seattle. Just as we checked into the hotel in Papeete, we received an email notification that our flight was cancelled.
Not delayed – but cancelled.
And there was no plan to get us on another flight.
Obviously, this flight cancellation was an unwelcome surprise.
The offices at Air Tahiti Nui have limited hours of operation, so we had to wait until the following day to speak with someone. The communication during this process was not good. It was difficult to connect with someone who could actually help us.
Apparently, one of the planes was struck by lightening and needed maintenance. For the record, I am VERY happy the airline took the time to inspect the plane and make sure it’s safe to fly. However, taking this plane out of circulation, even for a day, has a big ripple effect on the next flights.
Earlier in this post, I mentioned that Air Tahiti Nui only has 4 aircrafts in its fleet. Well, when one of these planes is unavailable, this creates a big problem. The next available flight from Papeete to Seattle was on Tuesday, which would be 3 days later.
Hotels in Tahiti are very expensive and availability is limited, so this was not ideal. Plus, we had work and school on Monday, so we could not wait another 3 days for the next direct flight to Seattle.
Eventually, after several stressful hours, we secured seats on a flight back to the United States.
Air Tahiti Nui was not able to get us to the United States for a few days, so we found seats on an Air France flight from Papeete to Los Angeles. This flight departs on the Sunday morning at 7:40 am, which is about 10 hours after the original departure time on Saturday night.
Air Tahiti Nui covered the expense of the Air France seats and gave us a hotel night in Los Angeles. We then caught a flight from Los Angeles to Seattle the following morning.
It was a stressful experience and the communication was not good. However, it all worked out in the end. We got home, albeit 2 days later, and the airline covered most expenses. We are in the process of trying to get reimbursed for the additional hotel night in Tahiti.
Thankfully, Te Moana Resort found us another room, even though the hotel was at capacity. We’re not sure what we would have done if they did not step up and provide us that extra night.
Related post: Our experience staying at Te Moana Tahiti Resort
Above is the outdoor space that is “inside” the Papeete airport. It’s nice having the fresh air before boarding the long flight home.
Final Thoughts about our Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle
Our experience flying with Air Tahiti Nui was unique. We had to cancel the original flight last minute and reschedule at a later date. The airline worked with us and gave us options, which we appreciate.
The direct flight from Seattle is convenient and the price point was in our budget. Staff on the aircraft are friendly and accommodating, and the food was decent. We also like that alcohol is included with the ticket price.
The entertainment system has limited options for movies and shows. The screens are nice, but it’s best to bring your own tablet with some pre-loaded shows and movies. Especially if traveling with young kids.
The cancelled flight was stressful and confusing. However, the airline did get us home eventually, so we’re grateful for that. We understand that these things happen and that travel does not always go according to plan. Sometimes these mishaps add to the adventure.
Would we fly with Air Tahiti Nui again?
Yes, I think so. We feel like we received good value for our money.
Read more blog posts from French Polynesia:
- Bora Bora travel tips: What we learned on our trip
- Swimming with Sharks and Stingrays in Moorea
- Where to stay in Tahiti? Recap from our time at Te Moana Tahiti Resort
- Our experience on the new Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle to Tahiti
- Abandoned InterContinental Moorea Resort in French Polynesia
- What does it really cost to travel to Bora Bora with kids?
Are you considering the Air Tahiti Nui flight from Seattle to Tahiti?
Do you have any questions? Leave us a comment below.
If you’ve done this flight, please share your experience in the comments. Our readers thank you!