Oh very well then, I think I will leave now…
My alarm goes off at 05:15. I step into the bathroom to take a shower and immediately shrink back at my own reflection. I am still a bit bleary eyed. And I am starting to look a bit like Captain Caveman, given that my last shave was the day I left Switzerland on 07 August.
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Departs from: Intercontinental Beachcomber Hotel
Journey time: 10 minutes
Fare: ca. CHF15
I leave the hotel just after six o’clock in the morning. Tahiti is only just waking up; it is still quiet. Even so, there is a surprising amount of traffic on the road. I assume this must be the beginning of the commuter rush hour, even though the whole concept of such a thing seems somewhat alien, if not irreconcilable to such a heavenly place.
Location: there is a separate check-in area for all international flights, of which there are three leaving at more or less the same time
Facilities: dedicated Air France check-in counters, separate counters for SKY PRIORITY
On the face of it, it looks like chaos. There are people everywhere. There are three widebodies leaving at more or less the same time: the Air France service to Los Angeles and then Paris, the Air Tahiti Nui service doing the same and another Air Tahiti Nui flight bound for Auckland. The check-in counters are located right next to the exit for international arrivals. The two Paris flights have only just come in and by the looks of it, welcoming friends and family home is a big thing in Tahiti.
People everywhere. In one corner I can hear music – is somebody playing a ukulele somewhere? In the middle of the terminal the crowd has formed a circle. In the middle of it stands a traveller who has just arrived. Three Polynesian men are doing some sort of dance in front of him that I can only assume is intended to welcome the traveller home. It looks and sounds like the Haka dance the All Blacks do at the beginning of a game. But this seems friendlier, even if these guys are just as beefy and tough looking as the All Blacks…
But in spite of it all, if it were not for all the people, the process is very well organised. To access the check-in counters you have to pass through a security check, where the name in your passport is matched against the passenger list.
Immigration is a bit of a surprise. There are four queues – one for each one of the three flights and a fourth queue for crew. Immediately behind immigration is security and it really is quite amazing just how swift the process is.
The transit area looks as though it was recently refurbished. Either that or the facility is incredibly well kept.
Location: first floor, the stairs and lift are located right between gates 50 and 40
Type of Lounge: contractor lounge
Facilities: washrooms, computer work stations, snacks, hot and cold drinks – I think it should also be mentioned that there is even a Lavazza coffee machine that uses those capsules which are so much better than that Nespresso rubbish…
Internet: available for free, passwords are issued at reception
The lounge’s most redeeming feature – even better than the Lavazza machine if you ask me – is the view it offers of what is going on outside, with three widebodies in full view. Just brilliant.
Priority Boarding: the boarding sequence is, in this order: UMs, passengers needing assistance, families with small children, SKY PRIORITY passengers, general scrum
This is the part I have been looking forward to most: walking across the apron to board the aircraft and then climbing the stairs. And it is not just any aircraft. My chariot today is the mighty Triple Seven. Say what you will, but I think she is hot!
Configuration: 2 + 3 + 2 – This is an old school kind of seat. Having said that, I think I prefer it to the herringbone I experienced on Air New Zealand, for the simple reason that it offers more privacy and there is a lot more storage space. Moreover, the storage space is easily accessible and conveniently located. But there are drawbacks of course. First of all, the cursed middle seat, which really should not be an option for a Business Class product. And secondly, having to climb over the person on the aisle if you happen to be seated by the window
Facilities: power outlet, reading lamp; a blanket, pillow, hangar, slippers, socks and earphones have already been placed in the seats when the passengers start boarding the aircraft
Audio and Video: available on demand, the selection of films is somewhat limited though and the quality of the picture is no good at all
The cabin crew on this flight is a mix of Tahiti based crew and Paris based crew. The maître de is a woman of Polynesian descent. The service provided by all the crew is very personable and friendly. They all take their time to interact with the passengers in a very charming and outgoing manner.
After take-off the ladies change into a typically Polynesian dress and wear a Tiaré in their hair. It is a nice touch I think.
Once we are airborne, the crew distribute the menus and the vanity kits.
Brand: no name
Content: shoe spoon, a large tube of Colgate toothpaste, toothbrush, eye shades, earplugs, Clarins cosmetics, lip balm
Welcome drink on the ground: orange juice, still water or champagne
Hot towel before the meal: available but not scented
Pre-meal drink: full bar service, served with an amuse bouche and a crispy snack
Choice: four choices for the main dish, including one vegetarian option
Delivery: tray service
Type of meal: lunch, hot meal
- A mini vol-au-vent with salmon roe, shrimp and cream cheese served as an amuse bouche
- Crispy crèpes filled with cream cheese and walnuts to go with the aperitif
- Seasonal salad with a choice of balsamic dressing, French dressing or basil infused olive oil
- For the first course a terrine of cauliflower and carrot, a chunky piece of grilled Mahi Mahi with lime juice, grilled lamb with tossed vegetables
- Polenta and vegetable cake served with a bell pepper coulis
- A variety of bread from the breadbasket, I count four rounds
- Cheese from the cart
- For dessert a combination of pastries: pineapple tartlet, praline cream puff, strawberry maccaron served with mango sorbet
- Tea and coffee
Something has gone awfully wrong here. I am always telling my Dutch colleague P. from work what a useless airline Air France is. On this flight however, I am finding it difficult to explain why. First we have the friendly crew, that cannot be right. And now the food: this meal is quite unusual in all respects. First of all the sheer amount of food you are served is incredible. You really do not need to go hungry with Air France. Secondly, some of the dishes are really quite interesting and unusual. I decide to go with the polenta and it really is very tasty.
The biggest pleasure though, are the desserts. So often on a plane dessert consists of some ghastly creamy concoction that is advertised as being this or that with a hint of so, so and bla but eventually ends up tasting of artificial cream and nothing else. But Air France is not having any of this: the pastry is rich and has managed to remain surprisingly crisp. It is not at all soggy.
Once everything is cleared away, the lights go out and the blinds are lowered. I never quite understand why people do this. After all, it is a daytime flight and under normal circumstances they would not be sleeping at this hour either.
SECOND MEAL SERVICE
- Goat cheese canapé with tapenade
- Smoked tune canapé with eggplant caviar
- Hazelnut and chocolate puff pastry
- Fresh fruit
- Fresh cheese
We are running behind schedule and eventually arrive in Los Angeles fifty minutes late. As such this is not really a big deal for me. But the queue for immigration is incredibly long, presumably because we arrived shortly after a China Southern A 380 which must have been pretty full by the looks of it.
GETTING INTO TOWN
Transport: complimentary hotel shuttle
Departs from: international terminal, hotel shuttle pick up area
Frequency: every 15 – 20 minutes
Journey time: ca. 10 minutes
Actually I am not going into town. I shall not be staying in Los Angeles. I have an onward flight tomorrow morning, so I figure I might as well take a hotel at the airport. I am staying at the Hilton LAX Airport on Century Boulevard.
ABOUT AIR FRANCE
I was fully expecting not to like Air France. Much to my surprise though, I thought they were rather good. First of all, the Polynesian touch provided by the local crew is brilliant, they were all just so nice and friendly. Secondly, the meals are something else. In terms of quantity and quality they make the likes of SWISS or Lufthansa look pretty sad. I do not think I will go out of my way to fly Air France again. But I think I may now stop actively avoiding them.