Airlines flock to Tahiti

Tahiti by Mayumi Ishikawa via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 -
Tahiti by Mayumi Ishikawa via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0 -

Idyllic beaches and overwater bungalows are a huge part of the appeal for the South Pacific. So is the relative tranquility. After all, getting to Tahiti isn’t easy. That’s going to change in 2018 as French Blue and United Airlines are poised to launch service to Papeete.

For United Airlines the route will operate thrice weekly on a 787-8 from the carrier’s San Francisco hub. The service is set to operate from 30 October 2018 to 28 March 2019 based on the current filing. Rumors of the route first surfaced a month ago in the Tahitian press.

The new United service joins Houston-Sydney (starting in January 2018) as new South Pacific routes for the company. It also comes as United announced it will not resume seasonal Xi’an service from San Francisco in 2018. The carrier continues to experiment with smaller secondary markets, mostly conceding defeat on the China strategy. Only Chengdu remains from that experiment.

United will be the only US-based carrier flying from the mainland to Papeete (a very qualified superlative) but not the only airline launching SFO-PPT service next year. Paris-based LCC French Blue will beat United to that milestone when it inaugurates twice weekly service in May. The carrier will operate an Airbus A350-900 or A330-300 from Paris-Orly to Papeete with a technical stop in SFO. The tech stop designation is important as it means French Blue is not permitted to drop passengers off or pick up new ones in San Francisco. Presumably that will change when French Blue is approved for the necessary traffic rights. That should be a “rubber stamp” from US authorities thanks to the open skies treaty. The application was filed on 30 November 2017. Also, French Blue is in the process of changing its name to French SAS.

The French Blue product is an interesting LCC offering. It is 9-abreast on the A330 which is tight. Passengers are served complimentary meals but can pay for a premium dining option. Priority check-in and boarding are also for sale, as is lounge access and even an onboard champagne and petit-fours toast.

Egregious inflight connectivity pricing on French Blue
Egregious inflight connectivity pricing on French Blue

The A330 offers inflight internet service but it is spectacularly expensive and slow; almost certainly not worth the spend. The promo video they produced has a woman trying to send Snapchat messages and none of them going through.

And so how is it that a market so small as to have no service demand suddenly rates 5-6 daily flights? And where will those extra ~1000-1500 passengers per week be staying once in Tahiti? It is a nearly 50% increase in total capacity from the mainland (Hawaiian also flies from Honolulu). Is United playing catch-up here, defending its SFO hub? And with the shifting 787-8 utilization what other routes might open up?

Perhaps most importantly, will there ever be business class award space open??

Header image: Tahiti by Mayumi Ishikawa via Flickr/CC BY-SA 2.0

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Seth Miller

I'm Seth, also known as the Wandering Aramean. I was bit by the travel bug 30 years ago and there's no sign of a cure. I fly ~200,000 miles annually; these are my stories. You can connect with me on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn.


  1. Good thoughts. Having gone to Tahiti myself two years ago, my main concern is the Air Tahiti flights to the other islands like Bora Bora. Will there be an increase in frequency as well? From what I remember depending on the time of year, those domestic flights to other flights tend to sell out pretty quickly. This is great for PPT tourism but I bet most of those tourists would want to go to Bora Bora.

  2. I do not think that two airlines are considered a “flock”. The definition of flock is a large number, not two.

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