Heading to Australia

Monday, June 6

1:50 pm Depart Bora Bora Motu Mute Airport
Air Tahiti Flight 459

The night before we received a ‘departure letter’ with a printout of our folio, a Starwood Luxury Collection survey, and a departure time. We were scheduled for 11:30am which would have left us with 2 hours at the BOB airport – way too long with nothing to do. I went to the front desk and had them change our departure until an hour later, which I think caused them to make an extra airport boat run as there were a couple of other folks from our resort on the plane and they didn’t come over on our boat.

After approaching the airport dock by boat, checkin at BOB took 2 minutes tops. There was no line and the airport was more or less deserted. No comment about overweight bags, they didn’t look at my receipt showing I had prepaid the overweight fees.

There was no ID check. There was no security at the airport whatsoever. Nothing stands between the entrance to the airport and the gates. Inside the airport is a refreshment stand and two small gift shops. Bathrooms are nice with flowers but signs say the water isn’t drinkable. This is the gate area.

There were only 12 on the flight to PPT. We boarded 15 minutes early and were in the air at 12:45pm – the scheduled boarding time. Service again was a plastic cup of juice, no choices.

Sheraton Tahiti

It took a whole 2 minutes for bags to arrive at baggage claim after landing, and we headed straight out of the airport to grab a cab. Turns out we had the same cab driver who took us to the Intercontinental upon first arriving in Tahiti a week earlier. Ride to the Sheraton was 1900 CFP (day rate).

It’s hard to get used to normalcy after the Nui, we got out of the cab and started bringing our own bags to the desk ourselves when the bellman came up to stop me, realizing that he should have been attempting to help.

That said, I did enjoy the nice familiarity of a Sheraton – checking in and being told about the Sheraton Service Promise. We were given an ocean view room above the pool. The hotel has a little strip of beach and a small infinity pool. Here’s another shot of the hotel.

The property itself felt a bit aged and dark, perhaps Four Points-ish especially due to the peeling wallpaper. The room was a bit spartan except the bathroom and shower which was nice (by normal standards, but I’d just been at the Bora Bora Nui and had a suite at the Ritz by LAX) – it’s one of the better Sheraton bathrooms to be sure. Nice balcony and a complimentary bottle of water. Here’s the entry to the room.

Shortly after our arrival an amenity was delivered of a nice pareo (wrap) and a Sheraton Tahiti t-shirt, along with a personalized note from the hotel G.M. and his business card.

Prices were so much lower than the Intercontinental and the Bora Bora Nui in the restaurant. Mrs. gleff and I ordered 3 main courses from the lunch menu at 3:30pm (after the restaurant technically was closed, I think, but they accommodated us) – a gourmet topping pizza, a burger, and pasta with mussels. The bill came to just 4800 CFP. Food wasn’t great but not horrible.

Our meal was cut short though and we felt the need to excuse ourselves. Birds were walking around the restaurant, not unfamiliar having spent time at the Tamure Grille at the Nui. However, one flew onto the table next to us and sat there pooping on a plate. Yuck!

Overall the grounds weren’t as nice and were much smaller than the Intercontinental, and the food had less of a gourmet pretension. This is much more of a hotel than a resort. And though I recall it appearing closer to the airport on the map than the Intercontinental, it took longer (though not much) by cab and was slightly more expensive of a ride.

Hotel was fine for a night, but I felt a little closed in. If I had it to do over, while I’d only spend one night at the Intercontinental on the way in I might choose that hotel on the way back for a night (if necessary) as well. Then again, my lack of enthusiasm for the Sheraton may be more a function of arriving after my stay at Bora Bora Nui.

Tuesday, June 7

8:05 am Depart Papeete (PPT)
AIR TAHITI NUI Flight 101
First Class Seats 1K, 1L

We left the Sheraton at 5:45am and were at the airport just shy of 6am. I recall the ride back to the airport was 2500 CFP (rates are higher before 6am, though my memory could be off by 100 or so CFP).

The first step upon arriving for an international departure is screening of luggage, just inside the terminal from curbside. Tickets are inspected and carryon bags are tagged. Interesting that security actually tagged the carryons by class of service, at least interesting to someone so used to the TSA and domestic flying.

My carryon was flagged for extra screening. The agent removed several items but couldn’t figure out how to get everything back in properly. She was very apologetic and finally gave up (which I wish she’d done several minutes earlier, just leaving it to me to repack as I wished).

There was one person ahead of us in the business/first class checkin line. We got our boarding passes and baggage checked all the way to SYD without difficulty (QF interlining is not a problem for TN), then we passed through passport control and finally security. At security the plastic bin holding items from my pocket got stuck and the screener told me just to reach into the machine and get it. In the states I’d be put in prison for that!

We went upstairs to the lounge (we walked up the short staircase, the elevator didn’t seem to be working properly, at least it was taking awhile). Lounge is shared with JAL, Air New Zealand, etc… everyone except Hawaiian as I understand it, which won’t pay for its premium customers to have access.

There were pastries, coffee, a self-serve bar, and a television. Lounge was small, decorated with Tahitian artwork, with a nice view of airport operations (such as they are).

We boarded at 7:30am. TN was using gate 60 for coach and gate 61 for J/F. Premium cabins boarded from the front of the plane and Y boarded from behind the biz cabin. Given tiare flowers upon boarding, drinks, newspapers (day old USA Today and Los Angeles Times) and magazines, followed by amenity kits.

First had only one other passenger, so it was loaded 3/6. J wasn’t full. Coach seemed heavily packed based on the hordes at gate 60 during boarding, but I didn’t look back at the cabin once onboard. I believe the Australian soccer team was on our flight. They stayed at our hotel the night before as well, and had just bested New Zealand – or so I had been told at checkin at the Sheraton.

Flowers were removed from the front display for takeoff and then returned once we were in the air (on the LAX-PPT flight they were left in place), so procedures aren’t all that regimented and regularized I suppose. There were no complaints from the FAs when the other F pax used the lav while taxiing back from the gate. The restroom had linen on the table next to the sink with flowers and Evian soap and lotion.

We are airborne at 8:20am after a long takeoff roll using every last inch of runway. FA passed out pajamas for this six hour morning flight, something curiously missing from my evening LAX-PPT segment. Flight time was actually announced to be just 5 hours 20 minutes.

Flight attendants changes into Tahitian garb, a bit odd for this crew actually because they were predominantly French rather than Polynesian. Then they passed out headsets. TN gives sealed headphones that have white covers to go over the earpieces, which are also sealed in a plastic package inside the headphone package, presumable for sanitary reasons. I had a bit of a struggle getting them on the earpieces each time.

Hot towels were passed out, but they weren’t even warm and weren’t wet.

Menus were passed out at 9:05am, and offered one of the best breakfasts I’ve had on a plane (at least for my peculiar tastes). The meal wasn’t as good as the wonderful dinner served on the way to Tahiti, but I’ve always found breakfast to be the hardest and most disappointing plane fare.

BRUNCH

Stuffed beef olive with tarragon, smoked salmon quiche and foie gras canapé, or
Mahi mahi fillet with mushroom duxelle and tomato coulis

Cheese and mushroom crepes and veal sausage, or
Cheese omelete, chicken nugget and grilled tomato, or
Chestnut and pineapple crepes

Vegetable frittata

Salad of fresh tropical fruit

Fruit juice, coffee, tea, chocolate and herb teas

Butter, jam, selection of bakeries, fresh bread roll, yoghurt and cereal

WINE SELECTION
Chateau prieure Lichine, Margaux, 1997
Chassagne Montrachet, Bourgogne blanc, 2002
Domaine du Tariquet Sauvignon, Cotes de Gascogne, 2003
Clos Des Menuts, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, 2000
Champagne Moet et Chandon, Brut-Millesime blanc, 1999
Champagne Nicolas Feuillette, Brut-Reserve particuliere
(Note these were the same wines as PPT-LAX)

Here’s the place setting. I had the stuffed beef and foie canapé, the crepes and the frittata, and the fruit.

As before, proper silver service was provided. Each course brought a replacement of silverware with just what I would need for the coming course.

Service expectations are fairly high for TN crews, apparently. When the FA struggled to climb around the papers and books strewn at my feet, magnified by the position of my footrest, she insisted that I not move at all when I offered and was very apologetic (sincerely) about her failure. Mrs. gleff reported going to the lave and finding the curtain to the FA rest area not fully pulled shut. The FA was extremely apologetic for being seen eating.

Still, service disappointed for awhile and another FA from J took my water glass without offering another or a refill. I could see the FAs reading and chatting through the galley (I imagine they didn’t realize they could be seen, or the embarrassment was limited to the one FA assigned to F). I simply got my own drink from the center cabin display. This was a real contrast to the incredibly hardworking FA on my flight to PPT, where she seemed not to stop working the entire flight in spite of having lost a pearl earings during the boarding process. She wouldn’t even look for her earing until she was done with meal service!

After brunch I played a few games. The ones on offer were solitaire, slots, poker, chess, backgammon, trivia. This time chess but not trivia allowed playing against another passenger.

We arrived in Auckland on time. Having crossed the international dateline it was now Wednesday just past noon.

Wednesday, June 8

1:25 pm Depart Auckland, New Zealand (AKL)
Qantas Flight 190
Business Class Seats 2J, 2K

After landing in Auckland we headed over to the Qantas Club at the far end of the terminal. We had come into gate 7 and would be departing next door at gate 8, so the club was a bit of a schlep in both directions. We had some snacks and killed half an hour before heading back over to board. The club offered 4 salads, cheese and crackers, trail mix, and mushroom soup.

Limited drink service was offered and newspapers were passed out. Jackets were hung. Seeing jackets was a bit of a shock after French Polynesia, as mrs gleff and I were still in island mode. Hot towels were passed out.

The cabin was a bit dated but far better than I expected. I flew a similar length flight (SYD-CNS) on the same plane type, a Boeing 767, on Ansett 4 or 5 years ago and this was much much better. Ten directional controls on the seat, reasonable pitch for a short flight – I don’t know precisely but would guess 42”. Configuration was 1-2-2, definitely better than US domestic first. Coach was standard 2-3-2. Load in J was 17/25.

I did notice some variation where I prefer US flights – announcement was no electronic devices for a full 20 minutes after takeoff, and that cell phones couldn’t be used until actually inside the terminal.

In taking drink orders, FA addressed us by name without the manifest in front of her. Very nice touch. Some have denigrated Aussie short-haul on these boards but as someone used to riding UA it seems quite nice. Printed menus for a 3 hour flight left UA a long time ago…

Entrée
Antipasto of Prosciutto, Semi Dried Tomato, Artichoke and Bocconcini

Main Course
Butter Chicken with Basmati Rice
Beef Fillet with Roast Vegetables and Thyme Jus
Salad of Smoked Salmon with Green Mango and Citrus Dressing
Seasonal Salad with Herb Vinaigrette

Dessert
Cheese selection, dried fruit and water crackers
Ice cream with Almond biscuits

The meal was served on a tray without china, but still in proper courses rather than all at once. Ice cream was accompanied by a choice of chocolates. Coffee and tea service was presented from a French press. Personal video screen was about 5”, perhaps half the size of the screen on the TN flight.

Sydney arrival was a few minutes early. I was intrigued by the huge promotion for the duty free shops on the way out, all promoting a new increased limit for bringing in alcohol. Line was short at immigration, there really aren’t that many international flights coming in just shy of 3pm, and our bags were on the carousel when we made it through. It seems QF fully recognized TN’s priority baggage tags and honored them.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community InsideFlyer.com, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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Comments

  1. I think you, and your blog, would be well served by posting a summary of this to the trip reports section of airliners.net once you had it up here in its entirety. This is by far one of the best trip reports I’ve ever read, it serves to make me reconsider my vacation plans for next year.

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