While global aviation is struggling to cope with the ever-changing health advisories and travel restrictions, the situation of aviation to & from Tahiti is an especially challenging one at the moment. Airlines are dealing with it in some pretty innovative ways.
Why US travel restrictions are tough for Tahiti
French Polynesia is a popular destination for visitors from “continental” France, given the connection. However, Paris and Tahiti couldn’t really be further apart. Looking at the French airlines flying to Tahiti:
- Air Tahiti Nui operates a flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles to Paris
- Air France operates a flight from Tahiti to Los Angeles to Paris
- French bee operates a flight from Tahiti to San Francisco to Paris
The airlines all have pick-up and drop-off rights in the US, but for many of the passengers, they’re just looking to travel between Papeete and Paris as directly as possible, and these routings are best.
The US doesn’t allow “sterile” transit, which means that passengers have to clear immigration in the US while in transit. Now there’s a new Europe travel ban, though, and foreign nationals who have been in the Schengen area in the past 14 days aren’t allowed to enter the US.
In other words, non-Americans can no longer fly from Paris to Tahiti via LAX or SFO, since they won’t be allowed to clear immigration in the US.
Airlines are coping with this in some pretty creative ways…
Air Tahiti Nui operating world’s longest domestic flight
Last night, Air Tahiti Nui 8 was supposed to operate from Papeete to Los Angeles to Paris at 11:15PM. Those traveling to Los Angeles departed at that time, as the flight still operated as far as the US.
However, those traveling to Paris were re-protected on Air Tahiti Nui 64 on Sunday, March 15, 2020, which will depart at 3AM.
Air Tahiti Nui 787-9
This flight will be operated nonstop from Papeete to Paris, making this (to my knowledge) the furthest commercial flight ever:
- The flight will cover a distance of 9,765 miles, making it longer than the world’s current furthest flight from Singapore to Newark, which covers a distance of 9,534 miles
- This flight is only possible because of the tailwinds the entire way, as the flight time will “only” be about 16hr30min; there’s no way the flight could operate nonstop in the other direction
- This is only slightly shorter than the recent Project Sunrise “test flights,” though those weren’t available to the general public, and only had a few invited guests
Not only will this be (to my knowledge) the world’s longest commercial flight ever, but the flight will be entirely domestic.
Air Tahiti Nui business class
How airlines are otherwise avoiding the US
The above flight is a one-time service, so what happens beyond that? Both Air Tahiti Nui and French bee have come up with new plans to avoid the US.
Air Tahiti Nui will operate:
- The March 14 flight from Papeete to Paris via Vancouver, rather than Los Angeles
- The March 15 & 18 flights from Papeete to Paris via Guadeloupe, rather than Los Angeles
French bee will operate:
- The Papeete to Paris flight via Guadeloupe rather than San Francisco, from March 20 through April 10, 2020
With the Guadeloupe stopover, this has to be one of the most interesting “domestic” flights we’ve ever seen.
Both airlines had pick-up and drop-off rights in the US, so this means that flights between the US and Paris will largely be canceled. Then again, that was probably going to happen either way, given the travel ban.
View approaching Papeete
The US not allowing sterile transit is causing some issues for French airlines operating their otherwise “domestic” flights between Tahiti and Paris. Air Tahiti Nui will be operating the world’s longest commercial flight as a one-off, and otherwise we’re generally going to see airlines route via Guadeloupe rather than the US, so that they can get around travel restrictions.