Review: Air Tahiti ATR 72 Economy Papeete To Bora Bora

Filed Under: Other Airlines

This installment will cover our Air Tahiti flights between Papeete and Bora Bora. Note that Air Tahiti is the only airline operating inter-island flights in Tahiti, and they’re also not associated with Air Tahiti Nui, which is rather annoying.

Booking Air Tahiti flights to Bora Bora

As mentioned above, Air Tahiti isn’t associated with Air Tahiti Nui, which means you can’t book flights to Bora Bora on miles, and it also means you actually need to book your flight to Papeete on a separate reservation as your flight to Bora Bora.

That means you’re not covered in the event that one of your flights is delayed and causes you to misconnect. As a result, you’ll want to leave extra time between your flights, though at the same time Papeete Airport really isn’t very nice, so that’s a double edged sword.

While in the Maldives hotels will arrange your flights for you from the main airport, with Air Tahiti you just book directly.

Stupidly I waited quite a while to book, since initially I assumed our hotel would handle the flight arrangements for us. But that’s not how it works — fortunately there was still availability on the flights we wanted when I booked.

Given that there’s no competition in the market, fares are quite expensive, so I booked the following flights for $383 per person roundtrip (which is the lowest fare they offer for non-locals, as far as I know):

12/05 VT402 Papeete to Bora Bora departing 7:30AM arriving 8:20AM [Economy]
12/11 VT434 Bora Bora to Papeete departing 6:40PM arriving 7:30PM [Economy]

This left us with a 2hr25min layover on the outbound and a 3hr10min layover on the return.

Air Tahiti review

Upon landing from Los Angeles we cleared immigration, which was painless, and then found ourselves in the arrivals hall. This is an open-air area, and then we turned right to follow the signage towards domestic flights.

Papeete Airport arrivals hall

Papeete Airport arrivals hall

The good news is that this is a small airport, so it was less than a minute walk, and then there’s a single check-in area. The wait was about 15 minutes to get checked in. One tip I learned the hard way — there’s a separate check-in area for those who did web check-in, and that had no wait, so I regret not having checked in online.

While we only had carry-ons for our longhaul flights, Air Tahiti flights are operated by turboprops, so our rollaboard bags had to be checked.

Air Tahiti check-in counter

The check-in process was easy enough, and we were issued boarding passes to Bora Bora, and were told to head through security. Note that Air Tahiti doesn’t assign seats, so it’s first come first served once onboard.

Air Tahiti check-in counter

Landside there’s a McDonald’s, which is the only “legit” food option in this part of the terminal (if you can call it that). I was tempted to stop there for a coffee, but instead we headed straight through security, which was a quick process.

Papeete Airport domestic terminal

The airside area has nice enough seating, a small cafe, and some disgusting bathrooms. The terminal doesn’t seem to have air conditioning, which isn’t a big deal at 6AM, but I imagine during the day it gets warm in here.

Papeete Airport domestic terminal

As you can see, the terminal was initially empty (we got there shortly after 6AM), but it filled up pretty soon, as there were several flights departing around the same time.. The terminal technically has a couple of gates, though in reality only one flight boards at a time.

Papeete Airport domestic gates

The airport does have free wifi, though it’s limited to 30 minutes. So I used 30 minutes of free wifi, and then I started tethering on my phone.

PPT airport wifi

Our flight was scheduled to board at 7:15AM (10 minutes before departure), though in reality boarding started at 7:10AM. It wasn’t entirely obvious boarding was actually for our flight, since a gate agent just yelled something and then everyone got up.

When boarding these flights they just take half of your boarding pass, then advise you to wait under the awning, and then a gate agent leads everyone out to the plane.

Papeete Airport domestic terminal

There were several Air Tahiti turboprops on the apron (for what it’s worth, the airline has nine ATRs, and then five smaller props).

Air Tahiti ATR 72

For our ATR 72 boarding was through the rear, given that the baggage is loaded through the front. We were flying F-ORVS, a four year old plane.

Air Tahiti ATR 72 boarding

Air Tahiti ATR 72

Air Tahiti Nui 402
Papeete (PPT) – Bora Bora (BOB)
Wednesday, December 5
Depart: 7:30AM
Arrive: 8:20AM
Duration: 50min
Aircraft: ATR 72
Seat: 12A (Economy Class)

The ATR 72 has a total of 68 seats, spread across 17 rows in a 2-2 configuration. The cabin definitely still felt fresh and well maintained. Usually people want to sit as far up front as possible, but since you board and deplane through the rear, the opposite was true here, where everyone wanted to sit towards the back, which created a bit of a bottleneck.

By the way, I highly recommend sitting as far back as possible, as it’s so much quieter back there — the noise difference between sitting by the engines and sitting in the back is huge.

Air Tahiti ATR 72 cabin

The seats were quite comfortable, though I think this is the first time I’ve seen “bench” seats like this. Each set of two seats is really one continuous seat.

Air Tahiti seat

But the seats were comfortable enough for a short flight, and the legroom was good. There was a small tray table at each seat, which could be held up using an elastic band.

Air Tahiti ATR 72 tray table

By 7:20AM boarding was complete, and I’d say the cabin was about two thirds full. The captain made an announcement informing us of a flight time of 45 minutes. A moment later the safety demo was performed by the two flight attendants, and then the engines started up.

Taxiing out Papeete Airport

Our taxi was really quick, and by 7:30AM we started a midfield takeoff from runway 4.

Taking off from Papeete Airport

As you’d expect, the views on this 161 mile flight were beautiful.

View after takeoff from Papeete

Initially we had views of Papeete.

View after takeoff from Papeete

Then just a few minutes later we had views of Moorea, which looked breathtaking.

View enroute to Bora Bora

For the next 30 minutes there weren’t any other islands to see. The seatbelt sign was turned off 10 minutes after takeoff, and about 20 minutes after takeoff a very simple beverage service was performed, with the choice of coffee or pineapple juice — we had one of each.

Air Tahiti cabin

Air Tahiti beverage service

There was also a menu indicating they had some buy on board options, though we didn’t buy anything, and I never even saw them proactively offering to sell anything. That menu read as follows:

About 30 minutes after takeoff we began our descent, as we were passing a couple of the islands before Bora Bora. 10 minutes out the seatbelt sign was turned back on.

View enroute to Bora Bora

View approaching Bora Bora

Soon enough we were approaching Bora Bora, and oh boy was I excited! Look at those views!

View approaching Bora Bora

View approaching Bora Bora

Landing in Bora Bora

We touched down on runway 11 at 8:10AM, and then backtaxied before getting to the apron just a few minutes later.

Taxiing Bora Bora Airport

Air Tahiti prop upon landing in Bora Bora

Bora Bora Airport is so adorable.

Bora Bora Airport

Air Tahiti plane upon arrival in Bora Bora

Inside the terminal all the hotels had welcome desks, so we just had to wait for our bags to arrive, and then were escorted to a boat that would take us to our resort.

Bora Bora Airport

As was the case in Papeete, there was some dancing to welcome us.

Bora Bora Airport

What a view, eh?

Hotel transfers from Bora Bora Airport

I won’t be reviewing the return flight, other than to note:

  • Bora Bora Airport is awful if you have a significant amount of time to spend there, as there’s no air conditioning, and we had to sit there for almost an hour; prior to departure there also aren’t really enough seats in the gate area
  • Bora Bora Airport doesn’t have any security
  • While our Air Tahiti flights operated on time, the day before our return flight we received an email saying our flight was pushed back by 30 minutes; that wasn’t a big deal for us since we left plenty of time, but you definitely don’t want to cut flights tight, or else you might be in trouble

Air Tahiti bottom line

Air Tahiti offers reliable service on comfortable turboprops. Don’t expect much in the way of service — you’ll get juice or coffee, and the flight attendants aren’t particularly friendly — but based on my experience the airline was pretty good operationally.

Personally I prefer the Tahiti system of booking your own inter-island flights over the Maldives system, where they let you know only a few days in advance when your flight will operate.

If you’ve flown Air Tahiti, what was your experience like?

  1. Ironic that Bora Bora is lauded as such a luxury location, with to be expected sky high food and lodging prices, but it has to be accessed by a pathetic ‘Greyhound to Topeka’ flight experience. The plane seems ok, such as it is, for a 55 minute flight. But the hours spent in the unairconditioned airport with “disgusting bathrooms”, and lacking decent food and beverage options, hardly impresses me as a way to celebrate an aspirational vacation.

    Although Tahiti has always been on my bucket list, the overnight flights both ways, with either angled flat J or semi-recline Economy seats, and then this very unpleasant yet expensive connection to Bora Bora, means I’ve never seriously considered actually going there.

    But I’m guessing enough people are willing to put up with all that, (at least once), that the resorts aren’t missing me at all. 😉

  2. Lucky,

    Do you think it is possible to use Priority Pass to access the TN lounge on the international side of the terminal while flying domestically?

  3. @Zich, many small island airports in the South Pacific do not have any formal airport security. Several small airports in rural New Zealand are the same. I love going thru an airport that is so quiet and idyllic that security is completely unnecessary. It’s really pleasant and relaxing.

  4. Similar experience in both Tahiti and bora bora in 2010. I wouldn’t have called the restrooms disgusting but everything else is pretty spot on, to include no security in bora bora.

  5. @ Fan — Nope, totally different part of the terminal, different security checks, and they won’t let you through if you don’t have an international boarding pass.

  6. @Zich- that’s why they have a separate international section at PPT- because they have to screen everyone to international standards, including those who came in on unscreened flights from domestic flights.

  7. Derek, you cannot access PP lounge as it is in terminal 1 international terminal and you won’t a boarding pass showing you are leaving.

  8. I am taking similar flights fromLAX to PPT and land at 5am, but the 730am flight to BOB was full so I am on the 10am flight. Is there anything to do in the airport, or would i be better off checking my bags in and taking a short taxi somewhere in Tahiti?

  9. @trup

    Don’t count on being able to check in bags more than a couple of hours ahead of flights.

    Sat in Melbourne Qantas checkin area for two hours waiting to check in bags for a midnight departure that only opened at 8:30 PM. Checkin was open but Qantas would not accept J class bags more than 3 hours out. Sat steaming when I should have been in the Qantas lounge watching the Men’s Final.

    This seems to be getting pretty standard these days, Thank goodness CX doesn’t do this in HK.

  10. Bora Bora airport sounds very similar to several Caribbean airports. I’ve been to several Caribbean islands including Saba (SAB) and Statia (EUX). No security and no places to sit are common on island airports. But now that several of the Caribbean airports I have visited are under control of Holland. Airports are being updated to EU standards. I love these small island airports, but if your not used to it keep your time to minimum.

    The funny thing is everyone is super excited for the luxury hotel experiences of Bora Bora to only realize their flights are substandard.

  11. I’ve been to Tahiti several times (my parents lived there for a while). The nice thing about Air Tahiti is that you can get a “pass” that includes multiple islands, it’s a cost effective (by Tahitian standards) to see several distant islands like Rangiroa, Fakarava and Raiatea well worth the visit and less over hyped than Bora: Moorea is better seen by taking the ferry from Papeete. Another cool mini trip from Papeete marina is a sailing day to Tetiaroa and the nature preserve there

  12. @Lucky – Just wanted to let you know, in the part of the review where you write the flight information, you wrote “Air Tahiti Nui 402”.

    F.y.i. – That’s probably a mistake I would make too 😉

  13. Given that flights to Bora Bora are every half to one hour from PPT, you can always ask the ground agent to put you on an earlier flight if there is space. No need to wait 2 hrs in the open auditorium.

  14. I flew to 7 different islands from Papeete and none of them have security. Even if you have a bottle of water in your hand, it is not an issue. I absolutely loved that aspect of French Polynesia – I despise transiting the US. Personally I found their planes clean and their attendants friendly. I would not hesitate to recommend them.

  15. Tahiti airport leaves a lot to be desired for. There are two ways to skip the misery of the airport. One is to charter private plane directly from lax to bora bora (from private companies or Four Seaons). That way you can skip the unpleasantness of Tahiti airport all together. Another is if you are going to the Brando, once you get off your plane at Tahiti airport, you can be shuttled to an area next to the airport where the Brando has its own luxury lounge that’s air conditioned and beautifully decorated. Unfortunately you can only use this lounge on your way to the Brando. Upon return to Tahiti, it’s back to the unairconditioned lounge.

  16. I’m surprised those planes have the cargo hold at the front. Generally it is a more comfortable ride on turbo props to ride in front of the wings, from a turbulence perspective. Also, was that other language on those menus korean? If so, surprising.

  17. You don’t have to go that far for no security check. My last flight STT-SJU boarded through a gate that had zero – nothing – nada security – and that’s domestic and lets out airside at an international airport!

  18. @Kevin
    Even flying private, you need to transit PPT once. If you fly private to BOB, you need to stop through PPT as all international departures must be from there. Yes, you wouldn’t need to spend a lot of time in the airport, but you would need to stop through.

    It is nice the FBO will arrange immigration at the individual islands upon arrival.

  19. Have only been to Moorea but I cannot wait to go to Bora Bora. I absolutely loved everything about Tahiti except mosquitos. I would suggest everyone should go but I loved most that nothing is crowded there. The people and the water are inviting and everyday was truly paradise! I took a shower at the airport, and although there was only one it was perfectly clean. Mauruuru!

  20. There’s no security checks for domestic flights in New Zealand – you clear customs and immigration in Auckland and, following a painted line, can walk outside maybe a half mile to the domestic terminal where you self-check in luggage for the domestic flight and hit the coffee shop. When the flight is called, you simply scan your boarding card at the gate and head across the tarmac to the door of your Air NZ ATR72 or Dash 8. They occasionally board the ‘main trunk’ (main city) A320s and odd high-seasonal-demand (or repositioning) 772s via air bridges. The regional airports are just as simple as Bora Bora. In-flight service can be as limited as a plastic glass of water on a 40-minute coastal hop.

    Late 80s, Continental, before or after one of its regular Chapter 11 episodes, used to do LAX-PPT-AKL (I think the DC-10s then rotated to Australia and returned to Auckland for an evening return to LAX). I recall the stop in Papeete on a LGW-LAX-AKL trip – the first and still only open air transit lounge I ever experienced. After 6 months of English winter, a couple hours in warm, humid sunshine sure hit the spot. Can’t remember what the refreshment options or loos were like…

  21. Extremely accurate review. One thing I would add, when you have to wait in the airport on your return leg, bring bug spray. We had an evening return flight to Papeete and the mosquitos were having a meal of us while we waited.

  22. Neal Verdick reminds me of numerous 1970s and 80s trips to NZ where the first officials on after the door opened at the gate were ‘Ag and Fish’ guys with huge aerosols who sprayed the entire cabin with bug killer before we were all allowed off. And woe betide you if they caught you trying to sneak any fruit or veges in without declaring them (they were usually confiscated anyway).

    Do such sprays still happen these days?

  23. Those bench seats are similar to the ones Cebgo Air flies on their ATR-72 around the Philippines. I flew on one from Manilla to Coron.

    It is a weird feeling of not having to go through security. I too experienced this in Auckland when flying to Rotorua.

  24. I like the atr 72. i was near the wing edg-dub on ei and didn’t think the sound was signifcantly different from a jet w wing engines.

  25. @Fred M, are you talking about NZ or Tahiti? New Zealand (and Australia) still has extremely tight biosecurity, but theres no spraying. Spraying occurs in other places, though, such as Jamaica and Ethiopia. (In the latter it is to avoid spreading of mosquitoes carrying yellow fever, from what I understand.)

  26. @Lars – NZ. I remember guys coming thru spraying the cabin before we were let off then the practice stopped. You’re right about biosecurity, many visitors, especially from Asia, get stopped with fresh fruit and veges in luggage. NZ also requires medication in factory packaging and a copy of the prescription for it.

  27. We are here in Bora Bora now… it’s raining this evening so a perfect time to catch up on some reviews and recover from the sun and absolutely amazing beauty of nature. These are the things we strive for to make up for the less than perfect experience of getting to this incredible destination! The transition from Air Tahiti Nui to Air Tahiti was a bit more painful for us, as we had checked bags to collect first, then changed into more appropriate attire and finally made our way to the ridiculous line at the check in counter, which by 5:45 am was already way past the check in ropes. Neither of the two lines (one for online check in and bag drop, the other for check in) was moving at all, and I was seriously concerned we would miss our 7:15 am connection. Note to those checking in online, this is only available 16 hrs ahead of the flight time, so given the time change traveling from US and prior travel to departure point, you may be able to check in online but won’t be able to PRINT your boarding passes which forces you into the regular check in line. We did finally make it through to only have to wait again in the security line, and watch as others with earlier flights (there’s a 6:30am) get shuttled through in front of everyone. This did however make the wait in the airside terminal short. The flight itself was perfectly fine. The best ride is at the very from of the plane ahead of the wing, although this is the farthest from the rear entry door and you’ll have to be at the front of the line to get a seat.

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