Thursday, 16 February 2017

Booking Interisland Flights with Air Tahiti in French Polynesia

A motu in Maupiti

When one wants to fly from the main island in French Polynesia, Tahiti, to any of the islands that have an airport, Air Tahiti (not to be confused with Air Tahiti Nui which flies from LAX to Papeete in Tahiti, but doesn't do interisland flights in French Polynesia) is the airline that you'll use (unless you're booking with private helicopter companies, etc.).  Air Tahiti flies to many, many, many different islands in French Polynesia (French Polynesia has about 118 different islands, but only around half of those are inhabited).

Fresh pineapple juice on Air Tahiti.

Air Tahiti has come a long way since I first flew it in 1991 (I flew from Moorea to Tahiti with my family on my first visit to French Polynesia). For instance, now there is an online booking system that customers and travel agents can use. But the online booking system leaves something to be desired. Or at least it did for me when I was trying to book our interisland flights using one of the flight pass deals that Air Tahiti offers.
On our honeymoon we took several Air Tahiti flights.

Normally when one books with Air Tahiti, there is a price per flight, however, Air Tahiti offer various flight passes that offer significant savings to people wanting to visit several islands in French Polynesia.

The last time we visited French Polynesia, we used Air Tahiti to fly from Tahiti to Huahine, to Raiatea (then we took a boat to visit Taha'a and back to Raiatea to catch our next flight), then to Maupiti, and finally back to Tahiti to fly home.

Sunrise in Tahiti.
This trip, we wanted to throw in some new islands, one new island in the Society Islands and then try some of the islands in the Tuamotu archipelago to the north of the Society Islands (French Polyneisa is made of many, many islands spread over several archipelagos including the Society Islands, Tuamotus, Gambier, Marquesas, and Austral). There are various flight passes to choose from that allow different combinations of islands and archipelagos. The one we settled on was called the Bora Bora- Tuamotu pass (this allows one to visit Moorea, Huahine, Raiatea, Maupiti, Bora Bora, Rangiroa, Tikehau, and Fakarava). This pass was perfect for us as it allowed us to visit the islands that we wanted to in the Society Islands (Huahine and Bora Bora), as well as a few of the main Tuamotu islands (Fakarava, Rangiroa, and Tikehau).

The trick to the flight pass is that islands have to be visited in a certain order and backtracking is not allowed to either Tahiti or any other island (with exceptions). That can get complicated in some of the outer islands that have less frequent flights and can only be visited by passing through another island. For our Bora Bora-Tuamotu flight pass, we had to visit all the Society Islands that we wanted to visit first before moving onto the Tuamotu islands. No backtracking through any island is allowed and if you land on an island and you're there for over 2 hours (even waiting to catch the flight to the next island) you can can't go back to that island for an actual visit.  Some of the smaller Tuamotu islands only have flights in and out on certain days, so it makes scheduling a real challenge.

The Air Tahiti online booking system was somewhat frustrating to use. Once I had worked out which order we had to visit the islands and on which days we had to take flights to various islands and then back to Tahit,i I tried to book online, but the system would not recognize the flight pass pricing (with a flight pass there is a set price you pay no matter how many islands in the pass you visit, as opposed to paying for each separate flight). Instead of charging me 517.90 Euros per person, the system was trying to charge me about four times that based on the number of flights I had scheduled for my husband and me (tough to say exactly how much more because while the flight pass is priced in Euros, the individual flights are priced in XFP or CFP or French Pacific Franc, the currency of French Polynesia, so I only did a rough conversion).

A lookout in Huahine.
Unfortunately, Air Tahiti has no phone number on their website to contact them. There is only a contact form to fill in online and then wait for up to several days for them to contact you back. However, luckily on online travel forums I found their phone number and an email address. I initially tried to email them to ask if someone could help me schedule the flights and correctly charge me for the flight pass. As I was nervous that some of the flights would sell out (and my carefully ordered vacation would be destroyed), I called Air Tahiti the next morning, having not heard back. For anyone looking for their phone number, it is (689) 40-86-42-42. Their email is

I was prepared to speak French if needed, but it made me nervous in case my rusty French betrayed me and ruined my careful flight schedule (plus I wanted someone to look over this flight schedule to make sure it both worked and fit within the very technical perameters of the Bora Bora- Tuamotu pass). My fear was for nothing though. The recording allows you to choose French or English. The Air Tahiti agent I was connected to spoke English, so I didn't have to exhaust myself trying to schedule seven different flights in French. She was able to book all seven flights for my husband and me. Then she was able to send me an email with a secure payment link, so that I could pay for the two flight passes by credit card online (they don't take credit cards over the phone she told me). After I received this email I was able to pay easily. I had a booking reference number that she gave me, so I could look up my flights in their online system and they were all there.

The airport in Huahine.
Here is a list of our flights in the order they occur (it takes two flights to get to Fakarava from Bora Bora, ie. we have to pass through Rangiroa, but since we aren't there for over two hours, we can return there after Fakarava for an actual stay on Rangiroa):

13MAR VT 272   PPT-PAPEETE, SOC. IS.   0930  HUH-HUAHINE, SOC. IS.   Y -OK  23K
               TERMINAL D1                                   ARRIVAL:1035    

20MAR VT 272   HUH-HUAHINE, SOC. IS.   1050  BOB-BORA BORA           Y -OK  23K





                                             TERMINAL D1     ARRIVAL:1050    

So, from Tahiti (we stay one night), we go to Huahine (7 nights), then we go to Bora Bora (2 nights), Fakarava (3 nights), Rangiroa (2 nights), and then Tikeuhau (5 nights), before returning to Tahiti to spend one last night before returning to Canada (via LAX).

Now that our complicated interisland flight schedule is sorted out, it's time to book the accommodations. . . .

Sunrise over Maupiti.

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