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October 15, 2008

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                                 L.A. To Tahiti

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Iaorana! This week we're coming to you from the islands of Tahiti! That's right! I just landed in Papeete, which is on the island of Tahiti in French Polynesia. Did you know that French Polynesia is an archipelago made up of 118 islands and atolls? They are so spread out that the total area they cover is equivalent to the size of Europe! But if you put all the islands together, they would only make up a landmass slightly larger than the state of Rhode Island. It's crazy, isn't it? If you want to get away from all the economic strife here in the United States, then this might very well be the place for you. Join us for this four-island journey. We begin with our flight from LAX aboard one of my favorite airlines. If you're looking for something a little different, join Matt Wilson as he explores travel close to his home in Seattle. He takes us to Kirkland and Port Ludlow, Washington. Also this week, our resident book reviewer Dave Zuchowski offers armchair travelers the chance to get better acquainted with Europe in one day. His review of The Europe Book: A Journey Through Every Country on the Continent will make you want to hop on a plane. Now!

Check out for special deals to Tahiti!

I fell in love with Air Tahiti Nui five years ago when I visited the South Pacific for my very first time. I loved everything about the airline: the aircraft's colors, how the flight attendants were all young, beautiful and friendly and how they changed their outfits three times throughout the flight. Basically, they had me when they went down the aisle handing each passenger (no matter which class of service they were sitting in) a fresh Tiare Tahiti gardenia. Air Tahiti Nui began flying in 1998 and they now have five A340-300 airplanes. These wide-body, two-aisle, three-class planes hold 294 passengers (six first class, 24 business and 264 economy). They fly nonstop between Papeete and Los Angeles, Auckland, Sydney and Tokyo. They also fly four times a week from Los Angeles to Paris' Charles de Gaulle International Airport, which most people don't realize. They also offer a nonstop flight to Papeete from New York's JFK but it's a seasonal flight and will begin again in April 2009.

Natalie and I showed up to LAX at 2:45pm for a 4:10pm flight. There was absolutely no line at the check-in counter. The friendly agent said that the flight was delayed by an hour, which kind of irked me because just a few minutes earlier I'd logged on to and it said the flight was on time. I then looked up at the departure board and it too read on time. Just to make sure she wasn't mistaken, we went straight to the gate. We didn't check bags since there's no problem bringing two carry-ons aboard; there's plenty of overhead space. There was no line at security and the TSA didn't catch my 4-oz sunscreen. The limit is 3oz but that's the size my Brazilian Bronze sunscreen comes in. Besides, it's such a stupid rule, I rarely obey it ... nor do I get caught. The Tom Bradley Terminal is currently undergoing a $723 million overhaul so the place is a mess. But regardless, I always love flying out of here because it means I'm going somewhere really cool and far away. The planned designs depicted on the posters don't make the new renovations seem all that appealing or different. It's being done in phases and our departure gate (104) was one of the few already completed. To be honest, it's not that special, which is disappointing. To see for yourself, here's the LAX Master Plan website.

Sure enough, the ticketing agent was right. We were late but Air Tahiti Nui didn't make any announcements or even change the departure time on the airport monitors. I hate when airlines keep passengers in the dark and I'm sure others do too as I saw more than one couple make a mad dash to the gate thinking they were really late, only to grab a seat (next to me) huffing and puffing. I later found out from the gate agent that the plane was late because it had just come in from Paris so not only did they have to refuel but all the passengers who were transiting to French Polynesia had go through U.S. customs even though they were not visiting America. Why can't LAX be like most international airports (like those in Amsterdam, Tokyo, Hong Kong ...) and allow connecting passengers to roam around free and only process them if they leave the building? If these people were connecting to another airline they would've missed their flight because of this dumb system.

When it was time to go, an agent got on the PA and asked all business and first class passengers to be patient while they boarded economy first. That's a first. Every Air Tahiti Nui plane is named after one of their islands and we were on Bora Bora. The planes are still really nice, both inside and out. One of the coolest things, besides the light blue and yellow seats, is they have a Paul Gauguin painting hanging at the back of each cabin on the galley walls. Natalie and I were seated in row 15 (economy), which is five rows from the business class cabin, but it was probably the one seat on the plane that didn't have a window; we could only see out of our neighbor's window when we reclined. The seating configuration in economy is 2-4-2 and almost every seat was taken. Most passengers were Italian or French honeymooners but there were some families and crying babies. Like most airlines, the economy seats were a bit tight. Actually, it was too tight for me to use my oversized laptop and work. But let me tell you: the moment you step on this plane, the last thing you feel like doing is working. The seats are manageable because they lean back a good distance and each seat has a six-inch screen with eight movies that are continuously running. They aren't on-demand so you have to time it right. They also offer games, music and my favorite, the live map. When I first took Air Tahiti Nui, this entertainment system was state-of-the-art but now it's a bit tired. FYI: Some of the movies on our flight were Sex and the City, Made of Honor and Kung Fu Panda.

I was so glad I'd worn shorts and not long pants because the cabin was pretty warm. However, a few rows back near the bathroom the temperature changed drastically and it was freezing so dress in layers. We pushed back at 5:02pm and took off at 5:28pm. Flight time was eight hours and five minutes and with the three-hour time change (you don't cross the International Date Line), we landed at 10:33pm local time. This trip, the flight attendants didn't come around with a little flower like they'd done in the past but that must have been because the plane had originated in Paris and they probably couldn't get those flowers there. The flight attendants did change their colorful uniforms three times. They walked on with their blue coats, took them off during the safety announcement and then put on brightly colored muumuus until the last food service.

Just after takeoff, the flight attendants handed out little menus and amenity kits that had headphones, socks, an eye mask and earplugs -- a nice touch. They then came around with the food and drink cart. Unfortunately, the food was just okay. The bread rolls were as hard as a rock and the poulet (chicken) dish, didn't have much flavor. But the orange/strawberry cake did! The other option was poisson (fish) and it's served with the cover still on. The problem with that is there's no real room to put the cover. But who am I to complain? First of all, I'm going to Tahiti! Secondly, these days you're just lucky to be getting fed at all. On top of that, they serve free drinks including alcohol. If I had known the flight attendants were going to come down the aisles numerous times throughout the flight with bottled water (unlike Cathay Pacific), I wouldn't have paid $3.24 for a little bottle of Arrowhead. What a rip! The TSA must be getting a kickback for this robbery! The flight was smooth and the stars were out in full force. I love staring out the window on TransPacific flights. Two hours out, they turned on all the cabin lights and said: "Ladies and gentlemen, we hope you hade a good rest. We are two hours away from landing and we will be serving a light meal." I don't know why they do this since everyone is half asleep and it's so late to eat. They should just go down the aisles and hand it out to whoever is up. Overall, the flight was very good and I can see why the crew are recognized as "Best Cabin Staff - Pacific Region" for the sixth straight year by Skytrax.

We arrived into Faa'a International Airport an hour late. They don't have jetways so everyone has to walk down the airplane stairs and then on to customs. There's no shuttle, which is annoying. One advantage of going down the open-air stairs is you get a feel for the destination immediately. And unlike the time I tripped on the stairs in Kona, I paid careful attention to each step so history didn't repeat itself. The French Polynesian government really knows the importance of tourism and give passengers a warm welcome unlike the United States. It begins when a beautiful Tahitian hands each passenger a Tiare Tahiti gardenia the moment they step into the arrivals area (left ear is for married people, right is for singles). There's also a band playing lively Tahitian music. An Air France plane had arrived from LAX just before we did so the line for immigration was long. There was one line for European passports and another for "Other". That's where I was standing until I heard an official ask, "Anyone with American passports?" Surprisingly, just a few said "aye" and we were led to a separate line. That meant we cleared within five minutes of stepping off the plane.

Natalie and I were so stoked we didn't check bags since we cleared so quickly. Walking through the exit, we felt like rock stars since we were one of the first to do so. The arrivals area was packed with excited family members, lovers and tour operators all hoping the next person out was coming to see them. Just like I'd been told, every tour operator had a board with last names written down. However, ours weren't listed on any of them. A cool Italian tour operator and a Tahitian tour operator saw we were lost and asked if we needed help. It wasn't like in Mexico where they are all trying to score your business. These guys genuinely cared, which was refreshing.

Luckily, I had printed my itinerary so it was much easier to refer to it, than having to turn on the computer. TIP: Always print your documents! The tan Italian walked us over to Pacific Tours where we were supposed to be. The gentlemen made a phone call and said no problem, he could give us a ride but we just needed to wait for two other couples. We ended up waiting over an hour. We were the first people out of baggage claim and the last to leave. What a buzz kill! On top of that, our hotel turned out to be just a five-minute drive away, so we could've walked much faster. But who knows how safe Papeete is? Actually, most big island cities aren't that safe and Papeete has half (131,695) of Tahiti's 259,596 inhabitants, so wanting to play it safe, we decided to stick with the taxi. While we waited around, I grabbed some Central Pacific Francs (CFP or XPF). Currently, the conversion is $1 USD = 82 CPF. I took 20,000 CPF out which was $226 USD. The ATM spit out just two large Flintstone-like paper notes (10,000 CPF each). When I got change for buying a small bottle of water (336 CPF = $3.81USD) I found out just how expensive the trip was going to be.

Most people who come to French Polynesia use Papeete as a jumping off point. When they stay here it's usually for a night either because their plane arrived too late or they come in a day before cruising. I really don't know what the island of Tahiti is like because both times I've been here it was just for a few hours. But generally, you always want to get off the main island and spend time on the outer islands. This is true for French Polynesia, Fiji, Seychelles, Maldives, Hawaii ... We spent nine hours at the InterContinental Tahiti Resort and most of it was sleeping. It's a popular hotel because it's just five minutes from the airport and 10 minutes to downtown where the ferry and cruise ships depart. The hotel has three floors over several sprawling buildings and some overwater bungalows. In total, there are 260 guest rooms over 30 acres with two pools and tennis courts. The hotel is nice but you don't want to spend your whole trip here. By the time we arrived, it was midnight (3am CA, 6 am NYC time) so we were beat. We had a lagoon room, which was just perfect so we didn't need to lug our bags all around. My big complaints were that the showerhead was pretty bad and the water temperature kept changing. Also, broadband Internet cost 1,500 ($17 USD) for an hour. And it was slow to boot! The bed was comfortable and I slept well until the roosters woke me up around 6am. But what a treat it was to open those curtains and take in that scenery! Wow! This place is amazing and believe it or not, it's going to get a whole lot better! InternContinental Resort Tahiti, Point Tahiti, PO BOX 6014, Papeete, 00000, French Polynesia, Tel: +689-86-5110.

FYI: I have a Blackberry T-Mobile phone and the boneheads who work there couldn't tell me for sure if my data plan would work in French Polynesia. Well, it doesn't and I'm not so sure that's such a bad thing.

An Amazing Tahiti Deal and Nantucket in the Off-Season

Here's a two-minute Johnny Jet video of my trip to Papeete. We also have all the Johnny Jet videos ever made on YouTube.

The island of Moorea. Stay tuned.

Note: This trip was sponsored by Air Tahiti Nui and Tahiti Tourisme.

*PLEASE tell us what you think of this week's newsletter!

Copyright 2008 JohnnyJet, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Pictures From

The Trip


Matt Wilson: Outside of Seattle Story


Tom Bradley Terminal




Ticket Agents


Gate 104


Air Tahiti Nui


Paul Gauguin Painting


Economy Class


Take Off




Menu & Amenity Kit


Dinner Time!


Chicken Something


ET Phone Home


Second Meal


Welcome To Tahiti


Getting Lei'd


Central Pacific Francs


InterContinental Tahiti Lobby




Comfy Bed


Look At That View


Now That's What I'm Talking About


Breakfast Hostess


Breakfast Band


Local Fruit


A Tahitian




    October 13, 2008 Frommers

  • *If you heard about us somewhere else or have the link to the story please email Johnny Jet media and let us know where!
  • I just wanted to say thank you VERY MUCH for the "product of the week" honors on Johnny Jet. You wrote a very nice intro and judging by our traffic today, it's a topic that hits a sore spot with travelers. Michelle W. -

  • OH-MY-GOSH!!!! I think I love you!!! I am a flight attendant and could NOT have written a more appropriate letter on Airplane Etiquette myself. In spite of the pay cuts and general distress, I still love my job and most of the people I work with and work for. I appreciate letters like yours that help me make our customersí experience a nicer one by thinking of others. I had foolishly allowed my MEDJET expire but your ďMind Your MannersĒ article has put me in such a good mood that I am renewing immediately! Obviously, youíre a very bright Precious Medal (Silver, Gold or Platinum Frequent Flyer). Hope you donít mind if I send your article to everyone that I know! Thanks again. Cindy C

  • Just wanted to say you were right on with your airline etiquette piece. Couldn't agree more. It also shows why you yourself are so great to travel with -- a consummate gentleman all the way. Nora B - New York, NY

  • Johnny Jet - I was laughing out loud and certainly appreciative of your comments. I write a article for a local newspaper bi-weekly and was working on an article with similar recommendations, you have provided a few extra suggestions that I will include. WE need to be heard about plane etiquette! Lynda S

  • I could not agree with you more!!! As a frequent traveler myself, I feel your pain. I have flown the Atlanta/Joíburg 20 hr marathon flight several times and connected there to several diiferent African countries. I have also traveled Europe extensively. I have seen many of the same situations that you have. I have one thing to add though. To all American travelers out there, when in a foreign country please try and take all appropriate steps to not sound like the dumbest American alive. I have heard so many death-defying stories of how someone almost got taken out by a weary warthog, while they were sitting in the safety of a safari truck. And, how they just fit in so perfectly with the locals at the market place, but almost lost their wallet to a pick-pocket. First of all, you did not fit in with the locals. They were nice to you so you would buy something from them. These are people that have grown up in a third world country and have dealt with more famine and strife before 6:00a.m. than you will in your entire life. Also, you are at a tourist market in a third world country, or any country for that matter, there will be pick-pockets there. Prepare for it and deal with. Donít go whining to someone because you didnít have enough common sense to handle yourself. Please try to show our great country in a good light to the rest of the world. If you donít have something intelligent to say then just donít say anything. Thank you!! Brent

  • Thanks so much - I wish everyone did this. Great comments! (And, it brings me up short on lapses of my own). Steve B

  • One of my pet peeves about fellow airplane passengers is the stowage of luggage in the overhead bins. Many airlines board the back rows first. Unfortunately, flight attendants usually do not monitor the placement of luggage in the overhead bins, so some folks just throw theirs in the first empty one they come to. This means that the people boarding last find the bins above their seats already full. Now, this is a real problem, as putting your luggage behind you 20 rows means that you will be the very last person off the aircraft, as you will have to wait for everybody to exit before you can walk back to your luggage. Not to mention that both you and the inconsiderate person who put their luggage 20 rows in front of their seat will not be able to keep an eye on your belongings. Everyone should WANT to stow their luggage in the bin over their own seat for this reason, aloneĖnot to mention being courteous to others. Michael N

  • Lots of great tips here ó thanks! Bob O

  • Another thing to add to the list of Airplane Etiquette is this: Please keep your shoes on. On my last flight the guy in the middle seat took his tennis shoes off at the beginning of the flight. I had to ask him to please put his shoes back on. I did not care to smell his feet for 2 hours or 2 minutes for that matter. Lisa

  • EASY DOES IT:Seat backs coming back are a bother and a threat. Why would the air plane builders make the person in 17 comfortable at risk of discomfor of the person in 18 uncomfortable? I donít get it! David S. B

  • You hit the nail on the head, squarely, twice. The turkey with the pack or bag that smacks each of us on their way past. some times they are good enouth to get the pax on each side of the isle at the same timeÖ.What a JOY. The other jolly traveler is the pax in row 27 that puts his bag over row 6 so he doesnít have to pull it down the isle. We all know overhead space is a premium so guess where the back up is while 6 looking for the allocated overhead spaceÖ..But then you canít beat the views of the Grand Canyon on a x-country. Carl K

  • If the FAA ever allows passengers to use cellphones during flights, I wonít fly commercial anymore. What could be more annoying than to be forced to listen to numerous one-sided conversations around you from New York to LA or from DFW to London. Even the most pricey headphones wonít keep out the din. Judy H

  • Bravo! Unfortunately, those who commit these offenses wonít read this or worse if they do wonít recognize themselves for the most part as they are too self absorbed. Thank you. Eileen Eileen O

  • Unfortunately you are preaching to the choir. The people who need to read this arenít the ones who are. June L.

  • What great advice! I am a tour operator and am going to print this off and give to my clients although I am SURE that not of them would be that rude! Marie E

  • Thanks Johnny for the Mind youíre manners. I agree with everything you mentioned including the brat behind you kicking the *** out of youíre backrest. People are so **** inconsiderate these days it makes you want to stay home. Vacations are for getting UNSTRESSED I thought not the case while flying.The long trips to Europe are the worst!!! Charlie W

  • Why is it that the people that have been seated in the exit row always have to put their seat back? Do they not already have enough extra space? Anne K

  • Good stuff. But the issue is how to make it happen. How about dispensing with the safety info which is meaningless (how to buckle your seat buckle) or ignored and giving some manners tips at the beginning of each flight! :-). Jean-Marc F.

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