Monday, February 10, 2014

Air Tahiti Monopoly – Suck it Up!

Flying internationally has never caused me any grief in regards to baggage allowance. Sure, the days of being able to bring two 25kg (50 lbs) free bags with you as checked luggage are mostly over, but any respectable airline carrying you over an ocean, allows their passengers to check one bag of 25kg (50 lbs) for free, no problem, even if it is packed to the brim. Flying from and back to Tahiti – through the US and the UK – therefore did not prove to be a worry or a hassle on Air France, Virgin Atlantic and British Airways. The issue on my way back home arose for the last leg Nuku Hiva – Tahiti.

The checked baggage allowance on Air Tahiti (to Tahiti and elsewhere within French Polynesia) is a mere 10 kg (20 lbs)! Yes, we are talking about the luggage which is being stowed in the bowel of the airplane. If you prove that you have a connecting international flight within days of arriving in Tahiti, you buy a return ticket and you arrange for your file to be adjusted in the computer, Air Tahiti allows you to check 20 kg (40 lbs) of luggage. Much better, but… still 5 kg or 10 lbs less than what every visitor to the islands bring from home or what they assume is allowed. When I made all my arrangements for the trip to Tahiti in Nuku Hiva, nobody mentioned anything about carry-ons.

The flights from Belgium to Tahiti were long; the lay-overs as well. By the time I wanted to check in with Air Tahiti for my last leg of the journey, I was tired. While the previous check-ins and flights went smooth, with no issues in regards to my big duffel bag, my regular sized carry-on and my laptop bag, at the desk of Air Tahiti, in the airport of Faaa (Tahiti), I came to a stop. And, so did other tourists. My duffel bag weighed 22 kg (44 lbs), so 2 kg or 4 lbs too much. Then, the employee wanted to see my carry-on, which fits in the normal overhead bins of other airplanes. Without blinking, she told me this item was not allowed in the cabin of the plane (even though I left Nuku Hiva with it in the cabin of the same Air Tahiti plane) and that I had to check it. On top of the restricted size for this flight, the allowed weight for a carry-on is... 3 kg (6 lbs)! Mine weighed 18 kg (36 lbs). With a blank face, she told me I owed her the equivalent of $160 in overweight charges!

I complained. Other tourists did as well, after the first shock of this unwelcome news, but all paid the required fees, rather promptly. I did not. I tried all the arguments I could find – how unfair this is to someone who arrived on connecting flights allowing this luggage arrangement, how it was not an issue on the leg TO Tahiti, how none-obese people should not have to suffer from the adjusted luggage allowance limits conducted every three years and getting 5 kg (10 lbs) less each time, how the weight issue must not be much of an issue if you can get everything on the plane anyway, as long as you pay huge amounts of money for it, how – if weight was such a problem – they should weigh passengers AND their luggage together and come up with a total allowance (South Pacific people are known to be relatively heavy)  - to no avail.

Appalled by the ridiculous and mandatory fee, I uttered again how expensive the plane ticket was to begin with (over $700 for a three hour flight) and that the overweight charge really was a lot of money. Then, the woman at the desk mentioned that I could try to check my carry-on bag as cargo. Time was running out, but I managed to find the freight department and – to make a crazy expensive story a tad less expensive – shipped my carry-on as “cargo” with the same plane for about $110. I could have sent the luggage on the next day’s flight for about $60, but… then all the chocolaty contents would have melted! The plane from Tahiti to Nuku Hiva carried about 20 passengers, spread out over 70 seats, bringing the empty seat – paying passenger ratio to 3:1 …

When there is no competition or customer consideration, companies like Air Tahiti can charge what they want and take advantage of every chance to do so! My recommendation for cruisers wanting to fly to their home countries or for guests to come visit, is to wait until the boat is in Tahiti.

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