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Air Tahiti Nui and United Airlines have announced plans to temporarily suspend flights between the U.S. and French Polynesia, indicating regular service won’t resume until at least April.
In an email to travel advisors sent Tuesday night, Air Tahiti Nui officials said the airline will suspend its nonstop service between Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) and Papeete starting Feb. 14 through March 31.
On Wednesday, United Airlines officials said the carrier will suspend its three-times-weekly flight between San Francisco International Airport and Papeete Feb. 11 through March 31. Travelers booked on now suspended flights to Papeete on either Air Tahiti Nui or United Airlines flights can rebook for later this year without additional charge, according to airline officials.
The service suspension announcements came one week after French Polynesia closed its borders to leisure travelers Feb. 3, a decision made by government officials in France which didn’t offer much warning and surprised many Tahiti tourism stakeholders.
No official date has yet been announced by the French government for tourism to resume to its overseas territories, including French Polynesia, but some hope appears to be building among those in the Tahiti visitor industry about an April restart for leisure travel to the destination.
“We are very confident about an April 1 reopening,” said Nicholas Panza, Air Tahiti Nui’s vice president for the Americas. “Our confidence comes from the fact that essentially the whole hotel industry in French Polynesia has shut down only through the end of March.”
Panza also pointed to comments made Feb. 2 by French Polynesian President Edouard Fritch, indicating his administration also has an April tourism restart in mind and will urge French government officials to lift the leisure travel ban then.
The government of French Polynesia will ask that this closure last a maximum of two months.
“The government of French Polynesia will ask that this closure last a maximum of two months,” Fritch said at a press conference in Papeete Feb. 2.
French officials said late last month that concerns about the highly infectious nature of new COVID-19 variants prompted their decision to restrict leisure travel in France and its overseas territories.
"This closure cannot exceed three months,” Fritch also said on Feb. 2. “Beyond that, it will not be COVID variants that will kill us, but economic crisis, unemployment and bankruptcy.”
According to officials at Tahiti Tourisme U.S., 10 hotels and resorts across French Polynesia are now closed but have announced plans to reopen April 1, including the Sofitel Kia Ora Moorea Beach Resort, The Brando on Tetiaroa and the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora.
“We are currently accepting reservations for April 1 and beyond,” said Diego Stembert, general manager for the Four Seasons Resort Bora Bora, in a statement Wednesday. “And we look forward to welcoming guests back to our private island experience soon.”
Not all of French Polynesia’s properties have decided to close, however, including Le Nuku Hiva by Pearl Resorts and Le Tikehau by Pearl Resorts, which plan to remain open for local and business tourism, according to property officials.
But realistically, much of the uncertainty probably won’t be lifted until around the summer timeframe.
David Hu, president of Classic Vacations, said Wednesday that the luxury wholesaler has been telling customers that opportunities to vacation again in French Polynesia may not be too far off.
"We’re telling people that they can think about April 1,” Hu said. “But realistically, much of the uncertainty probably won’t be lifted until around the summer timeframe.”
Panza was a bit more bullish, meanwhile, but he too conceded that it’s tough to be absolutely certain about anything these days.
“According to my booking report at the end of the day last Friday, we’re holding steady in April, and we have some growth in May and June, so there is consumer demand and people want to go,” Panza said of Air Tahiti Nui’s flights from LAX to Papeete. “We feel confident enough about April to have our flights open and our schedules open, but I have to say it is a dynamic situation, and yes, it could slip, but the worst case we would see is May 1.”
The DetailsAir Tahiti Nuiwww.airtahitinui.com