Sasha Wood

The new Tahitian Dreamliner is a mirror image of its idyllic island home, writes Sasha Wood

When your home hub is as idyllic as French Polynesia, it makes sense to bring the outside in. And Air Tahiti Nui has done just that with its newly-designed Boeing 787-900 Dreamliner fleet. As well as launching Air Tahiti’s first ever Premium Economy cabin, the airline has introduced a new cabin concept reflecting the tropical colours and shapes of Tahiti.

Pacific spirit

Carrying the dreamy blue hues of the South Pacific and the floral island insignia, the new fleet launched in spring between Paris and the Tahitian capital Papeete, where the airline is based.

The airline wanted its new Dreamliner fleet to represent a renewed spirit. Director for France and Europe, Jean Marc Hastings, says: “Our objective was to capture the heart and soul of Tahiti.”

For this, the carrier consulted brand agency Future Brand: “To understand our brand, they visited our islands, met stakeholders including our clients, tourism partners, local artists, storytellers and of course our own staff,” says Hastings.

A key concept reflected in the redesign is the Polynesian idea of ‘mana’, which Hastings waxes lyrical about: “It’s the luster of the black pearl, the unique recipe of a family’s monoi oil, the iridescent shimmer of rainbow fish, the melody from a ukulele rolling gently through palm leaves…” he says.

The main inspiration was Bora Bora’s muchphotographed turquoise lagoon, famous for its manta ray ballet, with different shades of blue reflecting the bright skies and dark sapphire seas beyond the outer reef. Two parallel thin red lines represent the nation’s flag to signify the islanders and French Polynesia’s 118 islands.

Artist impression

A symbol of Tahiti and the airline’s insignia, the fragrant tiare flower takes pride of place on the aircrafts’ tail designed by Tahitian artist Alexander Lee. The local custom of giving the flowers to guests has been extended to international flights, with passengers now handed tiares to evoke the destination the moment they step inside the cabin.

Another inspiration was the artwork of French post-impressionist Gauguin, who lived on the islands in the late 19th century and produced paintings of local life. Reproductions of his works can be found in the new cabins, and Gauguin’s palette is reflected in the lighting and interiors.

The bold use of colour and symbolism by avantgarde artists such as Picasso and Matisse also influenced the cabin refresh. Matisse-style shapes called ‘tattoos’ decorate the livery and cabins. Each symbolises an aspect of island life – ocean waves, a fish hook, the watchful Tiki eye, and creatures associated with French Polynesia.

Cabin cushions incorporate Tahitian patchwork techniques, with the rainbow of colourful cushions in Economy an echo of exotic flowers. Blue leather and beige amenity kits in Business are embossed with the patterns from Polynesian arts and crafts.

Sweet dreams

But it’s not just the colours and patterns of the aircrafts’ interiors that reflect Tahiti, the plane’s higher cabin humidity even emulates the Tahitian tropics, with the added benefit of preventing passengers’ skin becoming dry.

With the help of innovation agency Teague, which has designed several Boeing interiors, the carrier installed adjustable LED lighting to recreate the island mood. For overnight flights passengers are gently woken in the morning with Gauguin-inspired pink and mauve light, while dinner is served with ‘Tahitian Bliss’ sunset lighting.

The aircrafts’ design and three-class configuration is also completely new. It’s more airy inside with a vaulted ceiling and vertical sidewalls for extra space. Windows are 80% larger, all the better to see the archipelago’s awe-inspiring aerial views.

In the new Business cabin, named Poerava after the Tahitian dance, passengers can settle into 30 roomy seats in a 2-2-2 formation, with 180-degree full-flat bed seats. Newest to the mix is Air Tahiti’s Moana Premium Economy cabin, with 38-inch pitch, reclining seats offering extra leg room and space.

Big ideas

The redesign took three years, but the little airline wasn’t afraid to think big. “The Nui in our name literally means ‘big’, but Tahitians know Nui can also mean ‘grand’ and ‘great’ which captures aspects of our adventurous spirit,” says Hastings.

“For the past three years driving this project forward, we have charted our course for the next 20 years.”