Flying from Auckland to Noumea with Aircalin

Hamish Fletcher flies aboard Aircalin’s flight SB411 from Auckland to Noumea.

The plane:

An A320 — it had clearly done some air miles but the plane was in good condition.

The class: Hibiscus Class (what Aircalin calls its business-equivalent service)
Flight time: It’s just 2hr 40m — Noumea is closer than many Australian cities.

My seat: 1D — 54cm-wide with ample leg room, on the aisle and close to an attentive steward.

For reasons I can’t explain I chose to stay there rather than move to the empty window seat.

Price: Hibiscus Class return fares start from $2235. Fellow passengers: Aloof, quiet, and sparse — Hibiscus class was only half full.

Entertainment: The let-down of the journey.

While iPads are distributed up the front of the plane, Aircalin operates a BYOD (bring your own device) policy for most passengers and requires you to download an app to watch the inflight entertainment. Don’t bother. The smattering of films and individual episodes of television shows weren’t up to scratch in an age where customers are used to endless streaming choices. I chose to read instead.

Food and drink: Our mid-afternoon lunch had the feel of French home-cooking and was one of the best meals I’ve ever enjoyed at 30,000 feet. I opted for beef in jus, with a side of buttery potatoes.

It was tender, piping hot and a highlight of this quick jaunt.

The drinks list was also impressive: a handful of French wines, whisky, cognac, gin, rim, vodka, a collection of international beers and brandy as a digestive.

The service: Pleasant and swift. The staff spoke perfect English (given their accents, I assume their French is top-notch too).

The toilets: Clean throughout the flight, but you’d be worried if it wasn’t given the number of people using it.

Luggage: 23kg checked (in both Hibiscus and Economy). Hibiscus-class passengers can bring 12kg of luggage into the cabin while Economy passengers’ carry-on is 7kg.

The airport experience: Size does matter. Small airports mean you’re through Customs quickly and aren’t ever queuing for long. La Tontouta International Airport may lack some of the Ritz of a big hub but was clean and efficient.

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