Aircalin flight took me on a largely delightful trip from Singapore to Noumea but there were some chaotic glitches.
Société Aircalin, also known as Air Calédonie International, is the flag carrier of the French collectivity of New Caledonia, with its headquarters in Nouméa. This small regional airline operates flights to various destinations across the Asia-Pacific region, including Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and French Polynesia.
Air Calin operates a fleet of modern Airbus aircraft, including the A330-900neo and A320neo. The beautiful A330-900neo is the flagship aircraft of Air Calin’s fleet, and it accommodates 292 passengers with 244 in Economy, 21 in Premium Economy and 26 lie-flat seats in Hibiscus Business Class which is where I flew. Their A320neo narrow-body aircraft can seat up to 186 passengers.
I found a very economical business class ticket which I snapped up as I have wanted to try Air Calin. It meant a diversion via Noumea which was also a bonus. Points were credited back to my Air France Flying Blue program. This is probably one of my least used Frequent flyer schemes.
Check-in was very chaotic and almost shambolic. There were people scattered across the Boarding area, negotiations with passengers and check in staff taking place in the check in lines. I have checked in more times than I have had hot dinners and I was momentarily confused and perplexed. I used the sole Business line and stood behind a staff member and her partner who was negotiating how best to use her free trip allowance for this flight. This whilst I, a revenue passenger stood behind her listening to the exchange.
The agent when he got to me, explained that an Air France flight had been cancelled, and they had shifted their passengers onto my flight. I am not sure which AF flight he meant because they don’t fly that sector. This meant my flight was now completely full. He was helpful and friendly but very harassed. It was not a great introduction to the airline.
After Check-In, I had a quick explore of Singapore Airport’s Jewel Changi connected via walkway to Terminals 2 and 3. This ten-storey dome contains a sparkling mix of restaurants, shops and the 40-metre-high Rain Vortex which is (of course) the world’s largest indoor waterfall surrounded by the 2,000 trees of the Forest Valley.
After the Jewel, any lounge In Singapore would be a letdown. Even so, the airport has some great lounges. The Marhaba Lounge in Terminal Three that, Air Calin uses, isn’t one of them. its a very standard pedestrian lounge with lovely staff, a few hot food items, basic bar mixers and one shower in each lavatory. To be honest, I was very tempted to stay in the Jewel and have a Shake shack burger!
I found the lounge, in Nouméa, to be tiny and uninteresting with very basic food but a nice selection of wine. The staff were dismally unwelcoming.
I arrived at the Gate in Singapore’s terminal 3, well after boarding had started and witnessed another scene of semi-chaos. I joined the business line, however, and was immediately served.
I was very surprised when after handing my boarding pass to the agent, I heard the gate pass reader machine sound its little “seat change beep”. The agent then tore up my boarding pass and handed me a new pre-printed pass with zero explanation. I looked at the pass and saw that I had indeed been moved to another seat.
I had specifically chosen my seat 7A as it was the last row in the cabin and was one of the window seats in Air Calin’s staggered layout. I was now in an aisle seat which was a perfectly fine seat. However, I had specifically wanted a window side seat and the slight sense of greater privacy that it gives. I calmly and firmly questioned the change. The gate supervisor immediately took my boarding card and took charge. Overhearing his conversation, I gathered a staff member had been placed in my seat. The supervisor was insistently asking why a non-revenue person had been prioritised over a fare-paying passenger. He was not happy with the situation. He restored my seat, gave me a replacement Boarding pass and profusely apologised.
When on board, I saw a uniformed Air Calin maintenance crew member slide into the seat I had been moved to (and moved away from). That was a very curious process. It has never happened to me before. There appeared to be a number of Air Calin crew on board and a number of upgraded passengers because of the full flight situation. I think I may have been one of very few in the cabin who actually paid for a business-class seat (admittedly, I had got a great deal).
Stepping onto the plane, however, was like stepping into a calm, beautiful paradise. I was warmly welcomed in French and English by the delightful heard working Nouméa based crew. Their service was fabulous.
The Business Class cabin features lie-flat seats in 1 -2-1 that are designed for maximum comfort during long flights. The seats have a pitch of 55 inches, and a width of 21 inches, and can recline up to 160 degrees. The seats also had a retractable divider, adjustable reading lamps and charging ports. I had a very comfortable sleeping experience.
The Business Class cabin also offers an entertainment system, featuring a personal very responsive touch screen with a good range of English and French and Japanese movies, TV shows, and music. Noise-canceling headphones were provided but I used my own.
The meal was amazing, served on nice china, with an excellent choice of wines (as you would expect). The staff worked their butts off cheerfully getting food choices in English and Français to passengers.
Air Calin has an excellent safety record, with no major incidents or accidents reported in recent years. The airline operates a modern fleet of aircraft, and its pilots and crew are highly trained and experienced. Air Calin follows the European safety standards and complies with regular aircraft maintenance and safety inspections. It has been given 6/7 by Airline Ratings with the missing criteria being a lack of compliance with Covid 19 safety protocols. For example, masks are not required on board and the cabin crew didn’t wear them, reflecting the French laissez Faire attitude?
Overall Rating: 87%
Air Calin is a relatively small and less-known airline whose on board service punched above its weight while ground service was either basic or chaotic. The airline has also received positive reviews on travel review websites such as TripAdvisor, with many customers praising the airline’s friendly service. It has a modest social media presence, with around 20,000 followers on Facebook and 6,000 followers on Instagram.
My ratings are:
- Booking: 10/10
- Check-in: 6/10
- Boarding: 6/10
- Meals: 9/10
- Entertainment: 7/10
- Service: 10/10
Would I fly them again? Yes -especially if the price was right again!
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