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A Portuguese Flying Adventure: Flying TAP Air Portugal on Its Newest Airbus Products
Out of all the airlines in Western Europe, TAP Air Portugal is arguably the most ambitious. Though in existence for 75 years this March, the airline has just recently embarked on a revitalization and rebranding campaign to better establish itself in the highly-competitive European market.
Entering the 2010s as of the few remaining state-owned airlines in Europe, TAP turned to the private sector to help bring it back to life. Selling a majority stake in the company to a consortium lead by Brazilian-American airline maverick David Neeleman in 2015, which was soon after reduced to a 45 percent stake, the airline began its quest and has since been on a steady rise upward.
While already skilled in connecting Brazil with Portugal, two countries linked by a shared heritage and language, with connections to greater Europe, the airline set its sights on North America. Following Neeleman’s entrance, services to the East Coast cities of New York and Boston were upgraded to daily frequencies and given the airline’s newest aircraft at the time, the Airbus A330-200.
Soon after the arrival of Neeleman, TAP embarked on a fleet renewal to grow and modernize its fleet both with widebodies and narrowbodies. Sticking with Airbus, the first two aircraft the airline ordered were some of the manufacturer’s newest: the Airbus A330-900neo and A320neo.
In what was regarded as the rebirth of the airline, TAP Air Portugal became the launch operator of the Airbus A330-900neo when it took delivery of the aircraft just over a year ago at Airbus’ facility in Toulouse, France. The aircraft was revolutionary for the airline on numerous fronts as it provided customers with a fresh, modern product in each class and the airline with a fuel-efficient aircraft that offered lower operating costs and greater customer satisfaction.
The airline has since become the world’s only operator of every Neo variant currently flying also adding the Airbus A321neo and Airbus A321neoLR to its fleet starting in 2018. The former primarily serves intra-European routes to high-demand destinations including London, Rome, Zurich and Geneva, while the latter operates on transatlantic routes to North and South America.
Each of TAP’s aircraft, new and old, are also featuring new products, especially in business class. The Airbus A330-900neo introduced a new seat type in business class, the Recaro 6710, while its current generation Airbus A330-200 aircraft feature Thompson Aero Vantage seats, moving away from the paired configuration that once dominated TAP’s widebody fleet.
On the Airbus A321neoLR fleet, the airline chose the Thompson Aero Vantage for the 16-seat business class cabin as well. The seats feature a mixture of paired and solo seats as opposed to a high-density paired configuration found in the business class cabins of other Airbus A321 aircraft.
With TAP flying its newest long-haul aircraft on routes between Portugal and the New York area, as well as between Lisbon and Rome, AirlineGeeks decided to give them all a try on one trip in business class.
New York to Lisbon: Airbus A330-900neo
The first flight of the 5-leg itinerary would be on one of TAP Air Portugal’s most popular North American routes, New York to Lisbon. One of the first North American destinations to see daily service following the semi-privatization of the airline in 2015, New York has since grown into a reliable TAP stronghold with the airline offering three flights a day between the city’s area airports and Portugal.
Shortly after taking delivery of the aircraft and debuting it on the Lisbon-Sao Paolo route, New York became a recipient of the Airbus A330-900neo with TAP being the first airline to bring it to the city. The aircraft replaced the Airbus A330-300 on the route, with the aircraft since being retired by TAP as part of the fleet modernization and consolidation.
The daily service between Lisbon and New York departs from the Portuguese capital at 5:00 p.m. as TP209 and arrives in New York at 8:00 p.m. The return service that would be bringing me to Lisbon then departs New York at 11:30 p.m. as TP208 and arrives in Lisbon at 11:05 a.m.
One of only two carriers serving Europe to do so, TAP uses Terminal 5 at JFK Airport. The terminal is primarily used by JetBlue Airways, coincidentally founded by David Neeleman, and TAP is one of five airlines that operates from it, making it ideal when departing for Europe.
The terminal, recently upgraded with an international wing that houses a federal inspection station and Airbus A330-capable gates, is mostly quiet at the time of TAP’s departure to Lisbon, save for a few late-night JetBlue international departures, allowing for a largely hassle-free check-in process. I arrived at TAP’s check-in desk, located at the first door of the terminal, just under two hours before departure and was greeted with no lines and friendly check-in agents.
The check-in area is divided into two lines, one for economy class and the other for premium class. After a quick look at my passport and inquiry on my final destination, I was off with boarding pass in hand. Although in business class, my carry-on bag still needed to be weighed to ensure it didn’t exceed the airline’s restrictions of 70 pounds.
To reduce expenses and paper usage, TAP combines boarding passes on connecting itineraries into a single boarding pass. The airline also offers online check-in with the option to have boarding passes emailed, SMS messaged or added to the phone’s wallet.
With my passes to Lisbon and Rome in hand, I headed to the security checkpoint located near adjacent to TAP’s check-in desk. As the airline participates in the Transportation Security Administration’s PreCheck program, I was airside in less than 10 minutes from check-in. As few other flights operate at that time, though, normal security wouldn’t have taken much longer.
While the standard procedure for a business class passenger after going through the security checkpoint would be to head to the lounge, the check-in agent made a point of mentioning that TAP does not offer a business class lounge at Terminal 5. As a Star Alliance member, which the airline does not let you forget, one could use the lounge of a Star Alliance partner at JFK Airport, including the SWISS Business Class Lounge in Terminal 4 or the Lufthansa Senator Lounge in Terminal.
Those lounges, however, are in other terminals with no airside connections. The only options for a pre-flight meal are in Terminal 5’s restaurants or the recently-opened TWA Hotel which directly connects to the terminal and features a bar situated inside a restored Lockheed Constellation, restaurant and a rooftop pool deck with a bar and restaurant.
While the lounges are a luxury that comes with flying business class, the lounge serves a different purpose for short transatlantic flights like the one from New York to Lisbon. The short 6-hour duration of the flight means that passengers must choose between staying up for the meal service or getting adequate rest.
Most business travelers will say they eat a meal in the lounge so they can skip the meal on the plane. With TAP not offering a lounge in New York, or even a meal voucher for restaurants in the terminal, business class passengers are left to their own devices in this area.
If the lounge access is a must, the airline’s flight to Lisbon from Newark Liberty International Airport, where there are multiple Star Alliance lounges, would be more ideal.
The Gate and Boarding
Once airside, it was a short walk to Gate 30, used exclusively by TAP in the evening as it is the only A330-capable gate in the small international wing of Terminal 5. Normally that section of the terminal would be empty but a few delayed JetBlue flights yet to depart mean it was slightly more crowded than usual.
The boarding gate was arranged in sections with lines for premium boarding, passengers with no carry-on baggage, group A and group B. Preboarding would also be offered to those who needed.
Boarding began at 10:45 p.m., 45 minutes before departure on what would be a rather full flight. Preboarding was offered to families and those needing extra time before premium boarding began for business class passengers, those with elite status and select others and then finally economy class passengers.
Our aircraft would be CS-TUC, an 11-month-old Airbus A330-900neo delivered from Toulouse in January 2019 and named after Nuno Goncalves. Before operating our flight, the aircraft had visited such locales as Rio de Janeiro, Chicago and Luanda.
Configured in a two-class configuration, TAP’s Airbus A330-900neo aircraft features 298 seats across business class and economy class. In business class, the 34-seat cabin stretches nine rows with seats in a staggered configuration.
The Recaro 6710 seats are arranged in a 1-2-1 layout with each seat offering direct aisle access. The center aisle seats offer a mix of paired honeymoon seats and angled-aisle seats, depending on the row. The honeymoon seats are ideal for couples or companions traveling together, though a partition is available should that not be the case, while the latter are ideal for solo travelers.
Along the cabin wall, alternating window and aisle seats can be found. While both offer unobstructed window views and direct aisle access, the window seats offer greater privacy as they are closer to the cabin wall and have the seat’s counter as a divider between the seat and the aisle.
The economy class cabin features the remaining 268 seats configured in the Airbus A330’s standard 2-4-2 configuration. The cabin is divided into two sections, regular economy and the extra-legroom EconomyXtra section.
TAP is one of the few remaining European long-haul airlines without a premium economy section, a choice made to help maximize seat count on the aircraft. EconomyXtra is the airline’s answer to those wanting more from their economy class ticket as the seats are the same just with extra legroom.
The colors on the aircraft consist mainly of green and grey. In business class, the grey seats feature touches of green while in the rear of the aircraft, Economy Xtra is delineated by grey headrests while regular economy feature green headrests.
Seats in EconomyXtra feature 34 inches of pitch compared to the 31 inches in standard economy. Seats in both sections feature 17.72 inches of width, according to SeatGuru, and standard amenities including high-definition in-flight entertainment systems, adjustable headrests, 110v AC power outlets, USB charging ports, and foldable tray tables.
For the flight, I chose seat 7K, a cabin wall-facing window seat that offers a great amount of privacy. Traveling alone and always enjoying the views from the window, the seat was ideal and offered an intimate experience that wouldn’t have been found in one of the aisle seats.
The lie-flat seat featured such amenities as a large high-definition in-flight entertainment touchscreen also controlled by a tethered remote, immovable reading light, adjustable tray table, USB charging port, 110v AC power outlet, adjustable headrest coat hanger and storage compartments. At each seat, a pillow and blanket, amenity kit and noise-canceling headphones were left for passengers to utilize during the flight.
The amenity kit contained the standard amenities including a comb, eye mask, socks, toothbrush and toothpaste, bookmark, lip balm, face cream, perfume and pen.
Both the in-flight entertainment screen and tray table were situated in the forward seatback and could be adjusted to passenger preference. The standout of the seat was the amount of counter and storage space available and it seemed that most the available space in the seat was put to use.
The seat also featured stylish touches such as wood laminate and silver-colored panels. The main storage area of the seat found on the adjacent counter also features a silver-plated sliding door to conceal its contents.
The business class service began during boarding as flight attendants came around with pre-departure beverages. Water, orange juice and champagne were offered in glasses, which were promptly collected before pushback, and bottles of water were also distributed.
Boarding was completed early and we pushed back from our gate a few minutes before our scheduled departure time. Another advantage of departing from Terminal 5 at such a late hour is the lack of other aircraft blocking taxiways. Gate 30’s location at the end of the terminal allows for a quick departure for the aircraft onto nearby Taxiway A once the engines are started.
Following a quick taxi to Runway 4L, we were soon off to Lisbon and the six-hour countdown to landing had begun. Instantly noticeable was the low noise level of the cabin thanks to the quiet Trent 7000 engines that power the Airbus A330-900neo, even at takeoff thrust.
As we reached cruising altitude, the cabin crew quickly jumped into action as time was not on their side. The cabin moonlighting also initiated with green light glowing followed by orange for the duration of the meal service.
Menus for the meal service were placed on each seat before the first person boarded instead of distributed by flight attendants once all were on board, giving ample time to make a selection. Orders were taken shortly after takeoff and meals and drinks were distributed via trolleys.
The meal selection consisted of a beef, chicken and pasta dish, offered with a starter of mushroom soup and dessert of fresh fruit and Godiva chocolate. The meal was served all at once instead of individually to account for the short flight time, with all dishes being served on one tray. On longer flights, I was told, the service is more drawn out.
I chose the chicken dish which consisted of a seasoned chicken breast, mashed potatoes and green beans with a mushroom sauce. Fresh dinner rolls and bread were also offered, and drinks were served as well, with a healthy selection of Portuguese wines available to choose from.
All the dishes were quite tasty and even though I am not a fan of mushrooms, I couldn’t help but eat the entire meal including the mushroom soup. After the main service was completed, flight attendants came around to offer Godiva chocolates. All in all, the service was finished just over an hour, which was appreciated as I did want to get some sleep.
Throughout the entirety of the service, the flight attendants were very proactive and inquired multiple times if anything else was needed to make the flight more enjoyable. Even little things as ensuring trash was promptly collected and asking if I wanted to be awoken for the breakfast service.
During the service, I explored the in-flight entertainment system to see what was on tap. The system featured a large selection of 110 movies ranging from classics to new releases. Other entertainment options included music selections, favoring Portuguese selections but also featuring a good selection of American pop music, as well as television shows, news shows and games.
The system was in perfect high-definition and even featured nice touches such as a way to connect your booking to the system. Noise-canceling headphones were also offered and though largely unneeded due to the already quiet cabin, they made the viewing session an even more immersive experience.
I also was very surprised by the gaming options offered. While standard games such as solitaire and battleship were offered, more advanced games such as Angry Birds were offered and added some more entertainment to the flight.
Another highly-appreciated feature was the moving map. Although common on most modern airliners, the map gave real-time flight information and offered insight on our unique routing across the Atlantic.
WiFi was available for purchase for the flight at reasonable rates, as well as texting and messaging through Aeromobile. The rates for Aeromobile, however, made it unappealing, especially at the late hour when I wouldn’t be using it enough to make it worth it.
Settling on The Man from U.N.C.L.E., as our trip would bring us to Rome where parts of the film were shot, I descended into lie-flat mode and prepared my bed for what would amount to a nap as I wanted to be woken up for breakfast. While there was no bedding offered, the pillow and blanket proved to be very comfortable and gave me no issues when falling asleep.
Our route would take us south of the North Atlantic Tracks on a custom route nearly direct to Lisbon. It was the first time I flew to Europe in which we headed south after departing from New York.
Before I knew it, we were an hour and a half out from Lisbon and it was time for breakfast. The flight attendant gently woke me, inquired about my sleep, informed me that we were going to be arriving soon and asked if I still wanted breakfast, which I did.
Only a single-option was offered, a cold breakfast tray consisting of cold cuts, cheeses, fruits, yogurt and warm breakfast breads. Despite a lack of hot options, the meal was quite extensive. The fruits, cheeses and cold cuts were fresh and the breads were perfectly warm and tasty. As a reminder, be sure to poke the lid of the yogurt before opening as the pressurization will make it splatter everywhere if you don’t.
Soon after, the shores of Portugal came into view and we descended into Lisbon. As the Trent 7000 engines idled, you could hear a pin drop in the cabin.
As we flew over Lisbon’s ports, it reminded me of Portugal’s great history of exploration and maritime navigation. While Portugal’s ships once ruled the seas, its airline was now attempting the rules the skies.
Landing and Deplaning
Similarly to Brazil’s Congonhas Airport, Lisbon Airport is located directly next to the city, making the approach fun to watch from the window. After flying over the Ponte 25 de Abril, we descended lower and lower into the city with apartment buildings getting closer and closer before finally touching down on Runway 3 at Lisbon’s Humberto Delgado Airport.
As we taxied off the runway, we had a full view of the terminal and remote stands. Judging from what I saw from the window, it was clear that TAP Air Portugal had successfully integrated the Airbus A330-900neo into its operation.
While the aircraft was once solely assigned to remote gates, the aircraft stood side by side at the terminal’s jet bridge-equipped gates with its current generation siblings. After seeing the operation in person, it was clear that TAP was the undisputed leader in operating the A330neo.
Once deplaned, it was a quick walk to passport control where the lines were growing but I was able to make it through in less than 15 minutes. While there was a dedicated security checkpoint for connecting flights, I chose to exit the airport to get some fresh air.
Connecting in Lisbon
After taking in some crisp Portuguese air, a nice reprieve from the harsh New York winter, it was time to head back inside for the rest of my layover before heading to Rome. Despite it being an up-and-coming major European hub and connecting airport, Terminal 1 is quite small and quaint, making it easy to navigate.
Upon walking into the main foyer, I headed for the self-check-in kiosk to get my boarding pass and then to security. As a business class passenger, I was able to use the fast track security checkpoint where there were no lines to speak of. Like most European airports, the baggage x-ray system was largely automated, and I was through in minutes.
The terminal post-security is centered around an oval mall-like shopping and seating area, above which are the airline lounges. As the airport’s primary carrier, TAP Air Portugal has its own lounge, the TAP Air Portugal Premium Lounge, open to business class passengers, Star Alliance elites and other select passengers.
Though not the largest lounge, it offers the standard amenities included hot and cold food options, a bar, showers, a quiet area, a business center, a wine tap station.
The facility also offers near-unobstructed views of the adjacent ramp, making it perfect for plane spotting.
About 45 minutes before boarding, it was time to head to Rome. As I was unfamiliar with Lisbon Airport, I gave myself extra time, but it wasn’t needed as the terminal is compact to the point where most gates are only a short walk from the main seating area.
Lisbon to Rome: Airbus A320
Rome is one of the top destinations for TAP from Lisbon with the airlines offering numerous daily services at different hours of the day. I chose the destination as TAP was scheduled to fly the Airbus A320neo but, at the last minute, was swapped to a standard Airbus A320.
Luckily, the A320 operating our flight had been refurbished to feature the same cabin interior as its Neo sibling. From the interior, it would be impossible to tell the difference between the two.
The Gate and Boarding
The flight wasn’t off to a great start with the aircraft swap, which continued with a brief 15-minute delay and concluded with boarding via a remote gate. Boarding was done at Gate S20 and was done in four groups: premium boarding, passengers with no bags, Group A and Group B.
The boarding group didn’t matter in the end, however, as we all shuffled onto two busses to transport us to the other side of the airport for boarding. Upon arrival at the aircraft, it was still a 10-minute wait to board as the cleaning crew was still finishing up.
On the way to the plane, I spotted an old friend, CS-TUB, TAP’s first Airbus A330neo who I met at the delivery ceremony the year prior. TUB was in maintenance at the time, but it was good to see an old friend, if only for a passing moment.
The Aircraft and Seat
A tried and true operator of the Airbus A320 family, the aircraft are the backbone of TAP’s European route network and operate the majority of its short and medium-haul flights. While our flight wouldn’t be operated by the A320neo, the interior of our aircraft had been refurbished to feature the same seating style and configuration.
Executive Class consisted of four rows in the “EuroBiz” configuration of 3-3 with the middle seat blocked from assignment. While most carriers but a table in the middle seat to physically block it off, TAP leaves the middle seat open which allows for raising the armrests and offers more room to stretch out.
Each EconomyXtra seat features basic amenities including adjustable headrests, 110v AC power outlets, USB charging ports and device holders while regular economy seats do not feature any amenities. No in-flight entertainment or WiFi is offered on TAP’s A320 family fleet, but the airline is testing out an onboard entertainment system that streams to devices via a self-contained WiFi system, similar to what Sun Country Airlines is implementing on its fleet.
According to the airline, Executive Class seats are EconomyXtra seats that feature 33 inches of pitch, 4 inches of recline and are delineated by a red-lined headrest. Standard economy seats in the rear of the plane, by comparison, feature 28 inches of pitch with no recline.
Though a standard intra-European seat, I found it to be comfortable for the short flight and appreciated the adjustable headrest and in-seat power as I’d be making use of both during the flight. The lack of entertainment didn’t bother me too much as our routing would be taking us over some of Europe’s most scenic areas.
The Executive Class cabin is extendable and retractable with the number of rows depending on the loads of each flight. Our flight would feature four rows of the cabin, consisting of 16 seats with nearly every one of them filled for the 3-hour flight to the Italian capital.
Once boarding via the airstairs was complete, we quickly pushed back and taxied to Runway 3 for departure.
No pre-departure beverage was offered to business class passengers but the meal service began promptly after takeoff. The service began with a pre-packaged cold towelette being distributed to passengers.
As this flight was in between lunch and dinner, all passengers were offered the same “snack of brunch” and served via a trolley. Served cold, the meal consisted of cold meats with a salad, fresh fruits and a traditional Portuguese custard tart, and was very enjoyable.
Along with the meal, flight attendants also distributed drinks and different breads. Following the service, tea and coffee were offered, concluding the meal service for the duration of the flight. All in all, the final tray was collected before an hour had passed from departure.
The rest of the flight, the cabin crew came around every so often to check on passengers and inquire if anything else was needed. Our route would take us over Spain and eventually over the Mediterranean Sea flying over Palma de Mallorca and Sardinia before crossing the Italian shoreline.
As I was tired from the short amount of sleep from the night prior, I took the opportunity to catch up on some sleep. Before landing, I watched a TV shows on my phone, which was aided by the device holder and USB charging port that ensured my phone didn’t die before landing.
Landing and Deplaning
After touching down on Fiumicino Airport’s Runway 16L, our flight came to an unceremonious end as we taxied to Terminal 1, where most European Star Alliance airlines can be found. After a quick deplaning via jetbridge, it was off to Rome via the Leonardo Express.
Overall, the quick intra-European hop was uneventful but still a very pleasant experience. As I was eager to get some sleep, I appreciated the speed of the service and also the attentiveness of the flight attendants. The seat was also plenty comfortable for the 3 hours and, though onboard entertainment was lacking, it didn’t negatively affect the flight.
Rome to Lisbon: Airbus A321
After a few days in Rome, it was time to head home, the long way. In order to get to Newark, I’d have to fly back to Lisbon from Rome and then up to Porto.
While TAP offering multiple daily services between Rome and Lisbon, I chose the 11:40 a.m. flight, TP831, as it was operated by the intra-European Airbus A321neo. At check-in, however, I saw it was swapped to a standard Airbus A321, though with the upgraded cabin found on the Airbus A321.
Check-In, Lounge and Boarding
Along with its fellow Star Alliance carriers, TAP operates out of Terminal 1 at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport. Dominated by SkyTeam and its Italian member, flag carrier Alitalia, TAP and its compatriots are in foreign territory compared to Star Alliance-dominated Lisbon.
At check-in, TAP has around three dedicated desks at the far end of the terminal. Two lines were formed, one for premium passengers and the other for those in economy class.
Check-in was simple and I was able to receive boarding passes for all three flights on one ticket. Following check-in, it was time to go through security, where premium passengers could use the fast track lane.
The exclusive lane was empty and security took a matter of seconds. Following the formalities, it was off to the shared Star Alliance lounge, open to premium passengers flying on the airline alliance’s member airlines.
The lounge was quite empty for the time of day as only a handful of Star Alliance flights were departing at the time. The standard lounge amenities were offered including a hot food buffet and bar.
Around 45 minutes before departure, I headed down to get in line for the flight and was surprised to see that nearly the entirety of the plane was already lined up. Though there seemed to be no set order, boarding was conducted in the same fashion via groups with premium passengers boarding first.
As the inbound aircraft was slightly delayed, our boarding was delayed as well. However, it was only a few minutes and we were on the plane in no time.
The Aircraft and Seat
As the leader in the medium-haul fleet, the A321 is deployed to TAP’s top European destinations as it boasts a capacity of 206 seats in a two-class configuration. Similarly to the A320, the aircraft features an economy class and business class with the latter being extendable to up to seven rows, according to SeatGuru.
Executive Class seats, again, are EconomyXtra seats that feature 33 inches of pitch, 4 inches of recline and are delineated by a red-lined headrest. Standard economy seats in the rear of the plane, by comparison, feature 28 inches of pitch with no recline.
Seat width in Economy Xtra is 17.5 inches and slightly less in regular economy, coming in at 17.3 inches, according to the airline. Amenities at each EconomyXtra seat were also the same as on the A320 including a device holder, 110vAC power outlet, USB charging port and adjustable headrests.
In business class, the same EuroBiz configuration can be found as the one on the A320 though still without the physical table blocking off the middle seat. The rest of economy featured the standard 3-3 configuration.
Set across 35 rows, the aircraft is in a high-density configuration and has no middle galley or lavatory. Standing in the first row of Executive Class, one can see straight back to the last row with no obstructions.
Overall, the product was exactly the same as the way out on the A320. While a different aircraft, I was glad to see a consistent product as it allows passengers to know what to expect when they fly. Neo or not Neo, the product was modern, stylish and comfortable.
After a slightly delayed boarding and pushback, we were soon off to Lisbon following a short taxi to Rome’s Runway 25. As we passed the Italian shoreline headed nearly direct to Portugal, the main service began.
Though no pre-departure beverage would be offered, the service quickly began around 20 minutes into the flight with flight attendants distributing menus for the flight along with a packaged towelette. The galley curtains and curtains dividing business class and economy class were also closed to give the cabin a more exclusive feel.
The menu was quite extensive for an afternoon flight and I was quite surprised at the offerings compared to that on the flight to Rome. On offer was an appetizer, main course and dessert followed by coffee and tea.
The appetizer option was a tuna escabeche with passion fruit while the main course was either a sirloin steak of spinach green grantortellone followed by a traditional egg and almond pudding for dessert. Having had pasta the night before, I chose the steak which came with roasted potatoes and green asparagus.
The meal, again, was served all on one tray but not via a trolley and was accompanied by a warm bread selection. During the service, the flight attendants came around multiple times refilling drinks, offering extra bread and inquiring about the meal.
Though I skipped the tuna, the steak was nicely seasoned and though difficult to cut with the cutlery provided, proved to be very enjoyable with the asparagus and potatoes. The pudding was also a nice way to end the meal with Portugal continuing to prove it has some of the best desserts in Europe, alongside Italy.
Following the meal service, coffee and tea were offered and even though I enjoyed a cup of coffee, I couldn’t help but take a quick nap with the help of the pillow and blanket left at the seat when we boarded.
Landing and Deplaning
After a quick 2 more hours of flight, it was time to descend into Lisbon. The window seat had once again proved to be the right choice as we were treated to spectacular views of the Portuguese shoreline and Lisbon cityscape. Having now sat on both sides of the aircraft when approaching from the south, I can say my favorite was sitting on the right side as there were more views of the city’s landmarks and bridges.
Landing again on Runway 3, it was a quick turn to the right off of the runway and short taxi to our remote stand. While boarding via remote stand was very inefficient on the way to Rome, the busses were quickly filled following our deplaning. Instead of dropping us at the first nearest gate, however, we were taken all the way to the opposite end of the terminal to be let inside.
Once inside, however, no security checks were required for connecting passengers and we were let right into the center of the terminal, directly next to the lounge entrance.
Overall, the flight was enjoyable, and the service surprised me compared to what was offered on the way to Rome. The flight attendants continued to prove themselves a key part of the service through their attentiveness and friendliness.
Lisbon to Porto: Embraer E190
In order to catch my Airbus A321neoLR flight to Newark, I needed to reposition to the northern Portuguese city of Porto. The two largest cities in Portugal, Lisbon and Porto are connected via various means including air, bus and rail, with the market highly competitive.
To combat TAP’s competitors on the route, David Neeleman implemented a shuttle service known as the Ponte Aerea, or air bridge, which would feature enhanced services. Similar to shuttle services in the U.S. between New York, Boston and Washington, the Ponte Aerea features hourly flights between the two cities on dedicated aircraft.
Such benefits for passengers on the air bridge flights include dedicated check-in desks, gates and baggage claim carousels, fast track use at security, use of gates with jet bridges and flying on the Embraer E190 which is devoid of middle seats. Business class passengers on the service can also make use of the lounge, enjoy a drink and meal service and earn more miles.
The idea here, with up to 13 hourly flights per day, is to maximize speed and convenience in order to draw from its competitors. While traveling by air on short such routes is often not worth the hassle, the extra amenities and conveniences are aimed at bringing people to the airport rather than the bus terminal or train station.
The Gate and Boarding
Heading down from the lounge 45 minutes from departure, it was a quick walk to Gate S14, the dedicated Ponte Aerea gate.
For this flight, I didn’t have to look at my ticket or the departure boards to know that was my gate as the terminal’s signage prominently displayed “Ponte Aerea” and “Porto” with arrows pointing to the gate.
The boarding gate was arranged in the same fashion with lines for premium boarding, passengers with no bags, group A and group B. Boarding began on time with preboarding passengers first then premium passengers and so on.
Boarding commenced on-time with pre-boarding followed by premium passengers and so on.
The Aircraft, Cabin and Service
It was only a quick walk down the glass jetway to our aircraft, an Embraer E190 operated by TAP Air Portugal subsidiary Portugalia Airlines. The aircraft features 106 seats across 27 rows in a two-class configuration consisting of economy class and business class.
Despite the two different classes of service, the seats are exactly same in both, with business class taking up the first two rows and economy the remaining 25. The first row on each side features extra legroom while the second row, only found on one side, features 31-32 inches of pitch, according to SeatGuru.
The seats are basic with no amenities beyond a tray table. Nor WiFi, in-flight entertainment or even in-seat power is offered, though we wouldn’t make much use for it on the 30-minute hop up north.
In business class, no pre-departure beverage would be offered as we pushed back from the gate on-time and headed towards the runway. While sometimes this flight can be delayed due to air traffic control restrictions, common on short routings, I was glad to see we would be right on time as my layover in Porto was only 55 minutes.
After departing from Lisbon, we made our only real turn for the flight and headed towards Lisbon. Though a short flight, we still climbed to an altitude of 22,000 feet, though we wouldn’t stay long.
Once settled into the climb, flight attendants quickly jumped into action as time wasn’t on their side. The nearly-full flight needed to be fed and they had less than 20 minutes to do it.
The business class service was more informal than the other flights I’d flown on with flight attendants skipping the normal formalities and instead, going straight to serving a small plate of sandwiches accompanied by a beverage, as well as a pre-packaged towelette. All in all, it took about 2 minutes to serve all three passengers, including me.
After the snack, we were left on our own devices for entertainment the rest of the flight, but thankfully, the windows provided ample entertainment. As we flew straight north, we faced the Atlantic Ocean on one side and the Portuguese countryside on the other at sunset.
Before we knew it, it was time to descend into Porto. Passengers on the left-hand side were treated to views of Porto while the opposite side could only see the beaches, ports and ocean.
As we landed at Porto Airport, it was only a quick taxi to the extremely-modern terminal where we deplaned via a jet bridge. Now, it was time to head to Newark on the final flight of this adventure.
Porto to Newark: Airbus A321neoLR
The final leg for the trip would be Porto to Newark on TAP’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Airbus A321neoLR. The aircraft replaces the Airbus A330-200 that formerly connected the two cities on the route.
Though now flying a narrowbody instead of a widebody, the aircraft features TAP’s newest products in both business class and economy class, as well as features including mood lighting that aren’t found on the larger aircraft.
The Gate and Boarding
Having arrived fresh from Lisbon at Porto’s main terminal, I was expected to be let right into the airside of the terminal and head to the gate after a quick stop in passport control for my exit stamp. However, all connecting passengers off of the Ponte Aerea flight had to go through a security checkpoint, despite being off a domestic flight from a major Portuguese airport.
While the process was quick and painless, it did constrain what was already a short layover in Porto and I found it odd since I had just gotten off a flight from Italy in Lisbon without any secondary checks. Once clear, however, it was only a quick escalator ride up to the main terminal where I headed to the gate.
The non-Schengen gates in Porto are located at the extreme south end of the terminal where passport control is also located. Walking through the terminal, I was impressed at how modern, open and bright the concourse was compared to Lisbon which was vastly smaller, and wished to stay longer.
Though only boasting around nine jet bridge-equipped gates, the airport features more than double that number of remote standard accessible via bus. As TAP’s secondary hub, the airline is prominently featured and offers a lounge for its premium passengers, though I didn’t have time to stop in.
Passport control consisted of only a few desks and automated gates for European Union passport holders. Despite only two desks for non-E.U. passports, I was through in minutes with not even a question asked.
As our flight to Newark was one of the few non-Schengen flights for the night, with the airport mainly serving European destinations, this section of the terminal was largely empty. TAP is the only airline to connect Porto and the U.S. this time of year, with fellow Star Alliance member United Airlines competing on the route during the busy summer season.
Assigned to Gate 10, passengers were told to head to the gate just over an hour before departure. With the Schengen section featuring more amenities than the non-Schengen section of the terminal, there’s no need to head straight to the gate when getting to the terminal.
Before entering the gate area, airport staff reviewed passengers’ passports and asked questions about the purpose of their travel to the U.S. The check wasn’t too invasive but some passengers, mostly non-U.S. citizens, were brought for secondary screening.
Once the checks were over, TAP employees scanned our boarding passes and let us into the boarding area. Gate 10 is the very last gate and the gate area spans from wall to wall, offering bounds of seats.
Though there were no delineated boarding lines, placards with arrows showed where each section should line up. The sections were the same as the previous flights with lines for premium passengers, passengers with no carry-on baggage, group A and group B.
30 minutes before departure, a TAP employee came over and began the boarding process, with premium passengers first to head down to the plane. The all-glass jetway allowed for one last look at the new aircraft before we would head inside for the 8-hour journey ahead.
Our aircraft would be CS-TXA, the first Airbus A321neoLR delivered to TAP Air Portugal in April 2019.
TAP joined the exclusive list of airlines operating the aircraft when it first took delivery of it in April 2019. Already operating the Airbus A321neo mainly on intra-European routes, the new aircraft complements the existing fleet and gives single-aisle Airbus pilots more routes to fly and expand into long-haul flying.
Though not the launch operator for the aircraft, TAP Air Portugal is one of the largest operators of the Airbus A321neoLR, a long-range variant of the Airbus A321neo. While the Airbus A321neo featured an already greater range than the Airbus A321, with some airlines flying the Airbus A321neo on 9 plus hour flights, the long-range version offers even more range.
TAP plans to deploy the narrowbody on flights to North America beyond Newark including Montreal and is the first European airline to connect Continental Europe and South America with the aircraft. Thanks to its range and the advantageous coastal positioning of Lisbon on Europe’s western edge, David Neeleman has dubbed the aircraft, the Airbus A321neo “Lisbon Range.”
Arranged in a two-class configuration, the aircraft features 171 seats across business class and economy class cabins. The business class cabin houses 16 seats while the economy cabin features 155 seats with 113 regular economy and 42 Economy Xtra seats across 25 rows beginning in row 6.
In business class, the airline chose the Thompson Aero Vantage seat, the same found on the Airbus A330-200 aircraft and also used by European airlines on the A321 including British Airways. The configuration is a high-density alternating 2-2 and 1-1 configuration featuring a mix of throne and paired seats.
For solo travelers, the throne seat is the most ideal as it allows for direct aisle access, the most privacy and extra storage and counter space. While paired seats do feature a quasi-partition, the counter and storage space is minimal compared to the throne seat.
In economy class, the cabin was the complete opposite of the Airbus A321 I had flown earlier in the day from Rome to Lisbon. Featuring the same seats on the Airbus A330-900neo, the seats feature amenities such as extra cushioning and in-flight entertainment touchscreens, which intra-European A321s do not have, aimed at making the extended journeys more comfortable on the narrowbody.
Divided between regular economy and extra legroom EconomyXtra, seats in regular economy feature 31 inches of pitch and 17.72 inches of width and seats in EconomyXtra feature 32-33 inches of pitch, depending on seat location, and the same amount of width. Regular economy seats also offer 4 inches of recline while EconomyXtra seats offer 5 inches of recline.
Arranged in the Airbus Cabin Flex configuration, the aircraft only has one forward boarding door and two emergency exits on each side of the aircraft. The configuration allows for additional rows on the aircraft, increasing the potential revenue for the airline.
The aircraft also offers four lavatories with one in the front for business class, and three in the economy class cabin. In economy, one lavatory is located at the border between business and economy while the remaining two are located in the rear of the aircraft.
Though the business class cabin was full, I was lucky enough to score seat 2A, one of only four throne seats in the cabin. Having flown on numerous Airbus A321 flights on long-haul journeys, including between Paris and Newark and New York and Guayaquil, I was excited to be sitting in a proper business class seat.
The seats featured the same color schemes as the Airbus A330-900 and the amenities left at the seat were exactly the same. The amount of counter and storage space, however, was greatly increased.
The throne seat was also easier to get into than on the A330neo and the extra space allow for somewhere to put the pillow and blanket as well as my coat without having to take up overhead bin space. Overall, it was much easier to get settled in this seat which made for a smoother boarding experience.
Sitting down in the seat, the level of privacy is immediately noticed as the seat’s walls and partitions give it an intimate experience. The exclusivity of the seat would also prove helpful when it came time to fall asleep for the transatlantic crossing.
At the seat, the amenities included a large, high definition in-flight entertainment touchscreen with a tethered remote, noise-canceling headphones, coat hook, adjustable headrest, personal reading lamp, solid tray table, USB charging port and 110v AC power outlet. A pillow and blanket, water bottle and amenity kit were also left at each seat.
Each throne seat is also allotted two windows with no obstructions. While the counter means you can’t press your head against it, it does come in handy for sunsets over the Atlantic.
Even the footwell and under-screen area are also put to use offering additional storage space. The pouch can be used to hold smaller items such as a wallet or passport.
Perhaps the greatest amenity, however, was the personal air vent located directly above the seat. Though an advantage of the aircraft rather than the seat, the air vent does make a huge difference and is a benefit of flying on the A321 versus a narrowbody.
The business class cabin had two dedicated flight attendants servicing the cabin and the service began with them distributing menus and a hot towel shortly after boarding. The service consisted of two parts, a main service and a smaller before landing meal.
While no pre-departure beverage was served, the flight attendants quickly began the service after takeoff as we turned west towards Newark and the sun was setting over the Atlantic Ocean.
Beverages and a small snack of trail mix were served before the main course. This was the first pre-packaged snack I had out of all my flights on TAP on this trip.
Continuing the tradition, the meal service was offered via the trolley with flight attendants taking meal orders beforehand.
There were only two main course options for this flight that consisted of veal tenderloin or radicchio tortellini pasta. Both were accompanied by a shrimp cocktail starter, cream of carrot soup and dessert of either ice cream, a cheese plate or fresh fruit.
With more than enough time to spare on the 2,900-nautical mile flight to Newark, the service was somewhat more drawn out. The starter and soup were served first followed by the main course.
While the veal was the favorite, I went for the pasta, which had also been offered in TAP’s lounge in Lisbon. The dish was a large portion of raddichio tortellini pasta with roasted hazelnuts, pesto and rocket sauce served with warm bread.
For dessert, the options include fresh fruit, ice cream or cheese. Choosing the cheese option, flight attendants served a small package of cheese with some crackers.
Up to this point, the meals I’ve had on TAP hadn’t disappointed me yet and this flight was no exception, each dish was very fresh and tasty, and the service had ended with coffee or tea and a Godiva chocolate to top it off.
In honor of the departure city, I chose a port wine to accompany my meal. After having two glasses and without having to ask, the purser took the liberty of pouring my a glass of a port that she thought I’d like better and leaving it at my seat following the meal service, much to my delight.
While enjoying the meal, I scrolled through the in-flight entertainment system to see what was available. Unsurprisingly, the system was exactly the same as that on the Airbus A330neo with nearly the same number of movies and television shows.
As the screen was further away than the one on the A330neo, the tethered remote came in handy here and proved useful. While in-flight WiFi was available for purchase, I chose not to use it and enjoy the peaceful isolation that only a long Atlantic crossing in a throne seat could provide.
After the service was over, the lights in the cabin dimmed for the rest of the crossing to allow tired passengers to sleep. Sinking down into lie-flat mode, it wasn’t hard at all to get a few hours of shut-eye with the provided pillow, blanket and eye mask.
An hour and a half before landing, it was time for the before landing service. The offering consisted of a cold tray consisting of a cold meat, cheese and vegetable platter and selection of fresh fruit accompanied, again, with warm bread. Though still content from the meal earlier, I stayed away from the main dish but the fruit was very fresh and delicious, a great way to end the service.
Shortly before landing, I went back to the moving map to see where exactly we were. Though the functionality of the system worked just fine, the map itself had gone blurry and no amount of time would get it back to its normal resolution. While not a major hindrance to using the system, it did almost defeat the purpose of the moving map as you couldn’t tell exactly where you were.
As we approached Newark, however, the moving map became obsolete as I was able to identify landmarks known only through a long history of flying in and out of the New York area. Landing on Runway 4R, the city skyline and New Jersey Turnpike were off our right side while our terminal was on our left.
My second time arriving in Newark on a transatlantic Airbus A321neo flight, I knew exactly what to expect. TAP Air Portugal uses Terminal B at Newark Liberty International Airport, the shared international arrivals terminal, and narrowbody aircraft typically get a gate assignment closest to the federal inspection station.
While our gate was the closest, it was, however, a tow-in gate. Only taking a few minutes to hook up and tug over to Gate 60, we were deplaned and off to customs in short order. Giving my Global Entry ticket to the customs agent and walking out of the facility under the big banner that reads “U.S. Customs and Border Protection Welcomes You to the United States,” to the My Portuguese flying adventure had come to an end.
Final Thoughts on TAP Air Portugal’s Newest Airbus Products
Before attending the delivery ceremony of TAP Air Portugal’s Airbus A330-900neo, the airline was not on my radar as a major European player. With its rapid growth and modernization over the past few years, though, it’s been impossible to avoid.
Now, having traveled on some of the airline’s newest aircraft and in its newest products, I can count myself impressed with how far the airline has come. Despite some hiccups including a lack of in-flight entertainment or WiFi on intra-European routes and the predominance of remote stands in Lisbon, every flight I flew on TAP was enjoyable and checked off numerous boxes in what I’m looking for in a premium product.
While the service spoke for itself in terms of food quality and taste, the service provided by the flight attendants is what really made the flights enjoyable. Each flight attendant I dealt with provided an unmatched level of care and commitment that greatly added to the service. Whether it be proactively coming around the cabin to offer a refill or recommending a better wine, the service is what took the cake on these flights.
Even on the short, 30-minute Ponte Aerea flight, the service provided on what is essentially a puddle jump was no different than that on the long-haul flights in terms of passenger car and quality of service. As representatives of not only their airline but of their country as employees of a flag carrier, TAP’s flight attendants do a great job.
On the long-haul flights, the new Recaro and Thompson Aero seats on the Airbus A330neo and Airbus A321neoLR, respectively, greatly boost the onboard experience and make flying across the Atlantic a pleasure to do. Each seat greatly complemented the aircraft they were fitted on and proved to be great choices by TAP in terms of modernity, functionality and privacy.
Both the window seat on the A330neo and the throne seat on the A321neoLR offered great amounts of privacy and storage space, which are some of the most important features of a seat. Despite the extended duration of the journey on a narrowbody aircraft, the Thompson Aero Vantage seats made it feel like any other aircraft and the Airbus Airspace cabin with mood lighting mimicked that of the A330neo, further aiding in passenger comfort.
While the new aircraft, products and onboard experience are themselves indicative of a new, better TAP under Neeleman and Neves’ guidance, the numbers also show the same. November 2019 saw TAP carry 1.25 million passengers, its highest monthly number, with revenue passengers per kilometers, available seat per kilometer and load factors all rose as well.
With older aircraft such as the Airbus A330-300 and A340-300, both outdated products, retired and new planes such as the Airbus A330-900neo and Airbus A321neoLR entering the fleet, the airline has one of the world’s most modern long-haul fleets. As more aircraft join the fleet, the average age of the fleet is also coming down, greatly benefiting passengers.
If TAP stays on this course and continues its trend of modernity and improving the passenger experience, the carrier is set to complete its turnaround as a major player in the European market.
AirlineGeeks was a guest of TAP Air Portugal.
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