March 31 2019 marks the beginning of the northern hemisphere summer schedule for air travel, and the change to the new schedule is usually when airlines launch operations to new destinations. Today, TAP Air Portugal is launching a new, twice daily service from Lisbon to Basel. This is not the first time TAP has operated to Basel, and in fact I still remember seeing them with the Boeing B 727-200 at Basel airport towards the end of the 80s.
Of course, I figured I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to join the first flight!
GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
I spend the night at the TRYP hotel at Lisbon airport, which is five minutes on foot to the terminal for an able-bodied person, and a bit longer if you have a back problem.
Lisbon has an unusual designation for its terminal facility, in that the arrivals concourse is Terminal 1, while departures are located in Terminal 2. Check-in for the flight to Basel is in sector A, which appears to be the designated TAP Air Portugal/Star Alliance area.
There is a separate check-in area for premium passengers. Because the terminal at Lisbon airport has been gradually expanded over the years, the flow of passengers does not really follow any clearly laid out concept. As such, the security checkpoint is not so easy to find. It also doesn’t help that they’re currently building inside the terminal and have removed some of the signage.
LOUNGE & AIRSIDE
The queue for the regular security checkpoint is endless. It reminds me a bit of the Easter processions we have in Malta, just with more complaining. But luckily, there is a fast track for security which is more or less deserted at this time of the morning.
From security I head one floor up and through the duty free shop to access the general airside area. The TAP Air Portugal lounge is located in the new part of the terminal building, one floor up from the general airside area.
The lounge is not necessarily the most elegant one I’ve ever seen, but I think it makes the most of the limited space available. The food selection is quite good, with a nice collection of local snacks. Although my suggestion to anybody transiting through this lounge would be to keep away from the coffee machine, because it’s vile.
My flight will be departing from gate S25. A photographer is already there taking pictures of the aircraft and crew of flight to Basel. Before boarding starts, the photographer requests a group photo with the gate staff. Somehow, by the time everybody has removed any real or imagined bits and pieces of lint from their uniforms, patted down their beard, rearranged their ties or touched up their lipstick, the number of gate attendants has suddenly increased from three to eight!
The cabin divider is behind row 6, which means there is a total of 24 seats in the Business Class cabin. But the flight is not full today in both cabins, so that by the time boarding is completed, there are only four passengers in Business Class. One gentleman on 1A, a couple on 2A and 2C and me on 1F.
I like the design of the TAP seat. The dark colours look elegant. Every seat has a headrest that is adjustable in height and also has ears that can be folded out for support. The leg space is also good on row 1. From what I can tell though, the cabin divider is really just a curtain in the aisle.
There are four cabin crew on this flight. The maître de is a gentleman in his fifties, I should say, and he is assisted by a female colleague in her forties. And the two of them are just brilliant. They’re very attentive, and although they seem quite reserved, I think they do a really good job at making passengers feel welcome.
In the rear there is one young lady and a young man working the Economy Class cabin. I don’t interact much with them during the flight, although they seem friendly enough. What I can say though, is that the trousers the young male flight attendant is wearing are so tight, it’s nearly obscene. Somebody tell the guy to put his suit jacket back on again, already!
There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.
It takes about fifty minutes after take-off for the meal service to begin. The meal consists of:
A plate of cheese and cold cuts
A plate of fresh fruit
A bowl of yoghurt with fruit compote
A small ramekin of müsli
A small ramekin of unsalted butter with jam
In Business Class TAP provides an individual tray service, instead of serving the meals from a trolley in the cabin. As she hands me my tray, the cabin crew asks me what I’d like to drink and shortly after brings me a glass of orange juice and a coffee. The coffee incidentally, is rather good.
The crew do two rounds with the breadbasket. There is a wide selection of sweet and savoury pastries and bread to choose from.
Once the meal is done, the crew come to remove the tray and ask me if there’s anything else I’d like. One of them brings me a blanket and a pillow and shortly after I slip off to the land of nod.
At 09h40 the captain announces that we’ve reached the top of descent. It’s a lovely day for flying this morning and as we come in over the Alsace, everything looks green and lush.
We touch down at 10h10. The perimeter fence is lined with photographers taking pictures of our arrival, and as we turn off the active runway, I can already spot the fire engines preparing for the water canon salute. I mean, you can call me an attention slut if you will, but I have to say there is something rather grand about the arrival of an inaugural service, that brings back the old magic of air travel.
As we disembark the aircraft, there are two representatives from Basel airport handing out Läckerli to passengers. A Läckerli is a type of sweet, a bit like a biscuit, typical for the Basel region of Switzerland. As I pass the gate on my way to arrivals, I can see that they’ve set up a buffet with Portuguese specialities for passengers booked on the return flight to Lisbon.
Well that was fun! TAP Air Portugal will be operating the Basel service twice daily with an Airbus A 319. Clearly, the airline is hoping to cash in on connecting passengers that will transfer through its hub in Lisbon onto the carrier’s extensive Latin American network. But while the Portuguese expat communities in Switzerland and the Alsace are quite considerable, the question remains whether TAP will be able to generate acceptable revenues on this route, given that Easyjet also operates between Basel and Lisbon.