TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Basel

INTRODUCTION

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.

CHECK-IN

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.

BOARDING

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!

CABIN

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.

CREW

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!

SERVICE

There is no service on the ground. Only once we’re airborne a packaged and scented towel is provided ahead of the meal service.

THE MEAL

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.

ARRIVAL

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.

CONCLUSION

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.

TAP Air Portugal, Economy Class – Embraer 195: Porto to Lisbon

INTRODUCTION

Porto is a nice, modern city with a lot of tradition. It’s also very touristy. In Porto I stayed at the Intercontinental, but to be honest, I don’t think I’d stay there again.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

From the Intercontinental you can either walk ten minutes uphill to Trinidade, or you can take the metro line D for one stop and then change onto the E line from Trinidade to the airport. Which is what I do to save me some walking.

The metro in Porto is nice. It’s quiet, clean, easy to use and modern. The metro to the airport only runs every thirty minutes, although I’m not sure if perhaps that’s because it’s the weekend. The journey time to the airport is thirty minutes. And it’s a very nice journey too!

CHECK-IN

TAP has a shuttle service between Porto and Lisbon. On weekdays, the first departure from Porto to Lisbon is at four in the morning, with subsequent flights running hourly during peak hours and every two hours for the rest of the day.

There are dedicated check-in counters for the Lisbon shuttle.

LOUNGE

Luckily there is a fast track for security, which is much less busy than the queue for the general security checkpoint.

TAP does not operate its own lounge here in Porto. However, there is a lounge operated by Nav Portugal. I am entitled to use this lounge because although my flight to Lisbon is in Economy Class, it was booked on the same ticket at the Business Class fare from Zürich to Porto.

The lounge is nice and has a good selection of finger food and snacks. There’s even a freshly made fruit salad, which is just excellent!

The entrance to the lounge is right opposite gate 32, which is the dedicated gate for the Lisbon shuttle.

BOARDING

Boarding for the flight starts at 17h30, although by the looks of it, it’s not going to be a full flight. The boarding process is the same as yesterday in Zürich, with a separate queue for premium passengers.

CABIN

Much to my surprise, this aircraft has a different – and much nicer – cabin configuration than the dreadful old plane I arrived with from Zürich yesterday. This aircraft has different, more comfortable seats. The most prominent difference though, is that this aircraft appears to be equipped with an inflight entertainment system, because there is a screen in the back of each seat and a control panel in the arm rests.

I am seated on the emergency exit, which is row 14. The legroom, obviously, is very good on this row.

CREW

There are three ladies working in the cabin this evening and again, they seem very nice and interact with the passengers in a relaxed and unpretentious way.

The flight time is announced as forty minutes.

THE MEAL

Much to my surprise, all passengers are served a snack and a drink on this flight, despite the short flight time. The snack box contains a packet with four crackers and another packet with a soft but tasty cheese. No cutlery is provided. Although it turns out it’s not really required, because the cheese is quite soft.

ARRIVAL

About twenty minutes into the flight, the pilots ease back the throttles and we start our descent. I’m assuming here that the Porto shuttle probably gets preferential treatment for the landing, traffic permitting. So eventually, we touch down in Lisbon after a flight time a few minutes short of the announced forty minutes.

TAP Express, Business Class – Embraer 190: Zürich to Porto

INTRODUCTION

Taking this trip is probably not a good idea. Four weeks after the pain started, my back is still no better. But, in the end I couldn’t resist.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT

I catch the 16h31 train from Winterthur, which arrives at Zürich airport at 16h44. Fortunately, this service has level carriages at platform height, so I won’t have to climb any steps.

CHECK-IN

I’ve checked in online. I don’t have the TAP app because I don’t really use them that often. But the web check-in works fine on my iPhone. Airport check-in for TAP is done in check-in 1, which is the Star Alliance area, or at one of the self-service ticket machines in check-in 3, above the airport’s railway station.

LOUNGE

I arrive at the lounge at 17h15 and the place is crawling with people. I end up standing around for a few minutes for a seat to become available because the place is so crowded.

Eventually, I find a place to sit in a rather oddly shaped corner of the lounge. I’m guessing this is the ‘business’ area where passengers can work. One wall is kept in this really ugly and unfinished looking plywood. Or course, the opportunity to bullshit is too great for SWISS to pass up, which is why of course they have to put up a plaque declaring that this wall is hypoallergenic and made of freshly pressed hay from the Alps. Really SWISS, is that what you’re going with? You’re too cheap to properly renovate your lounge and now you’re going to pretend it’s because you’re doing your passengers a favour…

Eventually I figure I might as well step outside and find a place to sit there. It’ll be more comfortable for my back, and probably better for my blood pressure too…

BOARDING

Boarding is from gate A 75. There are four rows set up in front of the counter to queue. From right to left: one for ‘premium’ passengers, one for passengers without bulky hand luggage and two for everybody else. Boarding starts with a delay of fifteen minutes, which was caused due to the late arrival of the plane form Porto.

CABIN

On the Embraer 190, Portugalia, who operated the flight on behalf of TAP under the TAP Express brand, has managed to squeeze in an impressive 106 seats. To this end, the aircraft only has a quarter of a Business Class galley, so that row 1is more or less opposite the L1 door.

Unlike many airlines, seat numbers on this aircraft are A and B on the port side and C and D on the starboard side. A and D are the window seats. There are no seats 1A and 1B. Thus, the seats with the best legroom are the bulkheads rows on 1CD or 2AB.

Other than that, I have to say that the Embraer 190 is a very uncomfortable little aircraft that really should not be deployed by any airline on sectors of more than one hour. I know I have a back injury right now, but that does not account for the fact that I and the guy next to me eventually agree that the seat is rather unpleasant. By the time we land in Porto, my back is pretty much jammed up and my kneecaps are more or less locked in the bent position.

Oh yes, and more thing: in Business Class TAP Express will not leave the seat next to you empty.

CREW

There are three females working the cabin on this evening’s flight. And I have to say, they really are very lovely. They have friendly, warm smiles and their service is attentive and chic.

SERVICE

While we’re on the ground, there is no service at all. Boarding is completed at around 18h10. At around 18h40 the captain comes on the blower to explain that only the first fifteen minutes of our delay were cause by the aircraft being late. He explains that Swissport, the handling agent, is have problems finding an available tug to push us back from our stand. ‘Swissport company provides bad service at this airport…’.

Eventually, at 18h44 we push back. We are airborne at 19h03, with a delay of one hour.

THE MEAL

The other issue with the tightness of the Embraer 190 and the fact that both seats on a row are sold, is that it can be rather difficult to eat in this seat. At least not without shoving your elbow in the kisser of the person on your left.

But anyway, the tray arrives. It contains:

A small salad with shrimps, served with olive oil dressing

A pasteis de nata – which is something of a Portuguese national dish. It’s a filo pastry with a vanilla custard filling and burned sugar on top

A packaged refreshing towel

A small piece of milk chocolate

To drink with the meal, I have a sparkling water with ice and lemon. And then after the meal a cup of tea.

ARRIVAL

We land in Porto after a flight time of two hours and fifteen minutes. It’s already dark outside, which makes for a very nice approach right over the city with all the lights.

Porto airport is a bit of a surprise, because I was expecting the same kind of patched up facility as that in Lisbon. But instead, Porto has a very nice, spacious and airy terminal.

To get into town I take the metro, or tram rather, which makes the journey form the airport to the city in about thirty minutes, depending on where you’re going. A one way ticket will cost EUR2.30.


TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Luxembourg

2000px-tap_portugal_logo

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
My meeting yesterday was close to the airport, which is why I decided to stay at the TRYP Lisbon airport hotel for just the one night. The TRYP is a nice hotel with spacious rooms and all the amenities you might expect from an airport hotel.  My only grippe about it, is that the breakfast is not very nice.

Originally, I had planned to walk from the hotel to the terminal building. It’s not more than five minutes to walk. But when I woke up this morning, it had started raining and I could even see the occasional burst of lightning in the distance. And so, instead of walking, I decide to take the complimentary shuttle, which runs every twenty minutes and takes approximately five minutes as well to complete the journey from the hotel to the terminal.

IMG_0003.JPG

CHECK-IN
I’ve checked in online the day before. TAP Air Portugal has its own check-in area, and there is even a dedicated, separate section for Business Class passengers. Despite the fact that the terminal complex is a labyrinth of halls, corridors and building sites, all of which have been added haphazardly over the years, it’s still fairly easy to navigate and well signposted.

IMG_0004

IMG_0006.JPG

There is a fast track for security, which is brilliant. First of all, because the queue is much, much shorter than the regular Economy Class queue. And secondly, because the staff here are just so relaxed and friendly!

IMG_0008.JPG

IMG_0010.JPG

IMG_0017.JPG

THE LOUNGE
Since I was here last, TAP has moved its lounge. Or rather, they now have their own lounge and no longer use the contractor lounge next door. Which is, quite frankly, a shame because the new TAP lounge is definitely not as nice as the other place. I also think it’s quite apparent that it’s not large enough to handle all the traffic at the airport.

IMG_0012.JPG

IMG_0013.JPG

IMG_0015.JPG

IMG_0016.JPG

BOARDING
Boarding is from gate S26, which is the last gate in the newest part of the terminal. There are three queues for boarding: one for premium passengers, another for zone A and a third one for zone B passengers.

IMG_0018.JPG

IMG_0019.JPG

IMG_0021.JPG

IMG_0022.JPG
‘Il pleure dans mon coeur comme il pleut sur la ville…’

IMG_0024.JPG

THE CABIN
The aircraft I am flying on has already been refitted with the new cabin interior. It’s the regular RECARO slimline seat but the colours TAP has selected are quite elegant. Every seat has an adjustable headrest and there are two power plugs for the three seats.

IMG_0025.JPG

IMG_0026.JPG

The seats are arranged in a typical 2 + 2 configuration, with the middle seat left empty in Business Class. As my luck would have it, the aisle seat on my row remains empty and I have it all to myself to spread out. I am seated by the window on 1F.

SERVICE
The crew consists of four young ladies who are all very nicely turned out. Their make-up is subtle and they wear TAP Air Portugal’s bright uniform well!

Once we’re airborne, the service begins with the distribution of pre-packaged, scented towels. But unlike many other carriers, who normally have very flimsy towels made out of paper, this is actually a real cloth towel.

IMG_0028.JPG

IMG_0029.JPG

IMG_0030.JPG

IMG_0031.JPG

THE MEAL
Every passenger is served individually. The whole meal is served on one tray and it is quite a large breakfast. It consists of:

  • a plate of fresh fruit,
  • a bowl of yoghurt with Mango coulis, which is served with a side order of Müsli,
  • a plate with cold cuts, cheese and some salad,
  • a piece of Portuguese milk chocolate,
  • a selection of breads from the breadbasket,
  • butter and jam.

IMG_0032.JPG

IMG_0033(1).JPG

IMG_0034.JPG

IMG_0035(2).JPG

IMG_0036(1).JPG

IMG_0037(1).JPG

The meal is tasty and the quality of the food good. I try two different types of bread roll. One is a brioche type dough with coconut on top, while the other is savoury and goes well with the cheese.

Throughout the meal service the crew make repeated runs through the cabin, offering more drinks and bread.

As soon as I’ve finished, one of the cabin crew comes to remove my tray and asks me if there’s anything else I’d like to drink.

IMG_0038(1).JPG

ARRIVAL
And so the flight passes quickly, and before long we’re already descending into Luxembourg. It’s much cooler here today than it was yesterday when I left and certainly cooler than the weather in Lisbon.

ABOUT TAP AIR PORTUGAL…
I guess it really speaks for how old I am that I was working for Swissair at the time when the Portuguese government was planning to privatise TAP by selling it off to the Swiss. Ironically, Swissair went bankrupt in the meantime, while TAP Air Portugal seems to be going strong. Right now the airline’s future looks bright, with an order book of new Airbuses the renew and rejuvenate the fleet. The service on board TAP is quite good, but it remains to be seen whether the airport at their hub in Lisbon will be able to keep up with the pace at which the airline and traffic to Lisbon in general is growing.

TAP Air Portugal, Business Class – Airbus A 319: Lisbon to Amsterdam

2000px-tap_portugal_logo

Date: 29. April 2017.
Departure: 09:20.
Arrival: 12:50.
Flight time: 2 hours 30 minutes.
Seat: 1F, window.

map

INTRODUCTION
I’ve just completed another course in Lisbon. I’ve rather enjoyed myself. The Portuguese really make me laugh. No matter what’s going on they’re so full of life. Of course, it also helped that while back home in Switzerland trees were collapsing under the heavy weight of the falling snow, here in Lisbon it’s t-shorts and flip flops weather.

GETTING TO THE AIRPORT
Because the course is near the airport anyway, I’m staying at the TRYP Hotel Lisbon airport this time. The terminal building is only a 5 minutes walk away. So I think you’re probably fastest walking. However, if you’re travelling with a lot of luggage, there is a shuttle bus to bring you to the airport.

IMG_0001.jpg

IMG_0002.jpg

CHECK-IN
Lisbon airport is a strange place. The city is gradually encroaching on the airport. So space is limited. As a result, the design of the facility is dictated by space restrictions rather than practicality or convenience and the terminal building seems a lot like a patchwork of extensions and reconstructions.

IMG_0003.jpg

IMG_0004.jpg

I check in online for this flight. The app works well (You paying attention KLM…?) and I am able to change my original seat on 1D to the window on 1F.

FAST TRACK SECURITY
The security checkpoint is hidden away on the opposite side of the hall from the TAP Air Portugal check-in area. There is a fast track for security, which is very efficient. And while at other airports the security staff can be a nasty and unfriendly lot, this being Portugal everyone is very nice and totally laid back. They’re conscientious about their job but they’re also nice about it and take a lot of patience with the elderly passengers in the queue ahead of me.

IMG_0006.jpg

LOUNGE
Airside there have been quite some changes since my last visit. The transit area has been expanded and modernised. There is now a central atrium with shops and a lot more space to sit. The lounge is accessed via escalators leading up from the atrium.

IMG_0007.jpg

IMG_0014.jpg

IMG_0008.jpg

TAP Air Portugal no longer have their own lounge and instead they share the same common purpose lounge with all the other carriers in the Schengen area, which is operated by the airport authority ANA.

IMG_0009.jpg

The lounge is rather dark and gloomy and the place is crowded when I get there. Toilets and showers are available in the lounge. There is also free wifi and a good selection of newspapers.

IMG_0011.jpg

Food and drink options are somewhat limited. In fact, there are only sandwiches available.

IMG_0010.jpg

IMG_0012.jpg

But… the view from the lounge is nice and provides a good vantage point to monitor the proceedings and movements on the apron and the runway.

IMG_0013.jpg

BOARDING
The flight is departing from gate S26 today, which is one of the few contact stands in the Schengen part of the terminal. Most aircraft are parked on a remote stand. The aircraft come up quite close to the building, which means you can take some pretty descent pictures of them.

IMG_0016.jpg

IMG_0018.jpg

IMG_0019.jpg

Boarding starts rather unceremoniously with the gate agent calling out for all Business Class and frequent flyer passengers to board first. You know, you could use a microphone…

CABIN
There are three rows of Business Class. The configuration is the typical European style layout with the middle seat kept empty. The seat looks rather old fashioned, an effect which I think is partly also produced because of the grey seat covers. However, on my flight down from Amsterdam to Lisbon I was on an A 321 which had been refitted with a newer, more modern style of seat.

Other than that, the seat is fairly basic and there are no power plugs at all in the cabin. The seat pitch seems rather tight. But at least I have the whole row to myself so I can stretch my legs.

IMG_0022.jpg

IMG_0023.jpg

IMG_0024.jpg

CREW & SERVICE
There are two cabin crew working the Business Class cabin and they truly are excellent. They’re friendly and obviously determined to make passengers feel welcome. Their interaction is easy going and professional.

THE MEAL
The service begins as soon as the fasten seatbelt sign goes off. The crew pass through the cabin offering prepacked scented towels that have a refreshing lemony smell.

IMG_0027.JPG

There is no choice for the meal. The breakfast consists of a plate with cold meats and cheese, a bowl of fresh fruit, yoghurt, butter and jam and breads from the breadbasket. To drink I have a coffee and an orange juice.

IMG_0028.jpg

The crew pass through the cabin with the breadbasket a number of times (You paying attention Lufthansa?) and top up coffee and tea straight away. The cold cuts don’t look too appealing though, so I don’t try any.

Generally speaking, I think the quality of the food is good and the amount of food on the tray is quite generous.

ARRIVAL
The flight passes surprisingly quickly. After the meal service one of the crew brings me a Coke Zero and I spend the rest of the flight reading and watching the world go by.

IMG_0036

IMG_0037.JPG

IMG_0039.jpg

IMG_0040.jpg

We land in Amsterdam about ten minutes ahead of schedule. By the time we taxi in from the Polderbaan though, we’re running slightly behind schedule.

CONCLUSION
I rather enjoyed this flight, even though I think the food selection on the outbound was better because there was a choice of two hotmeals for the main course. Other than that, I thought the crew were really very nice on TAP and the aircraft appeared to be in fairly good condition. The only thing I’d be wary about is that the pitch does seem rather tight, even in Business Class. But apart from that, I think I’d fly them again without hesitation. Pity they’re in the Star Alliance.

IMG_0041.JPG