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.

The TAP Portugal Premium Lounge

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!

The 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.

The 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!

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.

Luxair, Economy Class – Boeing B 737-700: Luxembourg to Lisbon

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Introduction

I’m on my way to Lisbon for a meeting in the afternoon. Fortunately, the fairly large expat community of Portuguese in Luxembourg means that there are numerous flights between Luxembourg’s Findel airport and beautiful Lisbon.

Getting to the Airport

To get to the airport from the Novotel, I first catch a tram from ‘Europa Parlament’ towards ‘Luxexpo’, which is currently the tram’s terminus, until they eventually extend the line to the airport. At Luxexpo I transfer to the bus line 16, which runs from there to the airport, which is its last stop. The journey takes about forty minutes to complete.

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Check-in

Check-in for the flight opens 24 hours before departure. I don’t know if there is a Luxair app but you can definitely check-in online and save the boarding pass to your wallet, if you’re using an iPhone.

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There are self-service machines and check-in counters at the airport. To be honest though, I’m not entirely sure what the procedure is here in Luxembourg with the check-in desks, because some flights appear to have their own designated counters, while others don’t. I don’t think it should make a difference though, seeing as Luxair is the only handling agent at the airport.

Airside

Luxembourg is nice little airport that is quickly reaching capacity, even though they only recently reopened the old B pier.  The really cool thing about the airport though, is that once you’re airside, you have some really good views of the apron and the runway beyond.

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Boarding

Boarding starts slightly behind schedule from gate A 20 in the Schengen part of the terminal. Gate A 20 is a bus gate, which of course has me doing a little happy dance right there in front of the gate because it means me taking pictures of my aircraft from up close.

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The Cabin

I wonder if perhaps this is the first flight this aircraft will be doing today, because the cabin is stifling and very warm. The APU isn’t running and, because we’re on a remote stand, there’s no means of hooking us up to an external cooling system. Other than that though, I think the Luxair cabin on the Boeing B 737 looks quite nice. The seats are in light blue leather, while the headrests are white. The sides of the headrest can be folded up for extra comfort.

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On the downside, seat pitch on Luxair’s B 737s is among the worst I’ve ever experienced. The aircraft are mainly deployed on typical charter routes, where the main objective is quantity and not quality. Which is why today I’ve decided to splurge on a seat on the emergency exit on row 12.

The advanced seat reservation for 12A cost me EUR25 and was made online at the time of booking. I know EUR25 may seem like a lot, but given the prospect of spending two hours and half with my knees stuck under my chin, I think it’s money well invested.

Unfortunately though, despite the fact that I’m on the window seat, I only have a limited view of the outside, because the outer glass is severely scratched.

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Luxair does not have a cabin divider between Economy and Business Class, by the way.

The Crew

The crew on this flight consists of three cabin crew, all of which are fluent in Letzebuergesch, French, English and of course Portuguese. The two younger cabin crew seem friendly enough but a bit reserved. The maître de however, is a really friendly guy and interacts well with the passengers, especially the fairly large number of elderly Portuguese travellers.

The Meal

Once we’re airborne, I immediately nod off… Luckily, I wake up just as the service trolley reaches the row in front of me, making me feel like Ebenezer Scrooge when he wakes up on Christmas morning to find that he hasn’t missed anything because the ghosts of Christmas passed, Christmas present and Christmas yet to come have taught him a lesson all within the scope of one night. Oh, you know what I mean (the tall, blond M. will probably have a field day with this…).

And much to my surprise, the meal isn’t half bad either. There is a complimentary full bar trolley service that even includes a Luxemburgish sparkling wine. To eat there is a choice between a chicken or a cheese sandwich. The sandwiches are a good size and look and taste as though they were freshly made. I choose the cheese sandwich.

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Unlike the pre-packaged rubbish you get on most European airlines that still offer a complimentary meal service, which usually ends up tasting like the plastic and cardboard it was packaged in, this sandwich is in fact very tasty. The bread is multigrain and inside the sandwich there’s not only the cheese but also a bread spread, cucumbers and a bit of salad.

To drink I have a Coke Zero and a coffee.

The service is well paced. The crew are unrushed but still don’t leave us waiting too long before passing through the cabin to remove the trash.

Arrival

After the meal I sit back with the intention of reading in my Kindle. But instead, I end up going off to sleep again. What’s going on here…? By the time I wake up again, we’ve already started our initial descent and the crew are coming through the cabin with these small baskets filled with toffees and other sweets to help alleviate the pressure in the ears as we descend. I don’t quite know why, but I find there something nicely old-fashioned about this.

From what I can tell through the scratched window, the approach into Lisbon is gorgeous and takes us right over the city and then out to sea, before eventually coming around and turning on to the final approach. The landing however, is perhaps not so gorgeous… we actually bounce three times before eventually settling on the runway!

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Here in Lisbon we’ll be using a remote stand, which is hardly surprising given that the terminal building is literally bursting at the seams and has only very few contact stands. As we taxi in, we pass an Airbus A 330NEO in the colours of TAP Air Portugal but still in its French registration. And then eventually, we make a last right turn and come to a stop right next to an Airbus A 321NEO of Azores Airlines.

Conclusion

I’m always in two minds about Luxair. Their home market is highly affluent but also tragically small. As such, I think the airline does a good job in striking the right balance between offering a reliable air service from its hub in Luxembourg to the major business centres in Europe on the one hand, while at the same time also serving the leisure traffic market. Even so, one cannot help but wonder what the point is of small countries like Luxembourg trying to maintain their own airline.

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

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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The Airport Authority 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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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…

The 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.

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The Crew

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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