TAP Air Portugal has undergone something of a renaissance recently, with a new fleet of A330-900neos arriving at the airline and new products in both economy and business class. I was lucky enough to be invited by TAP to fly the A330-900neo in their new business class to San Francisco for a long weekend.
I also took the opportunity to make a video review for YouTube:
TAP did not place any restrictions on my trip and my reviews have not been seen prior to publication. They contain only my honest opinion. Now, with that out of the way…
My day started early, at Lisbon’s Portela Airport. To be honest, TAP’s biggest weakness is the main hub here at Lisbon; the airport is too small, dated, and many widebodies have to be boarded via remote stands. Not ideal, but the carrier tries its best, I guess. There is a small premium check-in area towards the back of Terminal 1:
Eligible passengers – including any business class passengers on any Star Alliance carrier as well as Star Alliance Gold members – can enter the TAP premium lounge which is upstairs from the atrium in the middle of the terminal.
It’s slightly spartan but otherwise fine. There’s also a bar which serves alcohol, even in the morning, it seems!
The food options are reasonable and I was able to gather together a small breakfast from the buffet.
About an hour before boarding I wandered down to the gate. Our A330-900neo was already on stand, looking resplendent with its Airbus “eye-mask”.
I was first aboard the aircraft and was able to get some good shots of the cabin. Business class is in a staggered 1-2-1 configuration with every seat having direct aisle access. That’s a significant improvement on their former 2-2-2 configuration on the A340 (an aircraft the airline is rapidly retiring).
As is common with window seats in staggered layouts, there are “true” window seats with improved privacy. In TAP’s case, it’s the odd-numbered rows you need to select to end up in one of these plum seats.
Even-numbered rows have the seat closer to the aisle, which is much more open.
There was even time for a brief cockpit visit before departure. For all of the crew on board, this was their first time flying to San Francisco. The Lisbon-SF route is new as of this summer.
Departure was punctual and uneventful, and I was able to get a glimpse of some of TAP’s oldest and newest aircraft on the apron.
Charging ports are available – there is one universal socket and two USB sockets per seat, which is more than adequate.
There are also multiple storage places too for everything you could need during the flight.
I had a “true window” seat at 7A and the privacy afforded was good, thanks in part to the console shield beside the aisle. The seat was demonstrably quite private and felt so.
The table swivels out from beneath the TV. It’s on the small side, but you could still place a laptop here without issue. I do prefer larger tables such as the one found on Air Canada’s Signature product.
Prior to the main service, a choice of snacks and champagne/juice/water was offered by the crew.
The menu was already waiting at my seat before takeoff, and I noticed a canapé/amuse bouche option, something I would normally associate with international first class. Black-badged options on the menu denote that the dish was inspired by one of TAP’s celebrity executive chefs.
The food service onboard was extensive and of good (if not quite reaching excellent) quality. Portugal takes food culture seriously.
The starter salad was beautifully seasoned and was a surprising highlight of the meal.
The chicken curry was “chef-inspired” but was a little underwhelming given its promise. It was fine, but I couldn’t see what made it special in TAP’s eyes.
Vanilla ice cream for dessert is never a bad idea.
The lunch service concluded with chocolates and an espresso. This was an extensive meal service and I’m pleased to see this airline flying 10hr+ sectors investing a little more into their meal services. Canape, soup, bread, salad, curry, ice cream, chocolate and an espresso will sate even the biggest appetites.
I have an unashamed bias towards airlines with good food services; it’s the easiest way to show hospitality, and a decent meal helps break up the monotony of very long flights. This was the area I would rate TAP most highly in, although I think a punchier main course here would carry them even further.
There’s IFE of course and the headphones were surprisingly good.
I was also surprised by the great selection of IFE choices, including some real classics like Bullitt all the way to the entire Lord of the Rings trilogy (I worked out you could watch ALL of those films in the cruise on this flight… but why would you want to?).
Soon after finishing Mrs Doubtfire, surely one of the sweetest films ever made, it was time to test the bed. It’s a little narrow perhaps at the shoulder but otherwise is comfortable. No mattress pad is provided and the bedding is only fair to middling, but I was able to sleep comfortably.
(I think the glass of port to chase down my ice cream can claim an assist with my sleep…)
As far as amenities went, they were basic, but did include a cute pair of socks! I don’t know too many people who use many of the amenities in amenity kits if I’m honest – I’ll be interested to see if these survive in an age marked by relentless driving down of waste.
Prior to landing, I ordered a coffee. Yes, it is really milky…my fault.
In case you’re wondering, there is WiFi onboard. Unfortunately, TAP doesn’t provide a “whole flight” browsing option and the pricing at EUR 24.99 for 200MB was steep. However, there is free messaging on WhatsApp and similar messaging apps which was excellent and I wish more airlines would offer this. WiFi was steadily available even across the ocean and the speed was fine.
Our approach into the Bay Area was splendid.
In summary, a good product from TAP. Connoisseurs will not appreciate the weak hub experience at Lisbon and will notice some of the darker arts of airline accountants when it comes to the amenities, bedding, and expensive WiFi.
Here’s the twist, though. TAP is insanely cheap and actively promotes itself to the leisure traveler. Fares can be had for about £700 one way, London to San Francisco, and £570 from Dublin and some other European start points. This massively undercuts the competition and I’d say TAP is a great product for people not used to flying business class.
Given the low fares, I think TAP has a niche and interesting proposition if you want to fly to the USA from Europe. It surely cannot sustain such low prices forever, so perhaps now is the time to strike if you want to give it a go.