What is it like to fly TAP Portugal Economy class?

September 15, 2016 | By | 17 Replies More
TAP Portugal check-in counter at JFK

TAP Portugal check-in counter at JFK

Flying TAP Portugal economy between NY and Lisbon was a little bit better than expected.

The choices when flying nonstop between New York and Lisbon are limited. Travelers can choose between United Airlines (departing from Newark Liberty International Airport) or TAP Portugal (departing either from Newark or John F. Kennedy International Airport).

Because JFK was more convenient to get to from our home, we opted for TAP, booking TAP Portugal flight #TP208 from JFK to Lisbon.

A little background

TAP is Portugal’s flag carrier. Both its headquarters and hub are based at Lisbon Humberto Delgado Airport. Like many other airlines, it has experienced a series of economic downturns over the years resulting in changes in ownership. The airline is currently owned 50% by the state, 45% by a private consortium and 5% by “collaborators and employees” of TAP.

I’m always a bit squeamish about flying a “new-to-me” airline so it was reassuring to learn that according to a 2011 JACDEC Airliner Safety Report, TAP is considered the safest airline in Western Europe, and the fourth safest in the world.

But before-you-go customer reviews on Trip Advisor and other airline review sites were worrisome. They described disappointing experiences in terms of food, customer service, attitude of crew, and adequacy of seats (In fact, some travelers reported they were the worst they had ever flown in). So how did our flight experience turn out?

Living room (as its called in the trade)

By the time we booked our flight, not many seats were available to choose from. We reserved two Economy seats, 22 A and B, a window and aisle.

View of the Economy Cabin on TAP Porugal

View of the Economy Cabin on TAP Porugal

Our Airbus A330 plane had three cabins (one business class and two Economy cabins) with a 2-4-2 seating configuration in Economy. We were happy to secure two seats on one side of the plane. Although we probably would have opted for premium economy seats on United, TAP offers no premium economy seats (or first-class service.) Our plane had some 260 steel blue leather seats with gray plastic frames that looked clean and modern.

Last June, TAP added new daily flights between Lisbon and both JFK and Boston Logan International Airports. The JFK flights, which began on July 1, 2016, utilize new A330 aircraft that were recently delivered to the carrier in June.

Compared to other long-haul flights I’ve taken, I found my seat remarkably uncomfortable over the six-hour flight Whether I reclined or sat erect, it was impossible to get comfortable. It’s hard to imagine how someone with longer legs could tolerate it. I began thinking that perhaps the seats were designed for Portuguese bodies rather than American ones.

Oddly, my traveling companion wasn’t as bothered by the seats and thought that the seat padding was thicker than that on United.

One passenger who slept very well under her blanket

One passenger who slept very well under her blanket

In addition, our area of the plane was annoyingly noisy with the cacophony of rattling noises coming from the airplane’s body and the frequent flushes from the toilets that were just two rows behind us.

The lavatories had interesting neon lighting (like the cabin) and a nice toothbrush/toothpaste amenity but they didn’t compensate for the lack of toilet paper midway through the flight.

TAP Portugal toothbrush amenity

TAP Portugal toothbrush amenity


We were served two meals during the flight.

Dinner was served well after midnight EST time (5AM Lisbon time) when it would have made more sense to serve a snack at that late hour. Put a dish before me though…and I’ll eat it.

Dinner tray on TAP Portugal Economy class

Dinner tray on TAP Portugal Economy class

While the food was edible, it was typical airline food without anything to distinguish it as better than that. When I asked the flight attendant if it was some type of Portuguese recipe, she told me the Goulash-like concoction was chunks of American beef in a savory sauce with mashed potatoes with green beans. It came with three small dishes: one with lettuce and tomato; one a portion of potato salad; and the third, a light nondescript dessert cake. The meal was served with real silverware, and beer and wine was complimentary.

The flight attendant told us that Portuguese specialties are served on flights departing from Lisbon.

About an hour before our arrival in Lisbon we were served a barely adequate morning snack of a small sandwich (with cold bread, a slice of cheese and a slice of ham), a granola bar, and beverages.

Breakfast - TAP Portugal Economy cabin

Breakfast – TAP Portugal Economy cabin

Entertainment and service

Map display on TAP Portugal

Map display on TAP Portugal

Our seat-back entertainment system had a touch screen with audio and visual on-demand, maps and games. It offered 30 films, 15 television channels (including news in English, Portuguese and French, 12 radio channels, and 60 CDs. No headphones were provided and programs ran in a continuous loop so you couldn’t choose where to begin them.

Seatbacks also had a handy USB port at eye level for charging your phone or iPad. A copy of the bilingual (Portuguese/English) UP Magazine, TAP´s in-flight magazine was in the seatback pocket.

Instructions were given in Portuguese and English but the audio system was barely audible. The safety instruction video was Olympic-themed (after the Olympics) and failed to hold my attention. No Wi-Fi was available onboard.

Olympic-themed safety instructional video on TAP Portugal

Olympic-themed safety instructional video on TAP Portugal

There seemed to be an adequate number of flight attendants who did their job, professionally but they weren’t very friendly. Blankets and pillows were provided to passengers at the beginning of the flight.

The bottom line 

Flying on TAP Portugal is quite basic, no-frills flying—something akin to a bus ride in the sky but without a commensurate price reduction. Although this wasn’t one of our most pleasant flights, it did turn out better than expected. The flight departed and landed safely on time. The major drawback for me, however, was the seat design. Depending on your own body architecture, you might remember this flight for several days.

TAP recently has launched an auction-style upgrade system. With Plusgrade, after making a reservation and up to 36 hours before their flights, passengers can bid on upgraded seats. Upgrades are also available using miles. The airline is a member of the Star Alliance, which will please mile/point collectors.

Worth finding out about: TAP Air Portugal is promoting “The TAP Portugal Stopover.” At no additional cost, travelers on long-haul flights to Europe can arrange 25, 28 or 72-hour stopovers to explore some of in Portugal’s most popular cities at no additional cost.


*Tip: At the time we flew TAP Portugal, the airline didn’t participate in the TSA Pre-check program at JFK.

This is one of a series of posts about my experiences on new-to-me airlines. Surely, each flight is different but it’s always helpful to get general impressions of what to expect before you fly. If you fly Delta Comfort+ and have a very different experience, please feel free to comment below. 

Also on More Time To Travel:

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Comments (17)

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  1. Hi Irene,

    My husband and I lead tour groups in Provence and, sadly, 4 people associated with our tours had the distinct misfortune of choosing TAP Portugal from Boston to Marseille.

    The first couple (our chef and sous chef) were delayed hours in Boston such that they missed their connection in Lisbon. All told, they were over 24 hours late and had to cancel their plans for their first night in Provence.

    The second couple, arriving about 10 days later, also missed their flight in Lisbon. They were then booked on an Iberia flight, via Madrid, for Marseille. They arrived about 8 hours late–without their luggage. They missed the first few hours of the tour and the opening wine tasting and dinner. We had to arrange for transportation for them from the airport. To make matters worse, their luggage did not arrive for two days(apparently–hard to tell as there was so little communication from a service Iberia hired, TAP absolving themselves of any responsibility). The service intended to “mail” the luggage to our clients, who were a mere hour away from the airport; it would have arrived the day before their return to Boston. (Every other airplane has delivered missing luggage, although missing luggage rarely happens.) Apparently, the village where we were staying (Lourmarin) was 5 kilometers beyond their delivery range. So, we were left with the task of retrieving the luggage for our clients.

    Last I heard, neither couple has not gotten any satisfactory recompense for their respective experience.

    A flight through Lisbon from Boston, especially if there was the opportunity to spend some time in lovely Lisbon, would be nice. But, I won’t be taking this flight–and will advise clients not to–until I hear that the service has radically changed.

    Glad to know, from your article, that the amenities are satisfactory. But, thought you’d want to know about this side of the flight.

  2. Laura says:

    The food looks awful, I would rather pack my own snacks,and the seat sounds so uncomfortable 🙁 However, you arrived safe and sound and on time, which are 2 big plusses!

  3. Penny Sadler says:

    Sorry. That sounds like a terrible ride but luckily short. I just flew BA from Dallas to Marseille with a connection at London Heathrow. Since I live in DAllas I usually fly American. BA plane was a 777 so 3 4 3 configuration. No more 2 4 2. Sigh. So every time I wanted to use the ladies I had to climb over not just one but 2 people. Also I had a window seat in the main cabin and the way the seats are set I couldn’t really lean against the window as I normally do. This was my first international flight on a 777 and I’ll be sure to remember that in the future. If I were a tall person the leg room would have been a drag too. That metal whatever it was in from of my left foot was a bummer. Not a great seat at all. The food was typical. American usually serves dinner and breakfast. BA only served breakfast. Well I’m writing a review here. LOL

  4. Great info to know… thank you! Food doesn’t look too good, but if you are hungry, anything looks good.

  5. Not having had the Transatlantic experience I have nothing bad to say about TAP. Recently I (am my GF) flew Amsterdam to Lisbon R/T. We are both tall I 6’5”she 6’2” and fit into the Airbus 319 seats OK. The price was better than the Dutch (I live in NL) flag carrier (half French these days) KLM and there was no extra fee for checked luggage as is so often nowadays intra-Europe as most airlines (including flag carriers) have gone low cost these days. Sure the food was nothing I will remember but neither is it ever on other flights, however it was included in the ticket price (including complimentary wine and beer), which is often not the case with the real low cost airlines such as Transavia (a KLM subsidiary) and Easyjet etc. The return leg was somewhat delayed due to a late inbound Airbus 321 aircraft. However we were (upon request) given Emergency exit seats without having to pay extra something other Airlines (including KLM) charge extra for. In conclusion I would not hesitate to fly TAP again if they fly a route I need at a competitive price.

  6. Adam says:

    Have to say, my experience with TAP has been excellent in the past. Flew TP BOS-LIS on Azul’s A332 this past Thursday and it was more than adequate in back of the bus. At T24 their “Economy Plus” section opened up and I was able to select one of those seats for free. AVOD was fast and responsive and flight crew very cordial. Seat reclined almost excessively. Not a single empty seat. Lav’s were very clean throughout the flight. Food was standard but no complaints. Arrived almost an hour early due to the tailwinds. Returned to BOS yesterday and we did have a 1.5hr mechanical delay in LIS but again overall fine experience. Last month flew MAS-LIS on TP and at the gate received an upgrade to biz (operational upgrade but perhaps because I’m *G).

  7. Victoria says:

    I am planning to book a flight with TAP and I have never booked a flight with them before. What happens if there really is a delay and you can not reach the other connecting flight. Do you have to buy an other ticket to get where you wanted to go?

  8. T.R. says:

    I appreciate that TAP flies nonstop between BOS-LIS. However, if going to any other destination besides Portugal, I’d fly w/ another carrier.

    My wife & I recently completed a RT BOS-LIS trip using United miles. On the BOS-LIS flight we were in the A330-200 V2, which we very much liked the refurbished interior w/ newer, larger entertainment screens, USB port & larger overheads. Unfortunately on the LIS-BOS flight, we flew in the A330-200 V1 which arrived from Rio; the interior was quite dated and uncomfortable, with the window-side overheads quite small for any A330-200 I’ve ever flown in.

    The boarding process @ both BOS and LIS left something to be desired. Boarding @ BOS was quite unorganized, further hampered by surly gate agents. Boarding @ LIS was orderly, but took 1 hour and 15 minutes (!!!) b/c the gate was staffed with only 1 agent for 250+ passengers! Furthermore shortly prior to boarding they made all passengers leave the gate area to queue up with security doing another round of passport checks and interrogation!

    I hope to return to Portugal again and hope when that happens TAP will have improved both its fleet and on-ground customer service at terminal gates. But at least the bar has been set low enough for me to set my expectations low for any future travel on TAP.

  9. Gwennael Contini says:

    Dear Irene.
    Although I have not flown a transatlantic flight with TAP, I flew a total of 24 flights last year from Azores to Lisbon connecting to Copenhagen which totals a five and a half hour trip each leg of my trip. Although I must agree with the restrictive legroom found in the economy class seats (green ones) I strongly disagree with your opinion regarding the quality of the food served on the plane which I find more than acceptable for airplane food. I also find the TAP cabin crew to be very pleasant and very presentable and always helpfull (btw, they have been voted best looking cabin crew in Europe in a recent poll)

    • Gwennael Contini says:

      Previous message submitted prematurely…
      Also for an extra 10 euros, you can upgrade to a business class seat( the red ones) which will provide you with ample legroom, reclining seat, adjustable head rest, USB charger point, standard charger socket points for European and American equipment, a fancy tablet holder so u can watch whatever you like and in your own time.
      No excuse not to travel comfortably with TAP. Don’t be a scrudge and pay the extra for a front seat if you wish yourself a comfortable flight.You can thank the arrival of low cost airlines for the lack of legroom and the need for flag carrier airlines to mirror this business model in order to survive. Long live TAP and it’s beautiful crews, you represent this little country so well.
      Gwennaël Contini.

      • Thanks so much for sharing the experience of your 24 flights and for the upgrade tip! The price sounds quite reasonable.

        Perhaps, the food on my flight was an aberration. As stated in the caveat at the end of the post, experiences can vary from flight to flight.

        Happy travels and thanks for visiting here, Gwennael!

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