Flying TAP Portugal Economy between NY and Lisbon was a bit better than expected
This post about our experience on a TAP Portugal Economy flight was originally written several years ago and updated when we traveled on TAP again in 2019. It’s been revised in October 2020 to include new information about the airline and its health and safety precautions amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
Our first-person experience flying TAP Portugal Economy
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 on TAP
Flying since 1945, 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 owned 50% by the state, 45% by a private consortium and 5% by “collaborators and employees” of TAP, and has been a member of the global airline Star Alliance since 2005.
TAP’s network covers 92 destinations in 36 countries worldwide. Operating on average about 3,000 flights per week, TAP has more than 80 Airbus aircraft and 21 serving TAP Express, the company’s trademark for its regional network.
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 was considered the safest airline in Western Europe, and the fourth safest in the world.
But before-you-go customer TAP Portugal reviews on Trip Advisor and other airline review sites were worrisome. They described disappointing experiences in terms of food, customer service, the 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 it’s 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.
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.
In June 2016, TAP added new daily flights between Lisbon and both JFK and Boston Logan International Airports. The JFK flights, which began soon after, 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.
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.
We were served two meals during the flight.
Dinner was served well after midnight EST time (5 AM 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.
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.
Entertainment and service
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.
Seat backs 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.
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.
TAP Portugal and COVID
The COVID-19 epidemic has dramatically altered global flight policies and procedures as well as schedules of all major airlines.
Resumption of flights from the U.S.
Travel to Portugal is currently limited to dual citizens, residents and their families. Travel restrictions are in place for people flying from the USA, with exemptions for professional requirements, study, or family reunion.
To accommodate those who can travel to Portugal, the airline recently resumed non-stop flights between Lisbon and Chicago O’Hare (ORD) and San Francisco International (SFO) airports (on October 2 and 3, respectively starting with one round-trip weekly.
Commencing summer 2021, TAP plans to launch six new routes: Ibiza and Fuerteventura, in Spain; Oujda, in Morocco; Zagreb, in Croatia; and Djerba and Monastir, in Tunisia.
TAP’s implementation of new health and safety guidelines
Since the start of the pandemic, TAP Air Portugal has posted updated information to inform travelers of health and safety precautions being taken to protect them. Here are some of the major elements you should know about if you are planning to fly on TAP:
TAP follows the health and safety guidelines set by governmental and airline groups including EASA, IATA, DGS and UCS. In addition, as a member airline, TAP follows Star Alliance health and safety guidelines. These include: provision of a care kit or hygiene amenities; required use of face masks during boarding and de-boarding (with certain exemptions for age or medical conditions); mandatory protocols for display signs and onboard etiquette to minimize the risk of infection spread; procedures in place in the event a passenger develops or displays symptoms of infection during flight; provision of appropriate PPE equipment for crew; and procedures for cleaning and disinfecting aircraft to minimize the risk of spread.
All passengers arriving from flights outside the European Union or not associated with the Schengen Area or the UK or Canada, must provide proof of a negative RT-PCR test taken within 72 hours before time of departure.
Mandatory use of face masks
Passengers over the age of 6 are required to wear a mask during the entire duration of their journey. Use of a surgical mask is recommended for greater protection.
If a passenger’s health condition doesn’t allow use of a mask, the traveler must request advance medical clearance from TAP by providing the airline with a Medical Information for Fitness to Travel – MEDIF (Part 2) (PDF, 0.1MB, EN) form completed by their doctor. The completed form will be reviewed by a TAP doctor, who will inform the passenger whether they can travel and under what conditions.
Cabin air quality
Aircraft are equipped with recycling systems designed to guarantee fresh air in all areas of the aircraft, including the use of HEPA filters. Read more about cabin air quality here.
Simplified onboard service
In an effort to reduce contact and minimize movement, meal and beverage service may be “limited, suspended or adapted” depending on the length of the trip. Meals are packaged and sealed. When available, pillows and blankets, as usual, are cleaned, disinfected and packaged in plastic prior to flights. The onboard magazine, UP, is no longer distributed on board but can be downloaded via an app.=
The YouTube video below, produced by TAP Air Portugal, provides passengers with an overview of some of the pandemic-related changes they can expect at airports and while on board:
More flexible refund and cancellation policies
To jumpstart travel during the pandemic, the airline has tried to make made cancellation policies more flexible. For tickets issued between September 25 and November 30 of 2020 (with an original travel date from September 25 to December 14 of 2020) or from January 16 to March 15 of 2021, passengers can take advantage of a free change.
According to the TAP website, as of September 1, 2020, if a flight is cancelled, passengers can opt for a refund through a voucher from TAP that is offering an additional 10% to the amount of the voucher (see more details here and here).
TAP is also offering “Book with Confidence” protection for new bookings made through November for travel starting by March 15 (with exception of holiday blackout dates from December 14 to January 16). This allows a one-time rebooking free of charge on all flights, applicable on Discount, Basic, Classic and Executive fare products, but does not include any difference in fares or taxes for the new flight.
Beware: A number of passengers on TripAdvisor have recently complained about the difficulty in obtaining refunds for cancelled flights and being unable to contact the airline’s customer service center either by phone or online. However, this problem seems to be somewhat ubiquitous across the industry.
IF YOU GO
Portugal offers travel insurance for international visitors
In August, to promote travel, Portugal announced that International visitors planning their travel to Portugal can purchase Portugal Travel Insurance, a travel insurance policy that includes medical, surgical, pharmaceutical and hospital expenses associated with Covid-19, as well as expenses due to cancellation, interruption, or extension of travel due to the pandemic. The goal is to ensure that all who visit Portugal can travel around the country, safely and confidently.
The tourism agency, Turismo de Portugal, is also partnering in the sponsorship of a no-cost Portugal Health Passport that guarantees a covid-19 test and access, at previously fixed prices and high quality urgent health care or check-ups at a network of hospitals and clinics across the country.
More reasons to visit Portugal:
- Livraria Lello: Portugal’s Most Celebrated Bookshop
- Pastis de Belem: Unraveling the Mystique of Lisbon’s World Famous Tart
- Taste Porto Food Tours: Savoring A Magnificent City in Small Bites
- Scenic Portugal: Five-star Service, Accommodations and Cuisine on the Douro
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 TAP Portugal and have a very different experience, please feel free to comment below.
Also on More Time To Travel:
- What’s it like to fly a JetBlue Embraer 190 to Nantucket?
- What is it like to fly Aeromexico?
- What is it like to fly British Airways?
- What is it like to fly Cathay Pacific Premium Economy?
- What is it like to fly China Eastern Airlines?
- What is it like to fly Delta Comfort+?What is it like to fly Interjet?
- What is it like to fly JetBlue?
- What is it like to fly KLM Economy Comfort?
- What is it like to fly Swiss International Airlines?
- What is it like to fly United BusinessFirst?
- What is it like to fly Volaris?
- What is it like to fly WestJet?
Learn more about how and why to visit Portugal.
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