Flying TAP Portugal Economy between NY and Lisbon was a bit better than expected.
Our first-person experience flying TAP Portugal economy
The choices when flying nonstop between New York and Lisbon are limited.
We had the choice of flying United Airlines (departing from Newark Liberty International Airport) or TAP Portugal (departing 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 ownership changes. The airline is now State-owned; it has been a member of the global Star Alliance since 2005, allowing passengers to earn and spend miles on TAP Air Portugal.
TAP’s network covers 90 destinations in 36 countries worldwide. Operating on average about 2,000 flights per week, TAP is an Airbus-only fleet with Airbus A319, A320, and A321 aircraft. In addition, the company operates 22 Embraer and ATR aircraft on TAP Express, the company’s trademark for its regional network.
The airline offers direct flights to many of its destinations departing from Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington in the U.S. and from Toronto and Montreal in Canada.
You can view the list of TAP destinations on the company website.
With an average flight time of just under seven hours for direct flights from New York, Portugal is one of the easiest European countries to travel to for U.S. citizens.
Is TAP Portugal safe to fly?
I’m always a bit squeamish about flying a “new-to-me” airline so it was reassuring to learn that according to a 2021 JACDEC Airliner Safety Report, TAP was considered 22nd safest on the list of the 100 largest airlines in terms of accidents and incidents.
TAP was awarded “favorite airline in Europe” by readers in August 2023 in the Global Traveler Trazee Awards.
But before-you-go, note that customer TAP Portugal reviews on Trip Advisor and other airline review sites are quite mixed. They describe 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.
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 the seat padding was thicker than 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 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 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 non-descript dessert cake. The meal was served with real silverware, and beer and wine were 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.
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Is TAP Portugal a good airline?
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. The Trazee awards claim that it is a favorite of the millennial traveler.
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.
An article in the industry publication Travel Weekly reported that TAP Portugal topped the list in terms of refund complaints received by the U.S. Department of Transportation in November 2020. The carrier said the backlog was due to COVID-19 flight cancellations and capacity-constrained IT systems. It also noted that it was reinforcing its customer service teams to address this problem.
The TAP Stopover Program
One very interesting offer worth exploring is the airline’s Portugal stopover program. At no additional cost, travelers on eligible routes can arrange free stopovers of up to 10 days in Lisbon or Porto on an outbound or returning trip.
It is the only airline that allows stopovers in two cities: Lisbon and Porto.
There are so many things to do in Porto. The airline has also arranged discount offers on hotels, restaurants, tours, and more with certain partners as part of this program.
The airline offers direct flights to 65 destinations in Europe, the Middle East and Africa from Boston, Chicago, Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Washington in the U.S., and from Toronto and Montreal in Canada.
A new TAP Air Portugal lounge in Lisbon
In December 2023, TAP Air Portugal announced it would be opening a new lounge at the Lisbon Airport for passengers traveling to countries outside the European Union.
Modest in size, the lounge will be able to accommodate about 100 people.
“Improving customer service is a priority for TAP,” said Sofia Lufinha, TAP’s Chief Customer Officer. “This new lounge was a need we identified and now have been able to fulfill. TAP has a very strong presence in markets such as Brazil, the United States or Africa and now we can provide a more comfortable experience for passengers on non-Schengen flights.”
The lounge, which will be open every day between 5am and midnight, will include designated spaces for food, work, meetings and relaxation. It will also feature a gallery space for temporary exhibitions by Portuguese artists with works that reflect the country’s cultural heritage.
See additional information about TAP lounge access.
- With a direct flight time of just under seven hours from New York to Lisbon, Portugal is one of the easiest destinations for Americans to reach in Europe.
- TAP Portugal participates in TSA pre-check at all U.S. gateways.
- Find out more about TAP Portugal on their official website.
Tram 28 in Lisbon (Gordon Calder/Turismo de Portugal)
*For information and flight schedules, check the TAP website.
IF YOU GO
Portugal offers travel insurance for international visitors
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.
More reasons to visit Portugal:
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.
Learn more about how and why to visit Portugal.