Flying TAP Portugal economy between NY and Lisbon was a little bit better than expected (Updated 11/20/19).
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, 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.
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.
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.
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.
11/20/19 UPDATE: New Routes from North America
- TAP Portugal announced new, five times a week flights between Boston and Ponta Delgada, the capital of the Azores Islands. The airline also announced six times a week flights between Boston and Lisbon, Portugal. Both these flights will use Airbus A321LR planes.
- Currently, TAP has U.S. gateways in TAP’s in Newark, Miami, Boston, New York Kennedy, Chicago O’Hare, Washington Dulles and San Francisco. It also announced that it is increasing the frequency of flights at JFK, Chicago, Miami, Washington and Newark.
Source: Travel Weekly
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.
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