Aircraft Type: A330neo
Class: Business Class
Date: December 2020
TAP Portugal is well known as one of the cheapest Star Alliance carriers, however, with the addition of its new Airbus Neo fleet, the aging business class cabin (albeit comfortable) has been given a new lease of life thanks to brand new Recaro seats. While travelling during the pandemic wasn’t going to give us a real sense of the all-singing and dancing experience, it was the perfect opportunity to see how TAP, albeit incredibly affordable, would live up to our expectations.
We had originally purchased flights from Barcelona, finding a ridiculously cheap deal, however because of the pandemic, we emailed the TAP gold team to change the flights from Heathrow instead, which was impressive as it was done with zero change fees and done in next to no time. This customer service in our book was exceptional and certainly worth noting in our report.
On the ground
While we are reporting on Lisbon-Sao Paulo, we started our trip in London. Leaving from Heathrow pre-Christmas we were expecting to see the airport a little busier than the few months previous. However, we were actually surprised to see Terminal 2 virtually deserted.
This meant check-in, security, and navigating the airport was a breeze, as there didn’t seem to be any fewer staff on hand to help reduce any pinch points and keep passengers flowing through the terminal.
We headed to the Lufthansa lounge in the main terminal building, one of only two open lounges, which was quietest we’ve ever seen. So quiet that the lounge was accepting walk-up passengers.
The connecting flight on an A320neo was uneventful, but the seats were comfortable, the cabin brand new, service excellent, and dining options pretty decent. Apart from the boarding, masks, and cleaning wipes, it was almost as if it were a normal flight pre-Covid.
On landing in Lisbon – for our connection – we were reminded of the previous trip, whereby non-Schengen arrivals are directed through security post landing, and being a long-haul trip, we were directed to the N gates. With almost a 3-hour connection we were hoping to use the lounge, however, this is located in the Schengen area of Lisbon airport, which meant we weren’t able to access the lounge during transit.
This is one major negative to the whole travel experience and something we would hope TAP would address. Either by giving instructions on how to access the lounge pre-transfer, or creating access to the lounge somehow for long-haul passengers.
Approximately one hour before departure, the systematic boarding process started. Social distancing was hard to see, as the aircraft was virtually full, and the boarding queues stretched some way as the airline tried to board in three main groups.
Ahead of that, ‘Premium Boarding’ allowed for Star Alliance Gold members and Business Class passengers, which were boarded shortly after families with Children.
On first impressions, walking up to the aircraft on the airbridge, the A330neo looks like a pimped up A330 that could have been years old. However, on seeing the interior, nothing could be further from the truth. TAP Portugal is one of the first adopters of the Airspace cabin, which sits somewhere between an A330 and A350 in design elements.
One of the major draws to the airspace cabin is the lighting and entryways, and while the airline has adopted a wonderful mosaic pattern on the entry ceiling (which matches the pillows in the Business Class cabin) it is somewhat lost by a traditional galley space which dominates the entry space to the main cabin door.
On turning left, we were greeted by a smart, clean cabin, in neutral cream finishes, and an impressive, if a somewhat claustrophobic sea of business class seats. TAP hasn’t opted to decorate the cabin with any bulkhead designs, textures, or colour palettes that create much depth to the environment, but the cool grey seats, bright pops of green in the storage units, as well as colourful pillows and blankets already on the seats, created just enough colour to add interest and a branded element to the cabin.
Frustratingly, on our outbound flight, the two toilets for the entire cabin (which are situated just in front of the economy cabin) weren’t policed so well, with many economy passengers also using the toilets, meaning for long queues before landing.
The Recaro seat is deceptive and when sat down there is an illusion of space, however, the access to the aisle to the staggered seats in the centre of the cabin is tight. If you’re not a gym-goer we’d suggest opting for the aisle seats to increase your ability to get in and out of the seat.
Orchestrated in a 1 x 2 x 1 configuration, all the odd numbers feature the ‘honeymoon’ pair seats in the centre of the cabin. The seat does recline into a fully-flat bed, with a fairly long seat pitch, and a fairly wide footwell to allow for movement, but by far these are the least spacious seats in a contemporary business class cabin.
The seat offers a large side table and private storage unit with a sliding door which houses the amenity kit and headphones, as well as any personal items you want to keep secure. Talking of storage there’s a small, impractical storage unit next to the seat as well as small shoe storage on the seat in front too.
Both armrests fold either up or down to increase shoulder width when laying down, which are nice additions to the seat to increase comfort when sleeping.
The seat is controlled by a fairly straightforward panel, which was easy to use, however, we hoped for a more intuitive way of controlling the seat, as it required pushing to start and stop the seat movement.
The Food & Drink
Sat on the seat was a simplified menu, which just showcased the main evening meal options. While there was also a cold continental breakfast served, it wasn’t highlighted on the menu.
There was also no mention of what wines were available that meant service took a little longer than normal as the crew had to explain many of the wines to passengers as they headed through the cabin.
Unlike the return flight, where the crew tried to offer a more comprehensive meal service (which took over 2 hours of the 9-hour flight time) on the outbound leg from Lisbon, the service was conducted in one simplified food tray and drinks run.
Due to the Pandemic there was no welcome drink on arrival at the seat, instead, we had to opt to wait until we were airborne, and even then, it was just served as part of the meal. Like most Star Alliance flights, Gold members were given the choice of the meal first, which meant we could select from all three options.
We opted for both the roasted lamb in crispy filo pastry and the grouper confit with green pepper and capers, which were both full of flavour and filling. They were paired with a shrimp cocktail starter and light meringue with lemon verbena cream sauce.
We paired the dishes with a glass of Portuguese sparkling wine, however, there was a wide range of drinks available including a very light Vinho Verde. One thing we’d love to see with TAP Portugal is a couple of non-Portuguese options, including champagne, as the sparkling Espumante was a little too sharp for our liking.
After dinner, the crew distributed chocolates, and most passengers quickly reclined into sleep on a fairly short transatlantic hop. Drinks were still available however throughout the flight for those wanting them.
Being offered to be woken, meant approximately 2 hours before landing (allowing for 5 hours sleep) we were slowly brought back to life by the aircraft’s mood lighting.
We were then served another tray featuring a selection of cold cuts of meat, cheeses, and warm pastries and bread. While we would have liked to have seen a warm breakfast option, it was certainly a good portion of food and refreshing to the palette.
TAPs food certainly isn’t the best we’ve tasted in the skies, it’s comparable to many European carriers, and you certainly wouldn’t go hungry.
The airline has stripped out many elements, sadly including its award-winning Up magazine due to the pandemic (which isn’t needed as paper is such a low risk to transmitting the virus), but there is still a large, high-definition screen for each passenger, which is almost too big, considering how close it is positioned to the passenger.
With a simple click it swings out, and the screen plays home to a wide range of entertainment. Even though we were mid-pandemic, there was still a healthy selection of entertainment. The navigation took some getting used to, and while we were told we could pair our IFE to a code provided on our boarding pass, we couldn’t work out how to do this, or see what benefits it would bring.
The system was supported by high-quality noise-cancelling headsets which felt sturdy and connected to the seat by the exit corridor, meaning it did get knocked when exiting the seat to use the facilities.
There was free messaging throughout the flight, a nice touch, as well as WiFi packages which seemed a little too steeply-priced. If you wanted to watch from your own device, there were two USB chargers and a power port too.
Overall, entertainment on the flight was one of the strongest elements and certainly kept us amused on both long-haul trips without running out of options.
While the airline doesn’t offer masks – something other airlines do – there was cleansing wipes, the only real addition for the COVID era. Most of the other traditional amenities did remain though, including an amenity kit, blanket, colourful pillow, and cold towels as part of the dining service.
The amenity kit is fantastic, with brightly coloured socks, eye mask, comb, pen, usual personal toiletries. The kit itself is a limited edition with each kit offering a unique design from the route network TAP flies to. The hidden gem inside the kit is a scent pouch, which can be used either in luggage or your clothing drawers at home.
The blanket is of excellent quality, but the pillow was dismally poor quality, weirdly both thin and lumpy. You would certainly need two, but we would hope that TAP will just get new fillings for the great covers, to help give a more comfortable sleep.
We set out to see if TAP would exceed our expectations. At £1,000 return, direct from the airline, price became a huge factor in our evaluation. Is it Singapore Airlines or Turkish? Certainly not, but at such a cheap ticket price, we were amazed by the product provided. Should we ever find a similar price point – even more expensive – we’d jump at the opportunity, as it’s an acceptable, comfortable and no-fuss way of crossing from Europe to South America and beyond.
The new seats are certainly an upgrade and they will take some getting used to being more compact than others in the skies. That said, we got a solid 5-hour sleep without feeling restricted, and the entertainment, food, and drink certainly weren’t sticking points. If only we could have enjoyed the lounge in Lisbon, this would have been a smooth, delightful flight, worth twice the price, but made all the sweeter by its obscenely cheap fare.
Once the airline can start to return to some of the main service elements such as welcome drinks and faster, smoother dining service (especially on our return flight) and full menus and fuller pillows, the carrier will be on to a winning formula. Would we fly TAP again? In a heartbeat.
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