Recenty, I was booked to fly on TAP airlines from Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR) to Lisbon Portela Airport (LIS). On my way there, I flew on their Executive product (aka business class) and on the way home, I flew in economy.
At the airport, I looked for a priority line, but did not see one, so I waited in the standard line. Upon check-in, I was provided with a green sticker on my boarding pass, which indicated I was to receive an expedited security clearance. There was no discussion of whether I had lounge access and the ticket agents did not seem to know — actually, different agents told me to go to different lounges.
I was a bit frustrated, but it was only an hour until my flight anyway, so I decided to relax in a secluded part of the gate with the economy passengers. Checking out TAP’s website, I was able to confirm that I had access to the Lufthansa’s Business Class lounge in Terminal B.
I was hoping to pre-board to get photos of the business class product without other passengers, but it didn’t work out. There were quite a few elderly that needed to pre-board, so by the time I got onto the A330, almost the entire business cabin was full, and taking a shot of the cabin’s seats was not possible.
Once I found my seat (1A), I was offered a choice of water, juice, or sparkling wine before takeoff. Being the fancy gal I am, I went with the sparkling wine — a 2012 Luàs Pato Espumante Blanc de Blancs.
The cabin setup is 2-2-2, with only four rows. Although it was an intimate cabin, it felt a bit cramped for business class seating, despite being in the bulkhead row.
My first impression was that the business class product felt a bit dated. The seats had ample legroom, but were not overtly cushiony (yup, I am using that as a descriptor) and luxurious. I actually found the seats in economy to look fresher and feel a bit more comfortable (I did have an empty middle seat in economy).
Do not get me wrong — the overall hard and soft product of business excels over economy, but I didn’t feel that much of a difference between the two that I do on other airlines.
There is also WiFi offered and I didn’t intend on really using it, but I wanted to see just how it worked, so I purchased 10MB for about $13 (you know, for science). You also have the option to ’œopen a WiFi tab’ and use it for as much as you want, and get charged at the end. I would not recommend doing this, as you will pay too much money for a super slow, basically useless WiFi connection. My 10MB ran out in about 30 minutes and the most I could do was wait for my Facebook page to load on my phone.
Amenities kits were handed out after takeoff. Enclosed, in a square tin, were some pretty nondescript products; earplugs, an eye mask, a tooth brush and toothpaste kit, socks, a paper-covered pen, lip balm, and some French-made hand cream (why it was not a Portuguese brand, I’m not sure, as the Portuguese are known for their luxurious body lotions and soaps).
The eye mask was actually pretty amazing, and seemed to conform perfectly to my head despite having a single elastic band — not a shred of light was let in. I also liked the adorable airplane foot pads on the socks — it was a nice touch.
Most impressively, their dining service provided a pleasant distraction and helped pass the time. My Portuguese seatmate explained that the wine selection was an excellent example of local choices, and I was able to try the 2010 Casa Ferreirinha Callabriga, produced in the Douro region of Portugal. I thought that was pretty cool and a nice representation of what was offered in the country I was traveling to.
I also loved the tiny TAP-branded glasses, an adorable accompaniment to some of the best airline wine I’ve tried.
Canapes and bread came out first, followed by a choice of starter. I chose the soup, a creamy tomato bisque, then went with the chicken entre which was both tasty, filling, and plated nicely.
There was a funny debate between the flight attendants and my seatmate ’“ apparently halibut is difficult to translate into Portuguese, so they labeled it as ’œalibut.’ Neither the flight attendants nor my seatmate knew what ’œalibut’ was. It became the joke of the flight.
For dessert I chose a plate of fruit, as the former meal had been quite heavy. Bars of dark chocolate labeled with ’œSaudade’ (the best of untranslatable Portuguese words) were handed out at the end. I still have mine and am not sure I will ever eat it – it’s just so pretty.
And of course, I closed out the meal with a glass of Port chosen by my Portuguese seatmate. Maybe more like three glasses or so — I’m not sure, it gets a little hazy. But the Porto Ferreira Quinta do Porto aged 10 years was some of the best Port I had all week.
With a full belly and a head full of wine, it was time to go to sleep. Perhaps the least preferable aspect of the trip was the angled-flat sleep setting for the seats. I had read about this prior to the trip, but never actually experienced it. I actually sleep better at a slightly raised angle, so I figured I’d be alright with the arrangement.
Oh hell no — I was wrong — angled flat is really just a flat surface, on an angle, like you’re sleeping on a playground slide. It felt awkward and became distracting when I couldn’t find myself in a comfortable position; I sort of felt like a mummy or a vampire.
I will give credit where credit is due, however; the pillow was fluffy and comfortable, and the blanket was an actual quilt, warm, soft, and large enough to wrap up in during the hour and a half or so I managed to sleep deeply.
I awoke to a breakfast that was light and nothing overtly special; bread, jam, and a sandwich with some ham on it (I am unable to eat pork and there was no other option, so bread with butter and jam it was). The coffee was good, thick and strong Portuguese espresso style.
The flight was super short ’“ about five hours and twenty minutes total. Between the coursed dining service and delightful conversation with my seatmate, I didn’t even have time to watch a full film. I started exploring the options about an hour before we began our final descent. The on-demand entertainment system aboard TAP’s A330-200 was definitely something to note.
There was an excellent selection of films, television shows, music, games, kids activities, and informational programming. A mix of recently released movies (Birdman, Interstellar) and classics (tons of awesome Charlie Chaplin throwbacks and Audrey Hepburn films), along with some hot TV shows (Game of Thrones, House of Cards) made me wish the flight was slightly longer.
I was able to take advantage of this on the way back, as the same in-flight entertainment system is also provided in economy class. I actually preferred the clean, clear touch-screen seat-back TV to the far away business class screen that was navigated with a nasty joystick (I’m just not into joystick technology, it always feels gross to me).
But unlike economy class, noise-cancellation headsets were provided for business class flyers. These, coupled with the earplugs from the amenities kit, provided the perfect sound barrier when it was time to sleep.
Landing was smooth, and because of the jetstream we actually landed an hour earlier than expected. I’ve never been in an airport at 5am, and it’s a bit creepy ’“ everyone is bleary-eyed and jetlagged.
Typically there is not an arrivals lounge for those arriving into LIS. However, I was fortunate enough to be given access to TAP’s Premium Lounge. Public transportation did not start running from the airport until 7am and instead of paying for a cab, why not hang out in the lounge for a while?
The lounge was quite nice. There are some great snacks (little appetizers really, not just cocktail peanuts) and a full bar to enjoy. I stuck to coffee and some pastries/fruit, which were fresh and tasty.
Because of my fatigued state, I did not take any photos. I wish I did however, because across from where I sat were a group of Portuguese punk rockers knocking back whiskey and beer at 6am. Baller.
There aren’t many choices when looking to fly from the New York area to Lisbon non-stop. The only other flight that really competes is United, which flies either a Boeing 757 or 767 from EWR to LIS (US Airways/American also flies seasonally from Philadelphia). A 767 United premium product could be competitive (possibly better — haven’t flown on it), but I am not sure if I would want to fly on a 757, when I have wide-body options.
There do not seem to be any short-term plans for TAP to upgrade their business class product, but they do have 12 Airbus A350-900s on order. The problem is, that they are not scheduled to enter the fleet until 2017.
Overall, I had a pleasant experience aboard TAP’s Executive product from Newark to Lisbon. But in the end, I’m not sure if what I received in business class versus economy is worth the upgrade. Yes, the food, wine, service and benefits at the airport are a sure win for the premium cost. But the hard product was quite dated and I found some positive aspects of the economy class product (especially if the seat next to you is empty).
Note: TAP provided a complimentary upgrade from economy to business one-way for this review. Opinions are those of the author.
Katka, the author, is a travel writer based in New York City and wrote this review for AirlineReporter.